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The Forgotten Failure of Apple's PowerTalk 138

Posted by timothy
from the technology-oxbow dept.
DECS writes "The series of articles Why Apple Will Change TV compared how Apple is poised for success in areas where Microsoft is currently failing. But circumstances are subject to change! Just over a decade ago, Apple began facing serious legacy problems with its platform, with many parallels to today's Microsoft. Examining Apple's dramatic fall provides a series of notable platform lessons that no company should ignore. A look back at the forgotten failure of Apple's PowerTalk: Apple vs. Microsoft in the Enterprise"
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The Forgotten Failure of Apple's PowerTalk

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  • by jfengel (409917) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:00AM (#16407647) Homepage Journal
    Actually, I'd say Google models this pretty well. Products with a real current functionality, like GMail and Google Maps, succeed despite pushing the technological envelope. Products which push the envelope too hard, like their office suite, fail to catch fire. They keep looking for the boundary between "functional" and "futuristic", but there's almost always a market for the things (especially at the $0 price they charge for it) they make when they work.

    Either way, Google is all about pushing the "constantly refine it" part. Web apps make for instantaneous, compatible upgrades.
  • by maztuhblastah (745586) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:18AM (#16407905) Journal
    MSFT enjoyed a 7% increase in revenue last quarter alone, while AAPL's growth has been in the iPod area. There are no similarities between AAPL and MSFT in that front.

    You probably didn't mean to phrase it that way, but you're totally right. Note the lack of Zune rumour sites, and general lack of enthusiasm over the Zune when compared to the iPod.

    Now, as for the marketshare aregument: you're also right. Apple's marketshare has fallen since 1994/5. It has also improved since 1997/8. Moving past statistics, one can look at the Wall Street perception of Apple. In 1996-7 Wall Street saw Apple in a death spiral. Their market share was swirling down the toilet, they were losing ground in the education and enterprise sectors, and Windows 95/98 was generating a much bigger buzz than anything Apple was producing. Then Apple turned around: they got Jobs back at the helm, released a product that created a media sensation (iMac -- for examples, look at Newsweek's and Time's coverage of it) and started inching away from the edge of a financial cliff. Following that with Mac OS X, and the iPod, Wall Streets prediction of Apple's future is pretty damn bright.

    You mention Microsoft. I say don't bother. They don't really compete. Apple makes personal computers and iPods. Microsoft makes an operating system and a game console (and soon another iPod "killer"). With the exception of the forthcoming Zune, there's not really much competition between the two. People cite Mac OS X as competing against Windows -- often referencing Vista -- but it's not really. Mac OS X only runs on Macs (officially.) Windows runs on commodity hardware. Apple makes Mac OS X to bundle with their hardware. Microsoft makes Windows because it's the cornerstone of their business. There's far less competition than people think.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:33AM (#16408147)
    As an email gateway developer, I worked with Exchange since it's inception and I attempted to use AOCE. When I compare that experience with what's going on now, I reach a very different conclusion.

    Exchange started out life in the X.400 world. (If memory serves, Microsoft bought an X.400 product from someone else and GUIfied it.) This meant that even before the advent of the Internet Connector you could connect to Exchange using "standard" X.400 protocols. (I say "standard" because X.400 is so large and messy that pretty much everyone who implemented it was forced to deviate from the specifications in one way or another.) Not easy, but doable, and more to the point, doable from any platform able to deploy an OSI network stack. As Exchange shifted towards SMTP things improved to the point where Exchange was able to connect to existing facilities with little effort. (The article is wrong, BTW, in claiming that modem SMTP was around when Exchange first shipped. It was around but Microsoft chose to ignore it.)

    AOCE, OTOH, only provided vast, arcane, incomplete and poorly documented Mac-specific API. The underlying protocols weren't documented at all. We tried hard to figure how to interface with this mess, even sitting down to discuss our issues with Apple folks at one point, but eventually gave up. And I'm talking a group of people who developed successful gateways to X.400-1984, X.400-1988, cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail, Novell MHS, and GroupWise among others. Either we are fools who got incredibly lucky several times over, or AOCE was an unmitigated disaster. And I don't think we were lucky fools.

    But Apple learned their lesson. As the article points out, they now leverage open standards whenever possible. You can talk to a lot of Apple's new stuff over protocol. Sure, the APis are still there, and some of them are pretty nasty, but in a lot of cases you don't have to use them. Apple is also very active in various standards organizations (I wish they had had more success with Bonjour in the IETF, but that's a different matter).

    Microsoft, OTOH, has utterly failed to learn anything from their experience with Exchange. They still roll their own whenever possible. They don't document the protocols they use, only the APIs, and of course those are only available on Windoze. I used to see lots of Microsoft people at standards meetings but not so many any more.

    Of course things can change, but once things are headed in a particular direction they tend to stay on that course, even if it is a bad one. Everything I see about Microsoft says to me that they are on the wrong course and aren't doing anywhere near enough reinvention to correct it. The exact opposite appears to be the case with Apple.
  • by Kancept (737976) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:43AM (#16408275) Homepage
    OpenDoc was actually a group venture with IBM and a few others IIRC. In OS/2 and eComstation we still use it. Also, if you go to IBM's website (and Lenovo as well since they just imaged support section), look in the URL and you will see it's grabbing OpenDoc documents to display. It was a cool tech, just too bad it never took off. There were other parts of the "Open"XXXX standard they put together. OpenDoc just being the most widely used.
  • by fermion (181285) * on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:33AM (#16409035) Homepage Journal
    Yep, I know. A company that has consistently made a profit on across all product line is a terrible company, while a company that consistently has product line that may never make a profit, to they point that they hide the p/l statements of specific product lines, is a wonderful success.

    The point of this article, and the lesson from countless years of business case studies, is that mature products are easily reproduced by cut rate competitors, and the only way to stay ahead of those competitors is to continuously refine products into compelling new versions. This is as true for a box of tissue as it is for a computer.

    IBM failed to innovate in the 80's, so the cut rate competitor MS won market share. Apple failed to innovate in the 90's, so the cut rate competitor MS won some more market share. In fact, the only thing the article seems to have missing is that MS is always in the position of cut rate competitor, so does not have to innovate so much as wait for others to falter, then come in cheaper commodity products.

    This is changing, as is the norm. At some point the cut rate competitor wants to play with big boys, which is where MS has been moving to. This is dangerous as one can make money selling cheap commodity products, but selling higher end products puts you into the rat race. MS has faltered in many of these ventures, and the only success is the game market. Even in the server market they seem to competing with cut rate and legacy *nix installs rather that modern IBM type systems. But MS has enough money and time to make it through. Only time will tell what will emerge.

  • by lahi (316099) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:06PM (#16411287)
    Interesting. If I recall correctly, AOCE/PowerTalk was presented at the 94 WWDC. A friend of mine attended, and shared what he had brought home with me. I saw the Demo video, and the docs. The API docs were huge - about two Inside Mac VI, I think. Incredible. The idea to empower _every_ application with e-mail capability was great in a way. As was many other ideas in AOCE/PowerTalk. But it was too complex and too inefficient.

    However, what really killed it, IMO, was that one of the premises it was built upon, was soon to be shown as false. Few people seem to remember it, but at that time, it was not at all clear that the Internet would take over the world completely. Networking yes, but it was widely believed that the Internet would be an interim solution, soon to be replaced by ISO OSI protocols like TP4. And of course X.400/X.500 etc etc. In addition, Apple still had a dedication to AppleTalk. And there were existing proprietary mailsystems like QuickMail.

    The idea was that PowerTalk users would have adapters that would enable a workstation to use legacy mail systems. In hindsight, this of course is a totally stupid idea, today we would put such gateway functionality at the mailserver. But with the following prevalence of plain SMTP/POP/IMAP mail, this capability would just constitute deadweight in the PowerTalk software.

    The idea of an in-basket on the desktop, and send-mail capabilities in all applications is in a way something that we still miss today. And if you think about it, it is in a way just a GUI rendition of old Unix ideas, with the ~7mbox (= in-basket), and :w !mail user from vi.

    In my opinion the user interface principles as they were strictly defined even up to AOCE are still unsurpassed, no interface has ever had the same completely natural feel. Windows, OS X, KDE, GNOME - nothing comes close to the interface as it was back in good old System 7.

    I sure wish there was an open source project to take the lessons learned back then, and make a new X11 based GUI that puts them to effective use, while trying to retain some fundamental simplicity.

    -Lasse
  • by BAM0027 (82813) <blo@27.org> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:25PM (#16411549) Homepage
    I don't think this article or /. entry adds value in any significant sense. Sure, it's great to consider in hindsight theis experience, but the criticism is unnecessary if not unfounded.

    Apple addressed PowerTalk and OpenDoc (and various other initiatives) by moving to a completely different operating system. They saw the fundamental shortcomings of their ideas and their approaches and addressed them. Now, they are leveraging all the potential of OS X's *nix core in a myriad of ways.

    They didn't forget the failure. They addressed it.

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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