Technology and Society

Book Reviews
Home
What's New
Privacy & Individual Rights
Commerce, Security, & the Law
Net Culture, Art, & Literature
International Affairs & National Security
Ethics, Rhetoric, & Metaphysics
Science Fiction

Other Resources
News
Publishers
Other Book Review Sites
Letters
Contact
Copyright

Title: Apple Confidential 2.0
Author: Owen W. Linzmayer
Publisher: No Starch Press
Copyright: 2004
ISBN: 1-59327-010-0
Pages: 323
Price: $20.00
Rating: 95%

Of all the computer companies in the world, there is one that leaves some people in awe, and others in ire: Apple. Whether you are an Apple user (as I am, since 1990), or a Windows user, you cannot deny that Apple's place in the hierarchy of key companies in the computing revolution is at or near the top. 

Apple Confidential 2.0 is an update of an earlier book that examines the history of Apple Computer, from that famous garage in California to the current multi-national corporation. Through its many ups and downs, author Owen W. Linzmayer gives a frank and honest portrayal of the company and its cast of characters over the past 3 decades. 

With a combination of narrative sections and timelines, Linzmayer sketches each of Apple's main periods, products and innovations, providing a granular view of the company's main milestones.  

A look at the innovations that have come from Apple shows just how much the company has done for the computer industry as a whole (while Apple did not invent all of these, they are responsible for bringing them to the general public): 

  • The personal computer
  • The graphical user interface
  • The mouse
  • 3.5 inch floppy disks
  • Easy networking
  • Laser printing
  • Desktop publishing
  • Personal digital assistants
  • USB
  • The death of the floppy disk
  • Wireless networking (WiFi)
  • The iPod
  • Easy-to-use on-line music purchasing

And add to that the many software innovations that Apple has developed. In just the past few years, Apple's Mac OS X has proven to be the most stable consumer operating system, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD have revolutionized digital media, and its new GarageBand brings music mixing to the masses. 

Apple is not without failures, however. The Apple III, the Newton, the Pippin, Apple's eWorld on-line service, as well as many individual Mac models and software tools; all these and more have been forgotten to most (though, perhaps, not to consumers who paid high prices for them), yet Linzmayer discusses them coolly and puts them into their individual contexts. And he naturally examines the major failure that remains a textbook case of blowing a market: Apple's refusal to allow clones of Macintosh computers until it was too late. Yet in spite of all these failures, one cannot deny that Apple constantly pushes the envelope in innovation. For, after all, there is no innovation without risk. 

While Steve Jobs is inseparable from Apple's corporate image, having been one of the company's founders, then returning in 1997 to shake up the moribund corporation and lead it through a new cycle of innovation, his contribution to different Apple projects has been variable. Unlike what many people think, Jobs did not invent the Macintosh; in fact, he initially attempted to sideline this product, the brainchild of Jef Raskin, which he saw as competition for the Lisa. Jobs was involved directly with the early development of the company, until he was removed from Apple in 1985, but that didn't stop him from trying to "change the world". This book follows Jobs through the two ventures that occupied him during the interregnum between 1985 and 1997: NeXT and Pixar. 

NeXT was an attempt to design the ideal computer for colleges and universities. In a sleek 12-inch black matte magnesium cube was a powerful computer running on a brand new operating system, NeXTstep, based on Unix. But the NeXT didn't sell well, in spite of some early successes, and focused on selling its operating system, renamed OPENSTEP. Jobs later sold NeXT and OPENSTEP to Apple when he returned to the company in 1997, which used this as the foundation for Mac OS X.

Pixar, another company created in a California garage in the 1970s, originally planned to create digital tools for filmmaking. After it became a division of Lucasfilms Inc., Pixar got spun off (in part because of George Lucas' divorce) and began developing the Pixar Image Computer, a sort of digital optical printer. Steve Jobs bought a majority interest in the company at a bargain-basement price, and Pixar released its first PIC. While this unsuccessful product was too expensive and too complicated, Pixar had also been developing software, and, after a few short films that were critical successes, managed to get a contract with Disney to produce Toy Story. Pixar has been, in fact, Steve Jobs' most successful investment, and Pixar has currently broken with Disney. It is entirely possible that Jobs is aiming to become a digital media mogul, but that part of the story remains to be written. 

After Jobs' return to Apple, he single-handedly changed the company's direction, and oversaw hugely innovative products such as the iMac, the iPod, and its major shift in direction for its operating system with Mac OS X. In spite of the company's sliding market share, Apple remains one of the key players in the computer industry, and its innovations far outstrip the mere percentage of computers it sells. As Jobs leads Apple into a new cycle of growth, the company seems to have realized that it can't put all its eggs in one computer, and is actively working on developing new avenues of growth, especially those revolving around digital media. 

The as-yet unfinished story of Apple Computer is rife with failures, incompetence, greed, and bungled strategic decisions, but the fact remains that Apple is the world's most innovative computer company, both for hardware and software. This book shows all sides of the picture, with true objectivity, highlighting the successes and duds, the winners and losers, and all the many stops along the long strange trip of one company that has indeed changed the world.

Kirk McElhearn  

Kirk McElhearn (kirk@mcelhearn.com) is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. You can find out all about him at his web site, http://www.mcelhearn.com.