Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene The Mac Goes On

Apple scores a hit with iMac

By James Hanback Jr.

AUGUST 31, 1998:  Americana is rich with legends, mythic figures, and larger-than-life tales of success and tragedy, joy and woe, risings and falls from grace.

Unlike the tales of Greek and Roman mythology, modern American legends are lived out before our very eyes. For proof of this point, you need look no farther than the nightly news broadcasts about our president's sex life.

But figures we thought fallen only a year ago can, like a phoenix, rise again from the ashes, shake off the dust, and surprise the world with their triumphant returns from the precipice.

Such is the case of Apple Computer Inc., which released its new iMac (Internet Macintosh) just a little more than a week ago.

Only a year earlier, the media and the computer industry were speculating that the most innovative technological corporation in history was going down for the last time. Over the past 20 years, Apple has certainly had its share of ups and downs. And, having been reared on IBM-compatible machines, I wasn't sure I cared whether Apple lived or died. But after two years of diagnosing and repairing the Macintosh in the publishing industry, I found myself developing a certain love for the machine, a devotion that the deepest Mac fanatics have felt since the very first happy Mac icon appeared in 1984.

I must admit I was one of the doomsayers. In 1997, I told countless people to invest their money in purchasing a PC, because I was uncertain how much longer the Macintosh would be around. And while more software makers are returning to the Mac platform, there are still more titles and more choices available for the PC.

In 1996, Rolling Stone magazine published a two-part series of articles that delved deep into the robust history of Apple. It was perhaps the most heart-wrenching tale the computer industry has known. Apple has always been innovative and on the forefront of new technology, but it appeared that their business practices were dragging them down.

The article was accompanied by a similarly heart-wrenching photo of Apple executives at a Macworld convention. While Mac fanatics pounded them with questions such as, "Is Apple OK?" the company's board members could only sit with their heads in their hands, offering as many reassurances as possible that the Macintosh was still a competitor in the personal-computer marketplace. A cropped version of this photo may be found at http://www.apple-history.com.

By that time, both founders of Apple Computer had left the company in pursuit of other ventures. Steven "the Woz" Wozniak left first, with $100,000 in his pocket and a desire to teach. Woz was the technological brains behind the first Apple computer, while partner Steve Jobs was the marketing whiz and visionary. With the Mac, he eventually brought Apple to the forefront of user-friendly technology.

Jobs was more or less thrown out of the company when he realized that John Sculley, his own appointee as CEO, wasn't taking the company in the direction Jobs thought it should go. When Jobs asked his board of directors to choose between him and Sculley, he was more than disappointed by their response.

Jobs later formed NeXT Corp. In 1997, when Apple purchased NeXT, he returned to the company as interim CEO and maintains that position to this day.

That was a lucky break for Apple. Soon after Jobs' return, the company's No. 1 enemy in the industry purchased a small percentage of Apple, helping it get back on its feet. Months later, Apple's brand-new G3 computers were released in an attempt to stomp Intel's Pentium and Pentium II processors. The G3s invigorated Apple, as their mainstay publishing industry consumers upgraded to the new, faster machines, and more software developers began to return to the Macintosh platform, writing for the G3 and Mac OS 8.0, released just a year ago.

For the past three quarters, the company has reversed a downward trend and turned toward profitability. Apple has reported increased earnings in all three of those quarters, and the good times just keep rolling in.

The iMac is not only the first Macintosh to completely abandon SCSI (small computer systems interface) and the 3.5-inch floppy drive as outdated technologies, it also sports a sleek new look, harking back to Jobs' original marketing strategy for the 1984 Macintosh as something new and different.

Souped up for the Internet, the iMac is a personal computer for the home user, or for the seriously networked education environment. It's not a machine for the publishing industry or other industries that rely on SCSI technology like Iomega's Zip and Jaz drives.

Most early tests of the iMac indicate that it does everything Apple promised it would do, and early sales show that it will probably be a popular product. It's a computer for a college student or an Internet-happy home user. And that's the market Apple Computer needs to reach if it's going to stay afloat and remain a competitor in the computer industry.

The company recently launched a $100 million advertising campaign, the largest marketing campaign in history, to promote the iMac and other Macintosh products. The first television commercials aired Aug. 16. Apple displays a schedule of its television ads at its Web site-- http://www.apple.com.

Welcome back, Mac. Let's hope you stick around awhile. The computer industry is a more interesting place because of you.


Honesty's the best policy

What's good for a president is good for an Internet company. GeoCities Inc., a popular Internet company that offers free Web sites to people willing to answer a few questions about themselves, has been less than truthful about its privacy practices, according to recent Internet reports.

Officials with the Federal Trade Commission have accused GeoCities of releasing information about its customers to other businesses, while telling the customers that the information was being kept strictly confidential.

The company has settled the FTC's complaint by agreeing to rewrite the privacy policies that appear on its Web site, explaining how the company collects data and where and how that data is used.

The FTC claims GeoCities provided the data to marketing companies, who used it to target-market (or spam) GeoCities' customers on the basis of income, work status, sex, or age.

I prefer not to be spammed. I also prefer that companies that desire my business not divulge any personal information they gather about me. But in a country where some people want the president to wear a big red "A" on his chest, the individual right to privacy seems to be slowly disappearing.

In spite of my personal affection for the Internet, this is one aspect of it I could do without, and will do without if it gets bad enough. Who needs the information superhighway if it's clogged with people wanting to wash your windshield?

Things better left undone

At a recent hacker convention--yes, they have a convention--a group of hackers released some new hacker software they call "Back Orifice," a pun on Microsoft's BackOffice. The hackers claim that Back Orifice can allow hackers complete, unobstructed access to an individual's desktop and hard drive on any PC running Windows '95 or Windows '98. (They claim to be working on an NT version). For the hackers to get access, a user must unwittingly download Back Orifice from the Internet to their own computer.

Microsoft says you'd have to be pretty stupid to download a file from an untrusted source, but I'm sure Back Orifice can find its way around.

And now that these hackers--who claimed to have written Back Orifice for the good of the computer industry--have created it, security risks on the Internet are that much greater.

Thanks a lot, guys.

Hackers claim they write this kind of software to reveal security holes in software so that manufacturers can fix them. Fine, but the group that created Back Orifice also allows it to be downloaded freely from the Internet by any psychotic geek who desires to see what his fatal attraction has stored on her hard drive.

Forgive me if I question the hackers' intentions. If they meant well, they wouldn't be demonstrating their software to the world at large. They'd be sharing it with Microsoft, who could then fix the problem.

Here's my advice to computer users who fear Back Orifice: Don't download files from sources you don't know or don't trust. And start asking Microsoft for a fix. So far, the company has not released any indication that it plans to secure Windows against Back Orifice.

How do we know that hackers have become a danger to society? The White House took special precautions to make sure no one could intercept the closed-circuit broadcast of the president's testimony to Kenneth Starr's grand jury. If the White House is worried about the problem, we'd probably better be worried too.

And if you meet a hacker named Sir Dystic (the individual who released Back Orifice, and whose name is an obvious play on "sadistic"), punch him in the nose. Or maybe you can just sue him for invasion of privacy.

In fact, "hacker" is too mild a term for people who try to force a corporation's hand by threatening the computing safety of millions of innocent people. By that definition, these people are not hackers; they're cyber-terrorists.

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