Was That Really Macworld Expo in 1997?

Looking back on the Macworld Boston 1997 keynote is like looking into a parallel universe. In that world, Microsoft reigned supreme and Apple was a minor bit player in a collapsed ecosystem. It sounds strange now, but at the time, hardly anyone outside of the existing Mac base really believed that Apple had any great ideas left.

In hindsight, the eighties end up looking a lot more like a training ground for the Apple of today. The introduction of the Apple II and the Mac were certainly big and they had more market share at the time, but there's no question that today's Apple could run circles around the Apple of 1984. Experience has produced amazing results.

But how did Microsoft get control in the first place? Their takeover of the industry was aided by two factors. The first, clearly, was a string of CEOs that were mismatched with Apple. Yes, there were problems in 1985, but nothing like what the late eighties and early nineties would bring. Although they might have been fine leaders for other companies, the post-1985 management teams never had a feel for running Apple.

The second factor was Microsoft's ability to take advantage of the computer illiteracy of corporate America to get their products entrenched. Particularly in the absence of a strong contradictory voice from Apple, Microsoft seemed like the only game in town. So when businesses decided they need a computer on every desk, Windows was the answer.

Now Microsoft's game is unraveling. Although American business culture is one of "if you lose, it's your fault for not competing well," I actually don't think Microsoft has brought this on themselves. They're just pursuing the same strategy they always have: copy other products and slap a Windows logo on it. Add more features and sell it again.

(Okay, maybe that's a bit unfair. They don't copy everything, and even Apple occasionally copies some things that Microsoft does. Overall, though, Microsoft has taken more than enough from both Apple and NeXT over the years to deserve some heckling.)

This worked fine until the last few years because they were copying a fixed target and features were measured by quantity, not quality. Now making copies is harder and customers are smarter.

Due to hard work, some real heart, and the rise of the internet, Apple has regained the driver's seat. They're back to setting precedent for the rest of the industry, even for Microsoft.

This Side of the Looking Glass

This makes the video from 1997's Boston Macworld look positively surreal. Just looking at the tiny venue and the arguably juvenile reaction from the crowd gives the impression that this might be a low-budget recreation or spoof of an Apple keynote. Kind of makes you wonder what the next five years hold in store, or even the next five months.

So here we are today, sitting at the foot of what is easily the most exciting time in Apple's history with arguably the best overall computing platform available. That's a big distance to travel in nine years. No matter what happens, Apple has proved itself by losing practically everything and earning it all back. It's not clear if Microsoft would have the culture or character to do the same.
One last quick note here. Both the digg story and the YouTube page itself says that Apple was "almost bankrupt" when Microsoft announced its investment. This is absolute insanity. Apple had $4.2 billion in assets at the end of 1997. Thankfully, some digg commenters came to the rescue and noted this.
Design Element
Was That Really Macworld Expo in 1997?
Posted Mar 4, 2006 — 2 comments below


Gavin Stone — Mar 04, 06 907

Very well written. Nicely done.

Dan Price — Mar 06, 06 908

I found that surreal and disturbing. It's certainly rare to see an Apple crowd heckling Jobs like that - even Gates looked nervous. The announcement to use IE was the icing on the cake.

It looked painful to Jobs to make that announcement - but it's not quite the image painted by pirates, where Jobs is portrayed as preying to the god-like image of Bill Gates.

Times have changed.


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