Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Why Apple Failed in the 90s 369

An anonymous reader writes "With news of amazing sales figures for both Mac hardware and the iPod, the future for Apple looks bright. But it wasn't always that way. The 90s were a bad time for the company, and has a look at Apple's failures of the previous decade." From the article: "During the development of Mac OS X, Apple polished the existing classic Mac OS, and salvaged what it could of Copland developments. Apple modernized its existing Mac APIs into Carbon, which would run software in Mac OS 9, and later allow it to run natively in Mac OS X. Despite fixing the obvious flaws in Apple's operating system offering, Mac OS X did not in itself solve Apple's problem. The company now only had an improved platform that nobody had any reason to buy. The real solution to Apple's problem was stumbled onto by a fortunate accident. "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Apple Failed in the 90s

Comments Filter:
  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @07:42AM (#16535472)
    Apples failed in the 90s because Mac OS "Classic" was a polished turd and the cost of Apples was expensive compared to PCs. It's no wonder Apple almost sunk without a trace.

    With OS X and hardware which is merely moderately expensive, they might stand a better chance, but it's hard to see how they'll ever really compete with MS Windows. I guess from Apple's perspective, even if their share rises from 2% to 4%, that is still a 100% increase for them even if it's still insignificant to to a market from a whole.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @07:47AM (#16535518) Homepage Journal
    reticent to license OS X to other PC vendors or sell it to run on beige boxes now that it is Intel. They tried something along those lines with the clones, and as the article states it was a complete disaster. Ultimately besides a few loud people, most of the people who would buy OS X for generic PCs are the ones who would buy a mac anyhow, so Apple loses profit while barely increasing market share. Not a good tradeoff from the corporate perspective I would think.
  • Can anyone say iPod? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sushibot ( 860818 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:09AM (#16535638)
    I personally loved the Mac's back in the 90's. I built a very successful commercial retouching business where our primary software/hardware was Photoshop on OS9 Mac's. OS9 performed well as you could lock down memory and dedicate it to Photoshop (no OS swapping). This is something that is sorely missing from OS/X and Windows.

    Yes, there were/are WIN32 calls to ask Windows to not swap, however, there is really no guarantee. (Maybe there is now?) Photoshop has a more efficient swapping mechanism based on image tiles rather than the OS with small pages.

    For the general business or home computer user, I agree, the 90's Dell's years. Apple fell short of expectations.

    I think Apple's success with the iPod and iTunes really boosted their overall marketing effort. Had it not been for those products, we probably would not be having this discussion.

  • Profits (Score:5, Interesting)

    by massysett ( 910130 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:09AM (#16535640) Homepage
    hard to see how they'll ever really compete with MS Windows. I guess from Apple's perspective, even if their share rises from 2% to 4%,

    One CEO once said "US Steel is not in the business of making steel. We're in the business of making profits."

    Mac's market share is not the most important number. Mac's profitability is much more important.

    GM's got huge market share but is losing money. You don't see people saying "BMW will never really compete with GM."

    Just because MS' self-imposed measure of success is dominating every market with 90% share doesn't mean that this is the only metric of success.
  • I abandoned ship... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FuryG3 ( 113706 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:23AM (#16535706)
    when it was clear Apple was going to take forever to deliver a next-generation OS.

    Copland gave me hope, but then they scrapped it. At that point I was a little disappointed, but was in no big hurry to switch.

    By the time Rhapsody was in the works, it was really time that Apple got a new OS. The poor multitaking and bad memory management were a pain to deal with, and I was exited that maybe there was hope. I installed a beta version of it and was quite impressed (even though there weren't many apps available).

    But then (in 1998) it, too was scraped (or transformed into OS X), and it was clear it was going to be quite a while before X came out. At that point I jumped ship over to Slackware Linux, which fulfilled pretty much all of my expectations.

    I patiently waited until recently, when I picked up a MBP and am again enjoying the Apple experience.

  • by Admin_Jason ( 1004461 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:26AM (#16535718) Homepage
    The article does leave you wanting more with that teaser at the end, but that doesn't mean the article is not complete, nor does it mean it was a waste of time. If this is an ongoing series, that will span several articles, then it is definitely not a waste of time. As mentioned upthread, I found it quite interesting and enlightening on the subject of why Mac doesn't license its OS to 3rd parties - it tried and the effort was a disaster.

    The other interesting component of the article I found was the distinction in market share. While it makes perfect sense to segregate Apple from Dell and HP as not in the same market, (just as BMW doesn't share the same market as Ford and Chevy) the comparison had not crossed my mind until the author mentioned it specifically. Thus, the article (for me) was both informative and thought provoking.

    I actually am looking forward to the next article to read more on the perception of their take on what turned things around for Apple. And fwiw, my take on what turned things around was the change in marketing strategies and the return of Jobs.
  • Re:The real solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:51AM (#16535838)
    My best guess would be the iMac. With Colored Cases, and it all in one design, the G3 Processor (which at the time had good performance). What it did was offered something that was missing in the market. It made a computer that looked presentable in peoples homes. Before Computers Were limited to bedrooms, the basement or the spare room. the iMac made them cute enough as well smell enough to fit in the kitchen, living room, or different locations. As well its all in one design allowed it to be easily moved from room to room. So it could be in all these rooms, when it was handy. Secondly they were Cute, Which attracted the Female market, before the iMac the Female market Computer (Sexist or not, I have heard from most Woman when they see the iMac they called them cute and wanted one). So it really opened the market.
  • by mgv ( 198488 ) * <Nospam@01@slash2dot.veltman@org> on Sunday October 22, 2006 @08:53AM (#16535852) Homepage Journal
    Their share has moved from 2% to 6% already gartner You'll need a new line now.

    More importantly, their share of laptop sales [] is 12%, and growing rapidly.

    It will be 18% in 3 months timen (Based on surveys of planned purchases within 3 months, which are alot less likely to change than the 1+ year buyer self assessments of 37%, many of which will actually not buy an apple computer).

    They are rapidly moving to becoming a, if not the, serious choice for the home user. (Lots of those PC sales are to big corporations, for desktops - and Apple is going to struggle to sell corporations that they need iMovie, iTunes or iPhoto, no matter how good they are as apps).

    Combine visible laptops with visible iPods, and alot of consumers are going to be viewing an apple computer as a normal purchase, rather than something obscure and unusual. In fact, if you haven't seen lots of apple laptops around the place, you probably aren't looking around much in the last year or so.

    Anyway, my 2c worth, and its an easy bet because I'm not really saying anything other than extrapolating current market growth.

  • It wasn't just Apple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @09:06AM (#16535916)
    It wasn't just Apple. Nearly all of the integrated PC manufacturers, meaning those who developed integrated systems, from the hardware (in some cases including the CPU) through to the OS, either collapsed or nearly collapsed in the 90s. The reasons, of course, were first that Intel continued to increase the price/performance of its x86 architecture, leaving most RISC systems offering either worse performance, or only marginally better performance (at much higher prices), and second that Microsoft continued to improve Windows 3.x, in particular taking advantage of the revolutionary (for x86) improvements provided by the i386. Microsoft also released Windows NT, an OS architecturally comparable to Unix, but with a much lower price (than commercial Unix systems).

    One notable exception to the shakeout of the early 90s was Sun Microsystems, largely because of its OS, but when Linux eventually caught on, Sun started to implode too.

    On the whole, I think Apple supporters are far too harsh in their criticism of Sculley. In most ways, the original Mac was no match for its competitors, not only the Intel/Microsoft PC, but also other 68k-based competitors like the Amiga. The first Mac that really did outshine the competition was the Mac II in 1987. It was expensive, but unlike the original Mac, it offered state-of-the-art hardware. The core OS was still rather poor, but the GUI was amongst the better ones in the market.

    Sculley's big mistake was joining forces with IBM and Motorola in the PowerPC debacle, but almost everyone at the time (apart from Intel) thought Risc was the future, and that the x86 would die, so it's hard to criticise him for that. If Apple had gone with x86, it could have continued to offer premium PCs (much as it did in the late 80s, and dies today), and channelled all of the money wasted on the PowerPC into developing a modern OS, as Microsoft had done with NT.

    Apple's real problems came under Spindler, who tried to turn Apple into a producer of low-cost, high-volume systems (something Steve Jobs supposedly wanted to do with the original Mac as well), which is a business model that can't sustain the high R&D costs associated with developing a custom OS (and hardware, although Apple has gradually moved out of that market in most respects). All that happened was that Apple was reduced to offering inferior hardware at higher prices than competitors. With the switch to x86, Apple has finally caught up with Intel PCs (Macs are basically Intel PCs with stylish enclosures and a trendy OS), but is unlikely to ever be able to offer superior hardware again, as it did in the late 80s. That's simply the reality of a market where specialisation has made it impracticable to build integrated systems.
  • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @09:14AM (#16535966)
    The poor multitaking and bad memory management were a pain to deal with, and I was exited that maybe there was hope. I installed a beta version of it and was quite impressed (even though there weren't many apps available).

    You know, only NOW are avid Apple users talking openly about the flaws of Mac OS Classic. I clearly remember Mac users excitedly touting the advantages of Mac OS in terms of multitasking and stability, although it was clear as a plain day Mac was falling way behind Windows.

    I also remember Windows/Unix/Linux users joking at the "always around the corner" OSX vaporware that was always getting delayed. Steve kept showing QuickTime movies of the DockBar animating, telling us "isn't it cool" and delivering nothing else.

    This is not mysteriously forgotten as Mac users now take a shot at Microsoft for their Vista delays, as if a major OS upgrade/rewrite delays are something that would never happen with Apple.

    Just a few notes on selective memory and history rewriting, I wanted to point out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @09:31AM (#16536034)
    It's always been much harder to be your own local apple store as opposed to being a local whitebox PC store. Apple had some rather hefty fees associated with retailing new products and aftermarket was dismal as well. For a long time they didn't even offer one penny discount to retailers, nada, although requiring a 50 grand bond/weird sales license deal IIRC and imposing severe restrictions on the sales, etc. The scrambling local vendor who jumped through that expensive hoops then got the privelege of paying full retail for his units and add ons (few anyway) from Apple, then had to try and make it with Apple inc undercutting their price via their online or at the end of the telephone store! Yes, it could and has beeen done to be a local neighborhood mac store, but it was and is still very difficult and expensive and mostly doesn't exist. They failed to take advantage of the local neighborhhod aspect.

        It's hard to buy an apple when you can't even see one any place for sale near you. This is 2006, I can go to various cities near me that have computer stores large and small, from big department stores that offer computers *blahmart, etc, and then like office depot, etc, to the smallest whitebox shop, maybe going on two dozen stores now locally to me in three different cities in a 20 mile diameter, and not a single mac for sale. It's unobtainium, and people aren't going to go out of their way to try and track it down and drop serious cash when they have right at their fingertips a huge variety of shapes sizes colors and functions and prices of computers they can just grab and go home. I can go out right now and get a used "$99 full bundle-internet ready!" package locally to me (which isn't all that bad a deal either usually there is so much good enough used stuff on the market), all the way to some high end stuff or custom built to order-but no macs, none.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @09:43AM (#16536094)
    You know, only NOW are avid Apple users talking openly about the flaws of Mac OS Classic.

    Yes and no. I was an Apple (and Sun) user in the 90s, and often complained about the poor progress of Mac OS. I eventually switched to Windows NT, because it offered most of the advantages of Unix, but could also run common desktop applications. In other words, with NT, I was able to replace the Mac and the Sun with a single x86 PC that was faster, cheaper and had more software available for it than the other two combined.

    What I'm getting at is that most of those who were really bothered by the poor quality of Mac OS probably jumped ship, so the ones left behind were either not bothered by it, or too ignorant/fanatical to know/admit that it was a problem.

    Since OS X came along, I've considered Macs each time I've bought a new computer, but Macs have always seemed overpriced and underpowered. With Apple's switch to x86, a Mac was in the last group of systems I was considering last time I bought a new laptop, but I ended up going with a PC again, because of the greater flexibility in configuration.
  • Re:The real solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MojoStan ( 776183 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:27AM (#16536350)
    My best guess would be the iMac. With Colored Cases, and it all in one design...

    I also think it's the iMac, but why was it an "accident?" Was it because it was initially designed to be Apple's version of Larry Ellison's lamebrain "$500 network computer" idea? I'm not sure if that rumor is true.

    For you youngsters, that kook Ellison tried to convince everyone that cheap diskless computers (which couldn't boot without a network connection) would outsell desktop PCs with actual hard disks. Who really needs local storage and applications, anyway?

    The iMac looked like it could have been a "network computer." Did the 'i' in iMac stand for "internet" Mac?

  • So what? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Corwn of Amber ( 802933 ) <corwinofamber@sk ... e minus math_god> on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:59AM (#16536558) Journal
    Okay. Same story, my vision:

    At some point in the eighties, Steve Jobs told the rest of Apple "Okay, so we're gonna build really nice computers, shaped as cubes, running a *BSD, and charge a metric assload of $ for them."
    Anwser : "You're fired."

    Steve goes a little away and sets up a company to do just that... ... and ends up with an underpowered (for what only its OS was needing) machine, but a Real Nice one, for "only" $5000 (or was it $7000? With its printer, maybe. Can't remember off the top of my head.) It was a cube running a really nice Unix...
    He never could sell enough of them to turn any sort of profit whatsoever, even when he finally equipped them with enough RAM to do something useful, though. He tried to make a pizza-box version, too, which was better (and nicer looking IMO).

    While that company was going from Good Idea to Bankruptcy(sp?), Apple was following, what with that crazy idea for a hardware vendor to let other make *cheaper* clones... the idea not to cut their prices as a logical consequence was not a good one either...

    Then with NeXt almost dead and Apple not far away from their Final Doom either, they call Steve back to save them. Then he says "And NOW we're gonna do what I'm saying and get it RIGHT this time", and goes on "and we're gonna make those cubes running BSD, and..." ... we all know the rest : iMacs, iPod+iTunes, and now i686mac.
  • by mmeister ( 862972 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @11:04AM (#16536612)
    As someone who has been an Apple developer since 1989, the assertions made in this article are ludicrous at best. They show signs of someone that has perhaps read about the company's history, but not been involved with them in any significant way (nor was it researched with any depth).

    That this meaningless trash makes it onto Slashdot and Digg simply amazes me.
  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Sunday October 22, 2006 @01:08PM (#16537502) Homepage Journal

    I still think that you have no soul

    Maybe it isn't that he has no soul; maybe he just thinks it is more important to solve little problems like people starving in the streets and not being able to buy their medications before resources are expended on statues of politicians, "Piss Christ", and other random works of publicly supported art. I guess I can't really speak for him, but that is certainly how I feel. Every time I see public art, Christmas decorations, government-participation in parades, I grinch about it. I just can't see the government holding any legitimate position costing even one dollar in any non-critical activity, no matter if it is supposedly for the benefit of the citizens or not, until it has well and truly addressed all of the critical activities that it has been tasked with with regard to its base responsibilities.

    I bought my first Mac (a PPC Mini) because a knowledgeable friend took the time to show me that her Mac worked better (a lot better!) than the two OS's I was running at the time: Windows XP and Red Hat linux. I was losing time screwing with things I didn't really have time to screw with just trying to get mundane business tasks accomplished. I'm buying my second Mac (an Intel MacBook) this week to replace my Windows laptop, which finally went nipples north. One reason I'm buying it is because the Mini lived up to the manufacturer's claims both in reliability and in functionality. I am looking forward to the MacBook and I expect to have a similar experience, despite being a pretty cynical person when you get right down to it.

    Certainly it has nothing to do with "art." Do I appreciate how pretty the Mac interface is? Sure. But that wasn't a factor in going Mac. I was won over by the smooth integration of multiple languages in applications like OmniOutliner and 100% support for that by the OS; by the complete lack of need to mess with low level Unix issues; by the speed and fluidity and consistency of the interface; by the continual experience of having things "just work" (it may sound hackneyed and fanboyish, but that is the nature of the experience — OSX is as far from running windows as flying a plane on autopilot compares to hand-flying it.) It beats Windows in resistance to malware by orders of magnitude, and it beats Linux by never requiring me to screw with compiling some package or watching Gnome screw up repeatedly, losing my network connections.

    There are lots of good reasons to go Mac, I could go on all day about things that I feel have worked out better for me with the Mac, no doubt boring some and annoying the rest. The bottom line hasn't anything to do with art, no matter how long I were to go on. It's simply (or maybe not so simply) a better product, and it won me over based on that. The applications I need are there, and that pretty much closes the case.

    And as for your lauding tourism in Philadelphia... If you want to draw tourists, that's a task that it is primarily aimed at benefiting businesses. Therefore, those businesses that will benefit (and not all will) should be paying for it. Not the poor homeowners on the outskirts.

    This is very similar to small town sports. The schools (hence, including the kid's parents and the old people in town) spend huge sums of money on everything from custom busses to playing fields. The kids play the same games they could have played in a field of grass, in jeans or shorts. The games begin, the visitors from the next town show up, and the local businesses see an upswing in sales. Those specific businesses ought to be paying for that, not the poor schlep of a homeowner.

    These are areas where the government has been co-opted by interests that are not legitimate areas for it to focus, IMHO. Private support is the way to go for both art and sports above the level of casual social interaction or for exercise; and to that you can add parks, monuments, and any state-sponsored museums that might creep in here

  • A revisionist view (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @02:18PM (#16537970) Homepage

    The move to PowerPC was Apple's big mistake. That was the point at which Apple market share dropped, and it never came back. Even today, Apple has much lower market share than it did the day the PowerPC machines were announced. The argument for going with the PowerPC was that IBM was going to make Macs. Yes, that was the whole point of the deal. Didn't happen, but that was Apple's big plan. And that bad move happened under Jobs.

    In fact, when the PowerPC 601 came out, Motorola was shipping the 68060 [], which outperformed the early PowerPC chips. The 68000 line could have been developed further; there was nothing in the architecture that limited it. But when Apple dropped it, that was the end of the demand for high-end 68000 parts.

    The PowerPC transition killed many existing apps. The engineering community dumped the Mac at the PowerPC transition; existing CAD applications like AutoCAD were not ported to PowerPC, and most of the printed circuit board design applications were dropped at that point, too. So Apple lost a whole market segment, and one willing to pay for big screens and good graphics.

    Copeland was actually a good operating system. The problem was that applications had to be revised for it, and Microsoft didn't want to bother. Apple no longer had the clout with developers it had had back at the System 7 transition, where all apps had to be revised. But Apple hadn't realized internally that it could no longer order developers around; the developers had the option of going to Windows. So backwards compatibility had become more important.

    Copeland (the original "MacOS 8") actually shipped to some developers. It was almost ready to go. Acquiring NeXT delayed the release of a new OS by several years; it took much longer to get NeXT code onto the Apple platform than Jobs said it would. But it saved Jobs' ass financially; he was heavily invested in NeXT, which was headed for bankruptcy.

    As for design, one of the coolest Macs ever was the 20th Anniversary Mac [], the first Mac with an LCD panel. In 1997, way ahead of everyone else. That was before Jobs took over and "Steved" the product, because it wasn't his.

    The iMac clamshell looked like the Lear-Seigler ADM 3A [] from 1977, which was a very popular low-end terminal in its day. It wasn't an original concept.

    Jobs' big contribution was to suck up to Gates and thus keep Microsoft Office on the Mac That's what saved Apple.

    So that's what it looks like with the Reality Distortion Field turned off.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @02:26PM (#16538018)
    That's a bunch of complete and total horseshit. Apple's hardware margins are the envy of the industry-- even in the darkest days of the late 90s, Apple still made a pretty penny on the boxes they sold. They just weren't selling very many. I can't find the article I read earlier this week, but I believe their revenue breakdown this quarter was 60% from computer sales and 40% from iPod sales.

    Everyone else is killing themselves to cut expenses so their boxes can be a couple bucks cheaper than the next guy while still eking out some profit. That's why their hardware feels cheap and why their first-line tech support is outsourced to script monkeys sitting in call centers on the other side of the globe, and why their customer satisfaction ratings have taken a nosedive in recent years.
  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @03:00PM (#16538198) Homepage Journal
    I sort of speak from a mid-90s perspective here, when I was using SGI computers because I just couldn't take how ugly X-Windows on Linux looked.

    You weren't using X, you were most likely using CDE, which I also consider to be ugly.

    No, he wasn't. He was using IRIX's proprietary desktop, which had nothing to do with CDE. The IRIX desktop was lightyears ahead of anything else coming out of the *nix camp at the time. Nice object-oriented file manager, excellent support for audio, video and 3D graphics and even its own widget toolkit. []

    And to say that you weren't using X, you were using CDE, is as silly as saying that you aren't using X, you're using GNOME.

  • by MushMouth ( 5650 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @05:46PM (#16539366) Homepage
    I don't know what you guys are talking about shitty development support. In 96 I was writing software for the Mac OS 7/8 on a DFA (PPC 6100) using Metrowerks CodeWarrior (I have forgotten what their C++ class library was, but I thought it was nice work with). We had all of the Mac API books (there were about 20 of them priced between $15 to $60, written for the Pascal Programmer but if you knew what you were doing it all worked in C) where all of the internal structures were defined. If you wanted protected memory you put Steve Jasik's "The Debugger" on your machine. Also at this time I was writing stuff for Win32 using MSVC 6, MFC and std API, and writing software for Kodak on Sparcs using GCC with no IDE. At this point I still think CW was the best of the IDE's that I have worked with. This is mostly due to the project leaders doing a fantastic job with class/component design.
  • by zoftie ( 195518 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @12:06AM (#16542274) Homepage
    I have looked over, what was posted and couldn't make out if someone seen, few glossed over the idea, and I would like to emphasize it.
    Apple does not have capacity to maintain large clients. They are big on promises, small on delivery. They key word here, is company to company relationships. Now you can order a swath of Dell PC's and most likely you'll get preferrential treatment from them. No so with apple. They make a point of that as well. Most recently they had gall to come to university here and sell computers, telling how wonderful their OS is. Well it is. What university students stand to gain from learning Carbon and Cocoa. Pretty much nothing. Most UI design jobs are nowadays with .NET and derivatives. (look at your favorite job board). So fine, their platform is superrior(i have a powerbook). However my professor and some other businesses had terrible dealings with apple, on business level. Professor worked at other university where apple had installed 2 large classrooms with early power pc computers and promptly proceeded to ignore the customers that suppose to become future developers and/or businessmen/leaders at large corporations, that possibly will order superrior apple hardware. Not so. No extra support beyond repairing hardware under warranty terms and having sales people calling about "more hardware", at a standard educational 15% discount.

    So, it is small they like, iPod is selling at least for a while. But that would take you only so far. When you fall on hard times, you fall onto your relationship net that you had built up over number of years.

    So during their presentation at the university, they have ignored questions about the relationship and his experience at previous university, only ignored the questions and continued their sales pitch. Needless to say, there are no orders of powerbooks, iMacs or MacPros.
    The feeling you get is that they eager to extract money from you and run. Questions like, "will there be deeper discounts if we fully commit to apple platform?" , was no, just standard discount. Write us a check please. I don't know much about business, but unless they alter the way they handle business clients, in the end apple will end up in the same ditch.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly