Original URL: https://www.theregister.com/2014/01/24/thirty_years_of_the_apple_macintosh_part_2/

The Mac at 30: Hardware and software wars – again and again and ...

Part 2: The many moments of Steve Jobs’ 30-year-old offspring

By Rik Myslewski with Shaun Nichols in San Francisco

Posted in Personal Tech, 24th January 2014 17:02 GMT

Feature The countdown continues as we step through the 10 most important events that have shaped the evolution of the Apple Macintosh over the past 30 years.

Click here for Part 1... or read on.

In this episode: the return of the prodigal son, the attack of the clones, the invasion of Chipzilla, and how an old enemy came to the rescue of an ailing rival...

About 9:30am, Wednesday morning, 6 August 1997 – Microsoft tosses Apple a much-needed $150m bone

Reg Hardware retro numbers

Gather ’round, you millennials, and listen to your ol’ Reg hack as he recounts a tale from an age when the world was topsy-turvy, a time when Apple was on the ropes with its share price mired at five bucks and change, and Microsoft’s stock was rocketing upward to its eventual high point of nearly $60 per share in December 1999.

This week, by comparison, Apple’s shares are selling at around $550, down from their peak of just over $700 in September 2012, and Microsoft is going for around thirty-five bucks. Things change.

It was mid-1997. Apple CEO Gil Amelio had just been given his walking papers in what The New York Times termed an “abrupt ouster” and “the latest unsettling development for a company whose recent history has often resembled a corporate soap opera”. Steve Jobs was back in charge and, as reported in BusinessWeek, he was not a happy camper.

“The products SUCK!” he shouted at a group of Apple execs. “There’s no sex in them anymore!”

Power Macintosh 4400

The Power Macintosh 4400 was not sexy? Steve, Steve, Steve – where’s your sense of geek style?

While you might fault Jobs’ people skills, you can’t argue with his analysis. This was the time of the last gasps of Apple’s all-over-the-map Performa series, the lamentable Power Macintosh 4400 (arguably Apple’s worst), and the embarrassment that was the woefully underpowered Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, which at announcement in January of that year was said to retail for around $9,000, was released in March for $7,499, and then had its price slashed to $1,995 the following year.

And 1997 was also the year when Michael Dell famously said, when asked what he would do if he ran Apple, “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

That was the environment surrounding Apple and its Macs when Steve Jobs took at stage for his keynote presentation at Macworld Boston in August 1997. But before we relate what he announced at that event, one last bit of ancient Apple lore: at that time, Microsoft was the sworn enemy of every right-thinking Apple fanboi, and its then-CEO William Henry Gates III was The Great Satan himself.

The news that Jobs brought to the assembled Mac addicts was that Beelzebub was coming to the aid of their revered company with a purchase of $150m in non-voting Apple stock that it would not sell it for at least three years, and – more importantly – promised to release Microsoft Office for the Mac for five years, thus legitimising the Mac as a business machine for half a decade, at minimum.

In addition, Jobs announced that Microsoft and Apple had resolved their long-running patent dispute through a cross-licensing agreement for all existing patents as well as patents that would be filed during the next five years, that Apple would collaborate with Microsoft on Java virtual-machine compatibility, and that Internet Explorer would be the Mac’s default browser – an announcement that elicited far more boos than applause from the assembled faithful.

Steve Jobs announces the Microsoft deal at Macworld Expo Boston, August 1997

After the announcements, Bill Gates appeared via satellite feed on a screen behind Jobs, to both applause and more than a smattering of boos. After Gates’ comments, Jobs lectured his followers. “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win Microsoft has to lose,” he said. “We have to embrace a notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. And if others are going to help us, that’s great, because we need all the help we can get. And if we screw up and we don’t do a good job, it’s not somebody else’s fault. It’s our fault.”

You know what happened over the next decade or so: Apple didn’t screw up, and the Mac lived on, to be joined by the iPod, iPhone and iPad. At the end of its most recent fiscal year, Apple reported that it had a $146.8bn hoard of cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities – just under one thousand times the amount that Microsoft had invested on that August morning in 1997.

Microsoft, by the way, sold off all of the Apple stock acquired in the deal sometime last decade. Had it taken those Series A non-voting convertible preferred shares it picked up in the $150m investment, and converted them to common stock when that option became available in August 2000 – and held onto them – they would today be worth around $11bn, give or take a few million clams.

As we said, things change.

9:25am Monday, 6 June 2005 – Jobs says of the Mac’s rumored move to Intel processors: ‘It's true’

Reg Hardware retro numbers

As we mentioned before, Apple dumped the Motorola 680x0 line of processors beginning in March 1994, and switched to the one successful outgrowth of the AIM alliance, the PowerPC chip. By early this millennium, however, it became clear that as a desktop and laptop processor, the PowerPC was running out of gas.

Speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2005, Steve Jobs explained why another processor switch was needed. Displaying a slide of a Power Mac G5 with the text “3.0 GHz?”, he told the assembled devs, “I stood up here two years in front of you and I promised you this. And we haven’t been able to deliver that to you yet.”

The next slide displayed a PowerBook with the text “G5?”, and Jobs said, “I think a lot of you would like to have a G5 in your PowerBook, and we haven’t been able to deliver that to you yet.”

IBM and Freescale, the Motorola spin-off, hadn’t delivered, focusing instead on parts for enterprise, not client, and on Sony’s PlayStation-centric Cell processor.

Steve Jobs announces the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors at the 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference

Jobs said that the major reasons to switch was the disparity between the future roadmaps of PowerPC and Intel chips’ performance per Watt – a metric that was about to sweep through the industry.

One more slide depicted another metric that thankfully hasn’t caught on: “units of performance”. “When we look at the future roadmaps projected out to mid-2006 and beyond,” Jobs said, “what we see is the PowerPC gives us sort of 15 units of performance per Watt, but the Intel roadmap in the future gives us 70. So this tells us what we have to do.”

And that was to dump the PowerPC and switch to Intel – despite the fact that Apple’s developers had just gone through another wrenching transition: that of moving from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, which Jobs acknowledged was an even more comprehensive transition from Apple’s first major switcheroo, from 680x0 to PowerPC.

“This was a brain transplant,” he said of the move to Mac OS X, “and even though these operating systems vary in name only by one, they are worlds apart in their technology.”

But to the assembled developers whose hearts were undoubtedly sinking, thinking of all the work they had ahead of them, Jobs had some good news. “I have something to tell you today,” he said. “Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life for the past five years.”

For those five years, he explained, Apple engineers had been “doing the ‘just in case’ scenario,” compiling each version of Mac OS X to run on Intel processors. “Mac OS X is cross-platform by design,” he said, “right from the very beginning” – which was version 10.0 aka ‘Cheetah’, released on 24 March 24 2001. (We’re not counting the public beta, ‘Kodiak’, release in September 2000.)

Steve Jobs points to where in One Infinite Loop the work to compile Mac OS X for Intel took place

Jobs points to where in Apple's headquarters the work to compile Mac OS X for Intel took place

Even with Mac OS X – version 10.4, aka ‘Tiger’, at the time – ready and waiting for the Intel transition, there was still a boatload of work to do on both Apple and developers’ parts to make the switch. Jobs predicted that by WWDC 2006, Apple would have begun shipping Intel-based Macs, and that by WWDC 2007, he thought the transition would be complete.

It didn’t take that long. The first Intel Macs, based on Chipzilla’s Core Duo processors, were announced on 10 January 2006 at Macworld Expo: the new MacBook Pro and an updated iMac.

At that August’s WWDC, Apple marketing honcho Phil Schiller announced the final systems to be Intelified: the new Mac Pro and an updated Xserve. The Mac Pro shipped at announcement, and the Xserve became available that October. The transition had taken just over one year, not two.

There’s one detail from Monday, 6 June 2005 that we’ve never been able to pin down, however. During his presentation, Jobs said that “our rules have been that Mac OS X must be processor independent” before he said that every version of it had been compiled to run on Intel processors.

Being processor-independent, has every version of Mac OS X also been compiled to run on ARM processors? After all, iOS is stripped-down version of Mac OS X, and ARM cores have been at the heart of every iOS device. And, for that matter, has iOS been compiled to run on Intel processors, as well?

Just askin’...

Tuesday morning, 2 September 1997 – Jobs drives a stake into the heart of the Mac clone market

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The question of whether Apple ex-CEOs Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio nearly destroyed the Mac, and whether Steve Jobs saved it from imminent death, can be answered in one word: clones.

When former sugar-water salesman John Sculley was ousted by Apple’s board of directors in June 1993, Spindler was plucked from his position as president of Apple Europe and installed as CEO. The company that he inherited, however, was hurting – Mac sales were slipping and developers were making like Rattus norvegicus, and abandoning ship.

Spindler decided to take drastic action and launch an effort that some observers had counseled for years: an Apple-sanctioned cloning program, in which Apple would negotiate a license for the Mac ROM to other manufacturers along with a license for System 7, the Mac OS at that time. In addition, clone manufacturers would pay an additional flat fee for each clone system they sold.

On the face of it, the clone program appeared to be a reasonable deal. It opened up a new revenue stream for Apple, and provided the all-important developer community with an expanded market into which to sell their Mac-compatible software and third-party hardware.

Spindler instituted the programme in December 1994, with start-up Power Computing, funded in part by Italian typewriter and computer manufacturer Olivetti, as the first licensee. Power Computing was beaten to market, however, by Radius, a now-defunct company founded by members of the original Macintosh team that made graphics cards, monitors, CPU accelerators and other Mac-compatible kit; Radius released its first clone in March 1995.

Poster for Power Computing's PowerTower Pro

Power Computing not only offered systems more powerful than Apple's, its marketing was better, as well

Power Computing shipped its first clones one month later, and the floodgates opened. In May, Pioneer released a clone line in Japan, Mac CPU-accelerator maker DayStar Digital introduced a dual-processor clone in October and a quad-processor clone the following February.

Radius sold its clone division to scanner-maker Umax, Motorola’s StarMax line appeared in September 1996, and Japan’s Akia launched its own clones soon after. In November of that same year, Umax shipped its first clone under the name SuperMac, which it had acquired in the Radius deal. Even storage vendor APS got into the act with a clone line it dubbed M*Power.

However, rather than expand the Mac-compatible market, clones began eating into Apple sales.

Macworld cover from April 1995: 'Clones'

Mac clones were big news in April 1995
click for a larger image

Meanwhile, Spindler had been replaced by supposed “turnaround artist” Gil Amelio in February 1996, who was unable to turn around the sinking sales of the Mac line. Apple sold 4.5 million Macs in 1995, a number that slipped to 4 million in 1996. By the end of 1997, that number had sunk to a dismal 2.8 million.

Apple’s losses rapidly turned into gains for the original licensee, feisty Power Computing, which was able to release its clones with more powerful PowerPC chips more quickly than Apple could, and to do so at lower prices. Power Computing machines regularly beat out Apple’s Macs in magazine reviews, which carried substantial market-moving weight in the days before the internet.

If you wanted the latest and greatest Mac-compatible computer, you didn’t buy it from the Mac’s originator, you bought it from Power Computing. To be sure, clonemakers sold far fewer systems than Apple did – The New York Times estimated that of the 2.2 million Mac systems sold in the first three fiscal quarters of 1997, “perhaps 300,000” were clones – but they skimmed the profitable top of the market with their more powerful, more affordable machines.

Amelio didn’t stop the bleeding – but at the urging of Steve Jobs, Apple’s board of directors stopped Amelio. After being stripped of his authority by the board, he resigned, on 9 July 1997.

Amelio had been Apple’s CEO for 17 months, during which he can be credited with making many tough decisions to reverse Apple’s precipitous decline. But his unflagging support for the clone programme may have been his undoing. “No bones about it, I think it would be a big mistake if we abandon the clones,” he told MacAddict after his resignation.

Interim CEO

Steve Jobs, who became Apple’s “interim CEO” in September 1997, didn’t agree. “Apple has to let go of this ghost and invent the future,” he told The New York Times that month, explain that in his opinion, not only were the clonemakers chipping away at Apple’s Mac-system market share, but that they were also being subsidised by Cupertino’s investments in engineering, software development and marketing.

Jobs proceeded to kill the clones in three phases. First, he took advantage of the release of Mac OS 8 in the summer of 1997 to significantly raise the licensing fees for that operating system or to disallow such licensing entirely – the original licensing agreements had covered System 7 only.

Second, in August he ended Apple’s inclusion of clones in its Mac OS Up-To-Date program, which allowed recent buyers of Mac systems to pay reduced rates for OS updates – although after a couple of weeks he cut purchasers of Power Computing and Umax clones some slack, but only for a limited time.

Power Computing' 'Let's kick Intel's ass!' advertisement

It cost Apple $100m in stock to kick Power Computing’s ass

The death blow came on Tuesday morning, 2 September 1997, when Apple announced that it had purchased “core assets” of Power Computing for $100m in Apple stock – which on that date was going for about $5.60 per share; Power Computing would have received just under 1.8 million shares, which would today be worth around $10bn.

The clone market soon collapsed. DayStar had already dropped out the month before, Motorola quit soon after the Power Computing announcement, Pioneer gave up the next month, and the rest soon followed – except Umax, which managed to wrangle an OS 8 license for low-cost clones. That final clonemaker held on until 27 May 1998. After it threw in the towel, the clone era was over.

Well, there was the Psystar silliness that ended in May of last year, but that doesn’t really count, does it?

12:01am, Saturday, 15 August 15 1998 – the iMac arrives, Apple survives

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When Steve Jobs introduced the iMac on 6 May 1998 at Cupertino’s Flint Center for the Performing Arts – the same venue where he popped the original Macintosh out of its bag – he said: “We think iMac is going to be a really big deal.”

Behind that confident assessment, he must have been thinking, “OMG, OMG, OMG, this gamble better pay off, or we be screwed.”

In hindsight, it's clear that Apple’s salto mortale landed solidly on its feet, and went on to not only revitalise a company – and a line of personal computers – that was in dire need of a jump-start, but also to spawn a design language that, love it or loathe it, wormed its way into everything from countertop grills to steam irons.

But that success was far from assured, seeing as how the iMac was quite unlike anything that the personal computer market had seen before. Cosmetically, it was an odd duck: translucent, somewhat gumdrop-shaped, and so... well... design-y. As Jobs cooed when introducing it, “the back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys’.”

Consumer-friendly design was clearly on Jobs' mind at that introduction. “It looks like it’s from another planet,” he said. “And a good planet – a planet with better designers.”

The original 'Bondi Blue' iMac G3

The original ‘Bondi Blue’ iMac, so named after the waters at a well-known Australian beach
Click for a larger image

The design of the iMac was not, however, something that Jobs dreamed up. It wasn’t even something that his design team cooked up after his Apple coup, if what a former colleague of the iMac’s lead designer, Jony Ive, told The Observer is true. “There is a rumour Apple had designed the iMac years earlier but the existing boss was not interested, so they put it away,” he said. “When Jobs returned and asked what ideas they had, Jonathan brought it out and the rest is history.”

The iMac’s very name – simple, not lumbered with model numbers – was not only a break with tradition, but also the beginning of a new one, as the parade of iDevices from iPod to iPad has shown. Interestingly, though, that name was not a Jobsian invention either. It was invented by an Apple ad consultant from TBWA\Chiat\Day, who told Cult of Mac in 2001 that he had come up with it after Jobs had suggested a name – which he refused to reveal – that was so bad it would “curdle your blood”.

Steve Jobs introduces the iMac on May 6, 1998

Design elements aside, the original iMac was a risk in other ways, as well, ways that meant more to those buyers who were more concerned with a computer's capabilities than its appearance.

In its introductory article about the new blue bubble box, Macworld summed up that view rather succinctly. “The most shocking part of the iMac isn’t what it offers,” it wrote, “but what it lacks. The iMac has no floppy drive, which might be forgivable if there were a Zip drive or other removable-media option, but there isn’t.”

Macworld didn’t stop there. “And most dramatically,” it continued, dramatically, “this new consumer offering has no SCSI port, no standard serial ports and no ADB ports. Apple has opted to replace these familiar connections with USB, a high-speed [Yes, 12Mbps was once “high speed” — Ed.] serial architecture that has suffered from slow adoption on the Wintel platform despite its technical advantages.”

Since the ‘i’ in iMac stood for ‘internet’, it was arguably no biggie that the machine had no floppy drive, since you could transfer files to it using email or read them off CDs – or even CD-Rs, if you were fortunate enough to have access to a burner. You could also plug an external floppy drive into one of the iMac’s two USB ports.

That is, if you could find a USB floppy drive. When the original $1,299, 233MHz G3 iMac was released, there simply weren’t any Mac-compatible peripherals based on USB. Needless to say, Apple was making a leap of faith by forgoing the standard complement of ports, hoping that the third-party ecosystem would fill in the gaps and offer not only USB floppy drives, but also – and more importantly – such necessities as printers, niceties as scanners, and then-popular external storage devices such as Zip drives.

Ports on the original 'Bondi Blue' iMac

Hidden behins a translucent ‘ice’ door were stereo audio-in and -out ports, two USB 1.1 ports, a 100Mbps Ethernet port, a power-reset switch and NMI "programmer's switch", and a modem port
Click for a larger image

Those third-party opportunists did – eventually – and thankfully for those Mac users who had invested in SCSI-connected hardware, vendors such as such as Microtech and Belkin came out with USB-to-SCSI adapters to bridge the gap.

But no one would have created Mac-compatible USB devices if the iMac hadn’t sold well – and it did, it most definitely did. Two weeks after it hit store shelves at one minute after midnight on Saturday, 15 August 1998, Jobs told Cnet that demand was outstripping supply, and that Apple was shipping “tens of thousands” of iMacs per week.

In the fourth quarter of 1998 – Apple’s first fiscal quarter of 1999 – Cupertino shipped just under 520,000 of its new translucent company-saver, bringing the total sold since its August introduction to around 800,000. In that same fiscal quarter, Apple’s profits of $152m were more than triple that of the $47m earned in the same quarter of the previous year.

Apple’s iMac gamble had indeed paid off, as had Jobs’ insistence on radically simplifying the Macintosh product line and reforming the company culture, transforming both from the confusing, internecine-warfare days of “let a hundred Performas bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”.

Say what you will about Steven Paul Jobs – and if our experience with the Comments sections of Reg articles is any guide, you most certainly will – but the discipline he brought to Apple’s engineering teams saved the company. And the Macintosh.

And with the return of profitability and the return of sales came the return of those all-important “Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!” Which brings us to one more return, our choice as the most important moment in the 30 years of Macintosh history.

Not hard to guess, eh?

Around 10am, Tuesday, 7 January 1997 – The Second Coming, fanboi style

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We’ve spent plenty of time in this series detailing just how crappy things were at Apple around the mid-1990s. Michael ‘Diesel’ Spindler had taken the CEO helm from Jobs-replacement John Sculley in June 1993, and ruled for a lamentable 20 months. OK, the PowerPC transition went smoothly enough, but his effort to develop a replacement for the Mac’s aging operating system was mishandled, big time.

That critical task fell to Gil Amelio when he took over from Spindler in February 1995, but he couldn’t pull it off in a timely fashion, either. Nor could he quickly get the current – and buggy – OS, System 7, whipped into shape. Not that he didn’t try, but he was unable to break the psychic hold that Apple’s ongoing OS-replacement project, Copland, had on the software-engineering team.

“The situation when I came in,” he later told MacAddict, “was, ‘Well, we’re not going to worry about System 7 anymore. We’re working on Copland.’ Heck, you know, everybody in the software department was working on Copland, and no one was paying any attention to what we were shipping at that time. It took me probably 3 to 6 months to sort that all out.”

In this effort, he actually had some success. “We cleaned up the operating system,” he said, “came up with a new roadmap, which led to Harmony [Mac OS 7.6], which wasn’t in anybody’s plans and which led to the existing Mac OS 8, which isn’t Copland, but it’s a damn sight better than anything else that’s out there.”

But Mac OS 8 was essentially lipstick on a pig – high-quality, Serge Lutens fard à lèvres, perhaps, but lipstick nonetheless. The Mac’s operating system was lumbered with legacy requirements, legacy code, and legacy problems. Amelio knew it, the Macintosh faithful knew it, and developers knew it.

And Copland wasn’t going to be ready anytime soon. Announced in March 1995 and soon renamed System 8 or Mac OS 8 - not to be confused with the Mac OS 8 that eventually did ship, which was simply the next iteration of the Mac’s long-standing OS – Copland was originally scheduled to ship the following year.

Yes, Virginia, there once was an operating system codenamed Copland. Kinda. Sorta.

Didn't happen.

In fact, when Copland System 8 Mac OS 8 was demoed at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in May 1996, it was a train wreck. As one attendee told MacTech: “There were tantalising glimpses of the goodies to come, but the overall experience was awful. It does not yet support text editing, so you couldn’t actually do anything except open and view documents (any dialog field that needed something typed into it was blank and dead). Also, it was incredibly fragile and crashed repeatedly, often corrupting system files on the disk in the process. The demo staff reformatted and rebuilt the hard disks at regular intervals. It was incredible that they even let us see the beast.”

You can chalk up Copland’s problems to any number of sources: poor engineering management, feature creep, engineers who cared more about turf than shipping, internal conflicts among departments, lack of clear priorities, or all of the above. In any case, it’s to Amelio’s credit that he reached outside of Apple and back to his previous stomping grounds, National Semiconductor, and recruited Ellen Hancock to be Apple’s CTO, and charged her with whipping the Copland project into shape.

Hancock took a look at Copland, took a look at the engineering culture at Apple, took a look at the calendar, and cancelled the Copland project in August 1996. From her point of view, it would be more efficient and timely for Apple to simply seek out a modern third-party operating system than to create its own.

That solved one problem – the Copland debacle – but it created another: which operating system to choose. Apple discussed with its former hardware honcho, Jean-Louis Gassée, about buying his company and its OS-under-development BeOS, but balked at Gassée’s asking price, which was said to be $200m.

When word got out that Apple was sniffing about for a new OS, Steve Jobs threw his hat into the ring. As The New York Times tells it, Amelio was out of the country, so Jobs left a message for Hancock. According to Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, Hancock preferred Sun’s Solaris, but in any case she returned Jobs’ call “immediately”.

On 20 December 1997, Apple announced that it would acquire Jobs’ NeXT Software for $427 million in cash and stock, and that Steve Jobs would join Apple in an advisory role. “We always talked about him being on the inside,” Hancock said at the time. “We’re hoping he can show us where to go from here in emerging markets and technologies.”

Jobs showed her where to go, all right. Even before he wrested command from Amelio of the company that he had co-founded, he convinced the doomed CEO to remove Hancock from oversight of R&D.

Gil Amelio and Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo San Francisco in 1997

But on 7 January 1997, near the end of a Macworld Expo San Francisco keynote presentation that could most kindly described as discombobulated, Amelio betrayed no fear of his new adviser, and invited him to share the stage and give a demo of Apple’s latest acquisition.

Jobs came onstage to whoops, whistles, shouts and applause – and true to form, spent the first few minutes of his stage time wooing, soothing, complimenting and seducing developers. “We’ve got to get the spark back with the developers,” he said. “We’ve got to get the developers back.”

In the following months and years, Jobs went on to get the Macintosh back – on track, that is – and when that was accomplished, the developers came with it.

Now, 30 years on, those Mac developers are outnumbered by iOS developers, and it’s far from a safe bet that the Macintosh will be around in another 30 years’ time, what with the increasing importance of iDevices to Apple’s bottom line, and with the personal computing market – both desktop and laptop – melting into relative irrelevancy.

But for those of us who’ve been there for every step of the way – and for those of you who joined up 20, ten, or just a few years ago – it’s been one hell of a collection of memorable moments, eh?

I, for one, will never forget the moment I first heard the car-crash error sound on my Power Mac 8100.

Let’s keep surprising one another, shall we? ®