The Mouse That Roared

Confronting a bleak future without Macs, a user recalls his first Apple on the Farm.

November/December 1996

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The Mouse That Roared

I was something of a computerphobe when I arrived at Stanford. It was 1985, and the personal computer revolution was still at its Lexington and Concord stage. Computers were for geeks. I had better things to do than play with a machine.

But at Stanford, a stone's throw from Silicon Valley, it was hard to stay away from them--especially the Macintosh. Students had them in the dorms. They were in the libraries and computer clusters. I saw that Mac users were not geeks. They were my friends. By the time I was a sophomore, I had joined their ranks and bought my first Mac. I used it to write my term papers and make presentations and run statistics for my biology class. It had a modular design, without wires or a separate monitor. In that pre-laptop era, I would take it outside and work in the warm California sun.

When Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, spoke on campus, everyone I knew went to hear him. He and his product represented all that we undergrads hoped to be: young, creative, hip. Early Mac people were cocky. We saw ourselves as thinkers. The Mac was our tool to solve problems and present new ideas. At Apple headquarters they flew a pirate flag, and we were party to this spirit. We would change the world but on our own terms and in ways not condoned by the establishment.

Mac people scoffed at PC people. The PC--usually an IBM or IBM-compatible machine running the ponderous DOS operating system--was for holding reams of data and crunching financial information. The Mac was for creating. If PC people taunted Mac people for using a "child's computer," so much the better. We knew they just didn't get it.

Point and click was the least of the Mac's attributes. Apple created a whole new way of interacting with work. It made things streamlined and elegant. The steps required to make the computer do what we wanted it to do paralleled the way we actually thought; the computer became an extension of ourselves, without the computer-language hiccups of backslashes, dots and colons. With the style of work simplified, we could achieve our best. We could focus on results because the process was effortless.

When I graduated from Stanford, I remained a Mac person. Some of my friends did not. They moved on to corporate America, began wearing a suit every day and switched to a PC. The transition was not always pretty. Some began to malign the computer of their youth, saying that they had responsibilities now and had to put aside childish things. I felt sad for them.

With the launching of Windows 95, PC people began a cultural counteroffensive. Armed with the power of corporate America's most widely used computer, they claimed the PC could now do everything a Mac could. But Mac people met the hype for Windows 95 with skepticism. Allegiance to a cheap imitation was bewildering. Why listen to Harry Connick Jr. when you can hear Frank Sinatra?

Alas, we remaining Mac people may yet have to make the transition to PCs. Apple is having major problems. I read in the business section of the newspaper that the company made a strategic blunder when it refused to license its operating system--the computer language that drives the machine and gives it its distinctive look and feel. With no other companies producing the Mac system, Apple had to depend solely on its own machines to account for market share. Rather than redefining the industry in broad terms shaped by its technology, Apple was simply manufacturing great individual computers. But greatness was not enough. When poor management led to production, pricing and marketing missteps, there were no other companies to maintain Mac sales at a healthy level. Market share fell, and Apple landed in its current position as a high-quality computer manufacturer but a corporate loser. It's a disconcerting possibility but Mac may go the way of Betamax--a superior technology made extinct by lack of life-sustaining market share.

Apple recently installed a new CEO. He is charged with revitalizing the company. I hope he succeeds. I will have to buy a new computer in a couple of years, and I hope that I won't have to abandon my Mac for a PC. I'm not ready to trade in the cocky aspirations of my youth just yet.

Lloyd Krieger, '89, is a resident at UCLA's integrated plastic surgery program and a health care business consultant.

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