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A Gucci Attaché

How Apple would have fared better.


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A few years back, so many years back that few may want to remember, so many that the mists of time become a fog of a sorts, two of us were in the minuscule offices of Word Perfect in Stockholm. Neither of us can remember why. It's really long ago. It was back when Microsoft was still trying to deal with the upstarts Word Perfect and Borland. Microsoft wanted Borland out of the way so they could promote their own database system, and Word Perfect had to go because they interfered with the hegemony of MS Word. Word Perfect and Borland had decided to join forces. So much we remember, and we remember we played a small part in their immediate plans. But not much more.

Except the lady who entered this anteroom and sat down across from us. She was stunning. In her early forties, she was dressed to kill - as a businesswoman, that is. Absolutely exquisite. Scandinavian women are normally head-turners anyway, but this lady was special, in a class of her own.

And at her side? A Gucci attaché.

We began talking to relieve the ennui, and we got to hear an amazing story about Apple. The lady had been an Apple representative in a previous life. She told us of the 'good old days', the days before Apple had stopped being Apple.

Back in the day, she told us, Apple customers didn't drive their computers home - Apple did. You made your decision in the store, you paid for your purchase, and then a qualified member of staff would accompany you home. They'd set up your computer for you, get it all working, including your printer, and they would not leave until they'd got the printer to successfully print out a test page. And the customer would be reminded that one could always ring the store for assistance if assistance was needed.

Those were the old days, the lady told us. We sat there, fascinated, mesmerised by the idea that any company anywhere could figure out that it was a good idea to do things right - and then stick to it.

Apple technology and Apple products had never been of much interest in Scandinavia - at least in Sweden. Windows was the thing. Software had mostly been all over the place until Uncle Bill released Windows 3.1. Then the whole world went nuts. In Sweden as well. COBOL programmers were being threatened with pink slips. The bigger banks were moving things lock, stock, and barrel to Windows - and were convinced everything could be done in Visual Basic. The national telco had plans to convert all of their internal routines to C programs for Windows - and this in half a year, with no one in-house who'd ever written a line of C in their lives.

We'd occasionally run into people from the 'Mac world'. Often they'd be delegates in the courses we taught. They told us of how things worked for developers in the world of Apple. If we thought things were silly and difficult in the world of Windows, we hadn't seen anything. The impossible Pascal programming language, the clumsy GUI resources, and, above all, the despicable way Apple treated the independent software community.

But Apple didn't have market share, so it hardly mattered. 90% of all activity was on the Windows side. That's what the corporations wanted, so that's what we gave them.

We tested other platforms of course. Such as Solaris for x86, compatible with our fleet of IBM towers. Solaris was interesting, in particular because the desktop could come up completely naked. One needed to 'right click' on it to get a context menu and get things running. A very cool idea.

People talked about NeXT from time to time. 48x48 icons, in more colours than Susan Kare's fourteen. Sweden bought, all told, some ten NeXT boxes, and one was rumoured to be in our area. Programmers and admins drooled over the prospect of getting their hands on one.

Finally NeXT of Sweden contacted us. They were NeXT Software by then, and they had a release for x86, and they very much wanted to put up a permanent exhibit in our offices. Discussions were underway for quite some time, but the exhibit never happened.

Microsoft & Doom

There was one particular evening in our offices where the teachers had decided to stay behind and play a networked session of Doom. People stocked up with eats and refreshments and then got down to it.

Then the telephone rang. It was Brad from Microsoft. Brad? Microsoft? Microsoft had no one in Sweden by that name. 'Oh no, we're calling from the US. The local office in Sweden passed your letter onto us.'

Which was true. Microsoft had just come out with their Borland killer, and yes, their compiler produced more compact images than Borland, but getting the printing routines to work was proving impossible. One bloke would stand out in the corridor and watch the printer, the other would send off a print job, you could hear the laser printer wake up from the office, a sheet of paper would come out - nothing. Someone claimed they could detect a very slight, very fine line at the top of the page, but no more. Microsoft of Sweden had wanted to help, and they had some documents they felt could help us, but the only way out of their building was through a fax machine that was out of order. Whereupon we wrote to Microsoft in Washington state. Whereupon the phone call that evening, as the more dedicated of us were trying to enjoy a light tea and drinks that weren't too inebriating.

The phone call continued. Brad said he'd talk to Jeff, who was also there. The two of them started digging into manuals and who knows what else. On the Doom screen, our guys were getting emaciated by our colleagues. 'Hey stop that! We're on the phone!' But that didn't help. They kept coming at us anyway. Such loyalty.

About thirty five minutes went by, with Brad (and sometimes Jeff) on the other end of a phone conversation with Microsoft, somewhere in the US. Finally the inevitable question.

'Hey Brad. Listen. Where are you calling from?'
'Where I'm calling from? I'm in my office.'
'Yes, fine, but where's your office?'
'Oh that. We're in a suburb of Seattle.'
'Brad, we're halfway around the world in Stockholm. Do you have any idea what this call is costing?'
'Oh the cost? That doesn't matter actually. The important thing is we get you onboard with our product.'

Now it's true that we were an 'organisation of influence' and educated and trained thousands of programmers and admins each year, but still and all. We'd like to believe that the Microsoft of old would have done that for anyone. And no, they never solved the printing issue, but that's not the point either.

The point is: would any super-corporation do that today? Accompany a new customer home with a new computer and not leave until the computer was set up where the customer wanted and the print test worked to complete satisfaction? Or ring someone halfway around the world just to get them up and running with a new compiler?

[The issue was related to how Microsoft handled printer device contexts. Borland made the transition seamlessly from screen to printed page, Microsoft did not. The 'smudge' one of us had seen on the output from the laser printer was in fact the text we'd sent to the printer.]

The Neistat brothers noticed that Apple's mobile devices had no plans for replacing batteries. They put up a stink. They got Apple to relent. Steve Jobs told customers they were holding their devices the wrong way. Apple Defects came out online to list all the incredible things Apple customers endured. Computers were mooing like cows. And oozing green slime like Ghostbusters.

Users were told that system crashes were their own fault, that it was perfectly acceptable to hose an entire system with a wayward mouse click. Things were working as designed, so please STFU. OK, it was true that no system had ever behaved like that anywhere at any time, not even Apple's old 'MacOS' as run on their beige Macintoshes, but that was then and this is now. The list of completely incredible boners by Apple was longer than Slider's 'Johnson'. Which wasn't the worst of it. The worst was how Apple treated these abused customers - like crap.

Already when Gil Amelio was called down from the board to fix Apple, and he heard how boxes were leaving the factory and arriving at customer doors 'DOA', he also heard members of management mumble 'so what - if it doesn't work out of the box, they can buy a new one'. Amelio, as is known, promptly shut down all production until they'd ironed out all the 'kinks'.

No one cares what happens to Microsoft. They've pulled every dirty trick in the book. And it's always about money. The way they went after their competition, to destroy them and drive them to Canada. The way they double-tricked Spyglass to get their Navigator-like web browser code for free, then flooded the market with a free alternative to the $20 Navigator, how they established OEM agreements to stifle release of any competitive products.

The way they plucked names off tombstones to beef up their petition lists to have the DOJ drop the case against them. And so forth. No one cares about Microsoft. They still dominate in the office landscape, and that's not how it should be of course, but corporations need reliable support networks, and FOSS companies don't have enough clout to make that happen, with Apple still in the corner, playing with itself.

No one cares about Microsoft. But people should be concerned about Apple.

FWAANG!

It used to be called 'FAANG' - Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google. The most evil companies on the planet. Now it's likely to become 'FWAANG', adding Wikipedia, perhaps the most sinister of them all.

But no matter. And notice there's no 'M' in there.

What have 'FWAANG' done? Lots, actually.

Facebook: people are leaving the platform in droves. They're tired of the scandals. Of the lack of privacy and personal integrity. They tired of being knocked off the platform for something one of the local FB teams didn't like. Tired of hearing stories about how little old ladies get jail sentences for using the platform to express their frustrations and fears. Tired of the story about Cambridge Analytica. (Twitter should be included there too, as that platform's more of a Kindergarten than even Facebook.)

Google: people saw the congressional hearings with Crenshaw and Cruz. They now know what Google execs have been up to. They've heard the testimony and the evidence that Google pushed as much as 15 million votes the way they wanted in the most recent US presidential election.

Amazon: the company that sells stuff online? Yes. They're working as an arm of the deep state. They've gone so far as to elicit passport numbers from shipment recipients in several countries. They're also known as the 'Waltons' of online business, treating their staff like shit. And, according to insiders, they're the number one threat to our universal peace of mind, waiting in the wings with an apparatus described as the 'Fourth Reich', holding a $600 million contract with no less than the CIA.

But Apple? Why should Apple be on that list?

Aren't privacy and integrity Tim Cook's trademarks?

Ask the New York Times. Ask the Wall Street Journal. It's always about money.

The company with the One-Trick Pony - the iPhone. The market that was all theirs to start with. (But they couldn't hold on. They got outgunned by Google, the Microsoft of the New Millennium.) Google encroached on Apple's territory. What did Apple do about it?

They sealed their devices. Hermetically. Now no one can get in or get out. Supposedly.

The devices of the San Bernardino shooters? Could Apple help? Nope. And so forth. Tim brandishes his supposed advantage with pride. All the while he's sticking it to everyone still the same.

Have no illusions. Apple's execs want complete control of the software markets. Unlike ordinary employment, you have to put up cash to get the chance to earn some in return. And the pickings are slim. There's no dental plan, no family insurance policy, no regular holiday pay - and you get to keep 70% of what you'd otherwise earn. And Apple wield their root certificate like a bludgeon: they've already alienated many companies, including Spotify. They want it all and they don't care who they step on to get there.

It's not as if Apple is part of the traditional Unix open-source community anymore anyway. Yes, they have traditional Unix tools online in source-code form, but you can't build an Apple kernel with that. The really interesting parts of Apple's OS are hidden and become more hidden by the hour. Not that the fanboys will object of course. Oh noes.

Apple made it first to the top of the mountain. To the legendary trillion-dollar market cap. Hooray. A company who back in 1997 could have been comfortably put into receivership, no questions asked. Yet as soon as they reached a trillion, they fell back down again. And now the excuses started to appear. Jean-Louis Gassée, he of BeOS fame, he who'd offered that system to Gil Amelio for a cool quarter of a billion (and got turned down). Now he's trying to make like this was Apple's plan all along. The same type of plan they used in 1996 to lure Steve Jobs from Redwood City?

Apple can't ride on their One-Trick Pony anymore. They abandoned their desktop system. They scuppered their dedicated developer team. (And it showed.) Now they have to backtrack and make like that was their plan all along.

It never had to be like this. The path to success was straight ahead and easy. Yes, Apple got into a right mess by 1996. As if. Yes, Gil Amelio had to shut down the factories. The arrogance and insolence towards their loyal customers - even in the schools in their hometown of Cupertino where officials were seriously considering other computer brands - was pervasive. 'It it doesn't work right out of the factory, then just buy a new one.'

But then Steve Jobs returned. Eight or nine months later, as he was formally introduced at a major Apple event, he didn't have a lot to be thankful for. And his audience hung on every word, their desperation just as palpable.

But Apple had an ace in the hole. They'd acquired the unbelievable NeXTSTEP operating system. And NeXT, after years of foundering and halting production so the factory walls could be repainted for the umpteenth time in yet another shade of beige, had finally abandoned the 'hermetically sealed' approach, seemed ready to apply for membership in the wider Unix open-source community, and were finally going into the 'black', for an estimated profit of $300 million.

NeXTSTEP and its derivative OPENSTEP were already on the market. All Apple had to do was behave. Oh - yes, they needed to work on their industry reputation. Behemoths like Dell and WorldCom were quick to cancel their contracts when they heard of the 'merger'.

But Apple now had a superior system. More: Apple had the superior system. There'd never been anything like it. There never will be either - this we know because of what happened afterwards.

Whilst members of Apple's upper management secretly confided that no one in Cupertino could give a hoot about the legacy Macintosh 'fanboys', outward appearances were more subtle, and Apple made a number of bad decisions under considerable pressure. The names 'Siracusa' and 'Gruber' should ring a bell. And, as Steve himself admitted, no single exec or even gang of execs were going to be able to change the corporate mindset. And they didn't. They couldn't.

So we saw things inexorably deteriorate. We waited five years for a Windows killer that had been ready and would have killed Windows five years earlier. We saw piece after piece of the complex but eminently simple and elegant NeXTSTEP get chipped away for some ridiculous fanboy fetish. The system known as NeXTSTEP, back in 1997, was and still is infinitely superior to anything Apple can offer to this day.

But, as always, it was the shareholders who called the shots. A CEO is responsible to the board of directors, and the board of directors are responsible to the shareholders. Those shareholders don't care about purity of design, or how the company will fare twenty-five years from now. They want to know what's coming in their yearly dividend envelope. System integrity and long-term strategic planning be damned.

The products we've released at this site have always conformed to what Apple's system should be, and not what it is. Looking through our catalog at https://rixstep.com/acp, we can see that there are many utilities there that wouldn't be found or even be necessary if the system were still a 'non-Apple' 'Unix' system. BBC, CandS, CatInfo, FileInfo, Forker, GDE, and Undercover are all utilities that wouldn't need to exist were it not for quirks Apple introduced into the Unix 'Rock Solid Foundation'.

The very fact that Apple doesn't have a decent file manager is in itself a scandal. (But hold on, wait, a fanboy might say, don't we have Finder? And, in such case, you've just been exposed to how clueless those Apple fanboys are. Conduct an online search for '.DS_Store'. Have fun.)

Who knows where Apple would have been today if they'd stuck to doing the right thing instead of giving into stupid fanboys inside and outside their corporate walls? They'd still have had their glorious iPod. They'd still have their iPhone. And their iPad. But their core system itself would have been stronger, much stronger, and they'd have avoided all the cringeworthy scandals brought on by their fanboy influencers.

The massive data loss scandal wouldn't have happened. Because someone in Cupertino would have pulled head out of arse and sounded the bell in time. Likewise, all the rabid fanboys biting and snapping away at the truth-tellers would have been out of a job.

The Maynor-Ellch Toorcon scandal wouldn't have happened because Apple wouldn't have made such a big stink about it, merely saying 'geez looks like we got a flaw there, we'll fix it straight away', instead of conniving and smearing and bribing and trying to ruin the careers of decent people.

The Month of Apple Bugs would never have happened because Apple would have been a full member of the open source community, and not wasting precious months or even years to release bug fixes because their code had to first be made more 'Mac-like'.

Charlie Miller wouldn't have won so many prizes at hacker tournaments because his number one trick wouldn't work any longer: the trick of checking version numbers and seeing how fucking far behind Apple were again.

And software would be free, or nearly free. Source code would be eminently available. The OS kernel would be something anyone could build at home, with or without the 'please don't steal me' kernel limerick. All in all, Apple would have been a far less ridiculous and much less hated company than is the case today.

One's reminded of the story of Jonestown and how a congressman came down to rescue those people. But how a brainwashed member of that cult took the opportunity to murder the congressman instead.

Seems a lot like Apple's fanboys.

Epilogue

Things don't have to be like this. The early web was much freer. It can be free again.

Support your local payment processor. Those people do an important job. They provide a buffer against fraud. They manage international transactions, funds transfers, and the like. They normally take about 10% off the top - unlike the greedos at Apple.

Apple and the other OS vendors are trying to squeeze the payment processors out of the market. The mammoth Digital River, founded by Joel Ronning and headquartered in Minnesota in the US, bought up just about every independent payment processor in the world, including SWREG, the first such payment processor ever, but now they've been feeling the pressure from FWAANG. So support their subsidiaries. Diversity, for once, is the name of the game.

On Apple's platforms: do not code-sign your software. Do not submit your software to Apple. Do not give Apple any money. Take the hit. Inform your clients. Tell them why.

And if you are a user only: make a habit of visiting only software vendor sites and procuring your software from those sites without interference from Apple. Boycott the Apple App Store.

Apple Apple über alles über alles in der Welt!
 - Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Helgoland, 26 August 1841

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