Saturday, March 17, 2007

Apple Dot Net

What is it about us tech fanboys and Apple... I've always found them interesting, even when I wasn't a regular Mac user. Infuriating, sometimes. But interesting.

So here's another thing about Apple, circa 1995... That was right about the end of something like a two-year period where Apple was way ahead on internet integration and didn't really make anything out of it. By the time the internet really started to escape out of academia, the Windows world was well on it's way to catching up, and by the time it all really went mainstream, Macs would be a fading memory. (I remember as late as 1995 impressing non-techy visitors to my grad school office with demos of a web browser. But a year later, the cat was largely out of the bag.)

But in 1994/1995 it was all Macish. Just accessing the internet was much easier (although it was a separate software purchase initially). And all the best software was on Macs (well, some of it was Unix, too) Eudora was the standard email client, and it was still Mac-only, for some reason the Windows version remained ugly forever. The Mac version of Netscape (and before that Mosaic) were much prettier than the Windows versions. (In my memory, the Mac versions came out sooner, particularly for early Netscape, but I can't find a source that backs that up).

On top of which, Microsoft was in the middle of a totally clueless stage. Win 95 did not, by default, ship with a web browser, and the big Microsoft internet initiative of 1995 was something called Blackbird, which was going to be a proprietary replacement for HTML. That worked out about as well as you'd expect, evidenced by the fact that Blackbird doesn't even have a Wikipedia article. Making it less important than even the most minor anime character...

Putting that all together, in the months before the Win95 launch, Mac had about a 12-18 month lead in Internet apps and Microsoft was distracted by an attempt to privatize the nascent WWW. There's clearly some room there for Apple to have maneuvered themselves into a better position than they wound up in. Being the best internet platform around would have been an interesting counterweight to the Win 95 launch, and while I doubt they could have stopped the upcoming onslaught, they probably could have mitigated it somewhat.

Instead, Apple didn't really do anything in the space, except release an email client (Claris Emailer -- which does have a Wikipedia article, which charitably refers to it as "popular"). Microsoft, on the other hand, turned on a dime, and gave up the futile attempt to take over the internet by co-opting the authoring tools. They switched instead to the more lucrative method of taking over the internet by co-opting the client tools. Apple wandered around in a fog for a few years, until they attacked the opportunity to go after digital media. But you probably know that part...