MWNY 01: I Killed the Keynote

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Date: Friday, July 20th, 2001, 12:55
Category: Archive

If you want someone to blame for the fact that Apple failed to introduce a new iMac — or, for that matter, anything truly earthshaking — blame me. I did it. It’s my fault.

I killed the keynote: But don’t blame me — this keynote is actually good news

If you want someone to blame for the fact that Apple failed to introduce a new iMac — or, for that matter, anything truly earthshaking — blame me. I did it. It’s my fault.

Yes, just like thinking of the Stay-Puft marshmellow man in Ghostbusters, a certain thought crossed my mind, even without me willing it to. I’m almost ashamed to admit it. I actually wished, on the eve of a keynote, that Apple wouldn’t introduce any major new hardware enclosures.

Now, before you rip away my new PowerBook Titanium G4 and start beating me over the head with it until it thinks it’s 1904 (TiBook users know what I mean), let me qualify. All I wished for was an Apple that recognized that “it’s the OS, stupid.” From novices to pros, as much as we love translucent plastic, and as much as brilliant designs like the iBook or Titanium literally change the way we work, the OS remains the soul of the machine. And that means one thing: in the middle of the biggest OS transition in Apple history since the invention of the Mac, what’s happening to OS X matters an order of magnitude more than whether or not Apple has gotten around to replacing the friendly but dated iMac enclosure.

So, let me be the first to apologize for single-handedly being the reason that the [your favorite rumored product] didn’t appear at this keynote. In case you think I’m being either mocking or plain unrealistic, let’s consider one thing: was ANYONE other than me having this thought? Did ANYONE but me sit and think, boy, I’d rather sit through endless OS X demos than see a revolutionary new piece of Apple hardware? Did Steve Jobs prepare for the keynote, relieved to think that, having lived in terror of having to wax eloquent about some new machine that would revolutionize hardware design and appear next week on Time, he would instead get to spend awkward minutes trying to turn a digital camera on? (Don’t ask.)

So, now I’ve conjured up this Bizarro-World version of Apple Keynotes, which, for example, illustrate the G4 advantage over the Pentium with an extended explanation of engineering realities and actual technical superiority instead of, say, wildly optimistic slogans, silicon-toting snails, laptop-crushing bulldozers, and flame-throwers. Here’s the real question: do I actually want what I wished for? And for that matter, has Apple actually delivered what I wished for?

The reality of a dramatic OS transition doesn’t translate well to rhetoric. An OS platform is an odd combination of vision, community, corporate bureaucracy, and engineering reality. Then again, this is Apple, this is Jobs. If anyone in the industry can ask an entire user base to migrate, it’s Apple. And if anyone can put that vision into words, it’s Jobs. I’m not sure anyone has figured it out yet, but Apple managed to do that yesterday. As of yesterday, OS X has a new synonym: fast.

“Fast?” you ask? Just one word? Well, this is more important then you think. Apple has tended to refer to its new operating system as “powerful” or “advanced.” When it hasn’t been doing that, it’s been referring to it as “UNIX.” For a company so brilliant at marketing, this actually makes zero sense.

The truth is, no one really wants software that is “powerful” or “advanced.” Well, actually, we do — but only if coupled with the two things we REALLY care about, “easy” and “fast.” Don’t believe me? How would you like to buy some powerful, hard to learn, slow-performing software? Many think that at least pro users do, whereas consumers do not. In fact, pro users have even more demands on their time, which means difficult, slow software is not a reasonable tradeoff for power. As for “advanced,” well, experimental fighter planes are “advanced,” too, and those of you who used DR 1 as your prime operating system, go ahead and sit down. And the “UNIX” thing . . . well, true, it is UNIX, but “Apple: Think UNIX” doesn’t quite sound right, does it?

Now try this: want something “fast” and “easy”? I don’t even have to say the word powerful. You just got your work done with something that’s fast and easy.

Fortunately, Apple’s name alone already means “easy.” Apple’s even gradually taken our suggestions to make X’s interface easier. But, until now, Apple seems to have completely missed what all of us have been so upset about in OS X: namely, that, at certain tasks, we associate OS X with the marketing phrase “slow as a dog.”

And suddenly, Apple gets the message. “Fast” is what’s been missing in the OS X equation. And not faster than previous versions, or faster than Windows: faster than anything we’ve used before, and, most of all, faster than OS 9.

I think this is the real revolution. If there is one underlying message of this keynote, it’s that Macs are fast. If Apple can deliver on this, really deliver in real world performance, OS, and hardware, Apple could be synonymous not only with “easy” as it has been for over two decades, but it will truly own a new word: fast.

OS X 10.1 is ultimately powerful because of its speed. The biggest cheers in the audience during the entire keynote came when Jobs displayed OS X applications launching in one “bounce” or less of the Dock icon. As the G4 video observed, more speed means less waiting, more creativity. It will let your work get done in less time, and now with critical work applications from vendors like Adobe, Maya, and Microsoft.

And about those G4s: elegant new face aside, what’s important about the new Power Mac G4s is that multiprocessing G4s as the high end is back with a vengeance. It was premature last July, but now it has the OS to make it really fly: OS X. The G4s alone aren’t earthshaking. But dual 800 G4s running OS X just might be.

There’s still a lot more that Apple needs to actually deliver, of course. Apple needs to start putting more tools in the hands of their developers, instead of continuing to berate them for not shipping OS X apps. But this keynote, at least, gives us what keynotes should: a real goal, a glimpse of an OS that makes OS 9 look antiquated to everyone, not because of slick graphics in X, but because X is faster, easier, and runs more of our favorite applications. And that means WE can be fast.

So, anyone got some hardware predictions for Seybold? Any more wishes? — wait, on second thought, try NOT to think about that.

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