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Claris comes home.

What's the story behind Apple's decision to cancel the upcoming public offering of its Claris subsidiary? Some of the rumors suggest that Apple's top brass were unhappy about Claris's increasing enthusiasm for Windows, which Claris president Bill Campbell just recently endorsed at PC Expo. But the more interesting and plausible theory is that Apple actually wants Claris to target the DOS market, not just with applications but also with system-level products. Claris vice president of marketing John zeisler tells us that Apple's new strategy is to use Claris to extend Apple's software technology to other platforms, particularly Windows. Proprietary doesn't mean you have to sell it all yourself," he says. And there's no reason Asymetrix should have a monopoly on something like ToolBook." Does Apple really believe it can sell Mac software into the DOS world? It's not a crazy idea. Apple and Claris both have plenty of technology that isn't necessarily platform-specific. Zeisler argues that, with proper marketing, AppleTalk could have become a major multi-platform network standard. A Windows version of HyperCard also makes good sense. Claris's HyperHelp technology, the Apple Data Access Language (CL/1), TrueType, and lots of Mac utilities could all be ported successfully to the PC. The fact is, Apple has been developing graphical systems software for seven years now; certainly, at least some of this technology is better than any DOS or Windows counterparts. Okay, but can Apple really make money selling software? Software has always been a nickel-and-dime business for Apple, which is why the early Mac applications were neglected until Claris came along. But the strategic value to Apple of selling system-level software is immense. If enough Mac technology were available on other hardware platforms, Apple might be able to convince more corporate buyers that the Mac isn't a proprietary environment. And if Windows versions of Apple software turn out to be compelling enough, some number of DOS users are bound to take a fresh look at those products running natively on the Mac itself. But won't that strategy stimulate a fresh assault by Mac clone makers? Apple has always fought vigorously to protect its system software, but there's a growing recognition that legal barriers aren't a sufficient defense any more. Regardless of the outcome of the Apple-Microsoft litigation, Windows won't go away. And it's only a matter of time before someone reverse engineers the Mac ROM chips and gets away with it. Our guess, in fact, is that Apple has been thinking about the approach IBM has followed with the gradual rollout of OS/2. In theory, OS/2 (like DOS) is an entirely open environment that any clone or compatible vendor can adopt. But the reality is that Big Blue always always ends up with a lead of at least six months to a year before new versions of OS/2 are ready for non-IBM machines--and some OS/2 technology, such as the Extended Edition, was off limits to compatibles right from the beginning. If Apple takes this general approach, we can expect Claris to become a kind of in-house version of Microsoft, carefully doling out just enough Mac-compatible technology to keep Apple well ahead of its hardware competitors. As a side benefit, Apple--like IBM--would get to focus on high-end, high-margin systems, while letting clone vendors cut each other's throats on lower-priced systems. Doesn't the re-acquisition send a chilling message to the third-party mac software community? Realistically, hard-core Mac developers just don't matter to Apple the way they used to. A few years ago, T/Maker's Heidi Roizen pointed out that the typical Mac developer generates about as much money as a Northern California dry cleaner." Spinning off Claris didn't revive the third-party Mac community; re-acquiring Claris also won't make much difference. The fact is, most of the best-selling Mac titles now come from software companies that are primarily DOS-oriented (like Microsoft, Ashton-Tate, and WordPerfect) or that have crash programs under way to port their lead products to Windows. Apple doesn't have much leverage to keep these developers in the fold, but if Claris does a bangup job of marketing the Mac's sexier system-level features, Apple actually might persuade a few key DOS developers to pay more attention to the Mac. Can Apple really be trusted to keep its hands off Claris? That's ultimately the most important issue. As an entrepreneurial venture, Claris was an absolute gem--innovative, aggressive, beautifully managed. Now, even though Claris's top managers will have a good deal of freedom to operate within Apple, their division's fundamental mission has changed. Claris has become part of a company whose goal is to sell hardware, not software. Despite the best of intentions, Apple's leadership sooner or later is bound to start tinkering with Claris for "strategic" reasons. Once the politics gets heavy, we don't expect Claris will keep its entrepreneurial spirit (or its founders) for very long.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Apple Computer cancels public offering of Claris stock
Publication:Soft-Letter
Date:Jul 16, 1990
Words:808
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