Written by Douglas Adams for the Mail on Sunday (financial section)
It used to be said that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door.
This, like many things at the end of the twentieth century, is no longer true. Now, when two companies have competing technologies, what happens is this: the company that knows it has the better mousetrap assumes the world will just go ahead and beat a path to its door. The other company realises itís not going to win on quality and starts marketing the hell out of whatever itís got. Guess who wins?
Which brings us to the subject of Apple and Microsoft.
Most people (though not all) who are familiar with both systems will tell you that the Macintosh system is much better. Not better in arcane, complicated, geeky ways that nobody outside a computer lab can understand, but better in ways that most people who just want to get on and enjoy their work care about. Macs are simpler to set up, easier to maintain, and much more intuitive Ė indeed a pleasure Ė to use. Whenever I hear people bitching about how complicated, difficult to understand, and just plain infuriating computers are, I think Ė why donít you just buy a Mac for heavenís sake? Give yourself a break.
The same goes for all this palaver about the the millennium bug. On January 1st, 2000 computer programs all over the world will crash or go crazy.
Except, that is, for most programs written for the Mac.
Even the oldest Macs have system clocks that go up to 2040, and modern ones can handle any date in the next 28,000 years. Apple may have made some mistakes in the past, but at least they knew the century was going to end.
Yes, you might say, but if Macs really are easier to install, require less maintenance, and wonít go to pieces in the year 2000; and if people really are much happier and more productive working on them, why has almost every corporation standardised on Windows boxes instead?
Read this next bit carefully, because it really is terribly, terribly important.
Corporations have Information Technology staff to tell them which computers to buy. Macintoshes require far fewer IT staff to install and maintain them. Is the IT department going to recommend Macs? Are turkeys going to vote for Christmas? The corporate technology staff are not interested in your happiness or productivity, they are interested in their jobs.
But the trouble over the last few years has been Appleís complacency. While Microsoft was beavering away at marketing, forging strategic alliances and indulging in business practices that it is presently having to explain to the US Department of Justice, Apple was being arrogant, greedy and treating its customers with contempt. The world went over to Windows.
But now Apple is suddenly back in business, and everybody is rushing to buy the new iMac. Itís a great machine. Itís fast, sleek, looks terrific, is easy to set up and use, and is priced to sell by the truckload. But for those of us who have been using Apples for years, itís simply the next Mac.
What is revolutionary is that Apple has realised that itís not enough to build a better mousetrap.
You have to market it as well.