Gotta Be Aretha!
Monday, January 8, 1996 by Dave Winer.
I want to tell you about a dream I just had.
It's the night before MacWorld Expo opens in San Francisco, January 1996. I'm in a ballroom at the Marriott Hotel, in the center of a group of reporters from the business press. I'm wearing a suit. I smell nice. There's a very interesting energy in the room. People are looking at me.
In the background a gospel angel is belting out a steady beat. Just a little bit. Just a little bit. Sock it to me!
She's humming and wailing.
So am I.
I glance down at my badge.
I see my name.
Under my name is my title.
Under that is the name of the company.
Apple Computer, Inc.
You know the story.
The world is against Apple. We're having manufacturing problems. A few months ago our computers were exploding! A couple of system software fiascos. We just had a losing quarter. Windows 95 took the high ground from us in ease-of-use. The board wants layoffs.
Spindler is out, he parachuted, the top vice-presidents are still there, waiting for orders. There's $1 billion in cash in the company. 14,000 employees. An installed base of about 20 million machines, maybe 13 million systems actually in use.
The corporate world has delegated us to content production. Artists and families use our products. There's a geek community but it isn't recognized. Luckily, we have a growing suite of Internet content development tools. In some areas my platform is leading the market, but the world doesn't give us credit.
Communication with the user and developer community has been improving, but panic is unabated. Key engineers are leaving the company. All but a few of our developers have left. People seem to use our product despite us. They like the Mac, but they hate us. No one has a kind word to say about the company I now run.
What would I do?
To start, I'd buy a song.
I like the Stones but I wouldn't call Mick Jagger. He already sold a song to Microsoft. I'd call Dave Matthews or the Indigo Girls or Annie Lennox or Alanis Morissete, but not this time. I want a respectful, fun song with a great beat. Something we can all dance to. A famous song.
What you want, baby I got it.
What you need you know I got it.
All I'm asking for is a little.
Find out what it means to me.
Just a little bit. Just a little bit. Sock it to me!
Gotta be Aretha!
Let's have a party! I need music. Cooool. Hehehe heeheheee. Lighten things up a bit. It's not really that grim. It's all a trance. Let's have fun!
Let's look at the hardware lineup. Do we have a high-memory high bandwidth reliable plug-in-turn-on color computer that we can manufacture in huge quantity at a $2200 retail price? If not, how quickly can engineering get one ready? Use a well-burned-in version of the operating system. No experiments here. I'm looking for a lean-and-mean fast CPU, no bells and whistles, not state-of-the-art. Reliability and raw performance is what counts.
I want a new product to promote, one that's as recognizable as the Apple II, and as recognizable as the original Macintosh. Hey what kind of computer is that? It's an Apple. A computer that deserves your respect.
Contrary to the opinion of the rest of the industry, I think Apple is a computer company. We make computers. Any schoolkid can tell you that. What does Apple make? Computers. That's it.
Sorry, no more OpenDoc, no more CyberDog. Copland yes. New performance, yes! New paradigms, no way, not from Apple.
Not until this mess gets straightened out.
Next, I'd convene a small software developer conference. Invite twenty key people. People who have written great Mac software. People with great libraries. People who have Inside Macintosh committed to memory. Products and people I respect. It will be a respectful conference. I will bring my new $1 billion checkbook.
We talk about what people want to do. Explore our strengths and weaknesses. We support each other. We encourage competition. We make deals. What does Apple contribute? Money. In return, we get commitments, hard ones, contractual ones, that commit developers to delivering products by specific dates. We have to get this machine restarted. Luckily there are still lots of people who remember how to make Mac software.
We share the platform with our developers. We need new software products. In return we guarantee to keep things much as they are. We'll make things faster, maybe much faster. We'll make cheaper systems. We'll fix our bugs. We'll do what we can to make the systems easier to use, but otherwise we'll be looking for new user experiences from the developers.
I will also invite the leading venture capitalists and industry analysts to a cocktail party at the conclusion of the developer meeting. Time to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Software, meet the money. Money, here's the software. Coool. I might not have to write any checks.
Of course the Apple board members would be welcome at the cocktail party. The more they understand about developers, the more effective I will be as their CEO. Immediately after the developer meeting, we will have a board meeting to decide if we need to realign any of our investments. I will ask for a budget to pay developers money to commit to developing new products for the Macintosh platform. Can't make it work without money for developers.
At this meeting I'd be sure that each board member is an active Macintosh user. If they aren't I'd ask what it would take to get them to use the product. I'd offer to help them learn, personally, make it easy for them, as easy as possible. If they resisted the idea I'd ask them to consider the possibility of serving on the board of a company whose products they appreciate and use.
If there were any changes in the board composition at that time, I'd look for new members in the user community. Apple will also sponsor a user convention one day after our shareholder meeting. All Macintosh users are invited to the Macintosh user meeting. Only shareholders are welcome at the shareholder's meeting. Thru this announcement I will telegraph an invitation to all Macintosh users to become Apple shareholders. As CEO of the company, I'd prefer to report to people who use my products. We'd have an unbeatable advantage over any competitor. All our interests would be aligned. We could afford to take a longterm view. We'd know what we we're doing. Less guesswork. More opportunities for respect.
The major business problem at Apple Computer is the guesswork in forecasting demand for our products. In software this isn't much of a problem, you can quickly manufacture more disks and books and boxes to meet demand. In computers, the business Apple is in, it's a bigger problem. Build too much and you lose money. Build too little and the penalty isn't quite as severe. So we'll err on the side of making too few computers.
We allow people to place advance orders for the computers and guarantee delivery. If you know you'll need 20 Macs in six months, we can commit to that, and you get a great discount. Users groups find they have a new business. They can steady our demand, in return, earn a profit. And the new users will have friends who also use Macintoshes. We all know how important that is. If you're buying at retail you may find supplies are limited and the prices might be higher. That's the way it has to be.
Of course with this approach we may lose market share. So be it. But there will be lots of new software coming for the platform anyway, because we made great deals with developers. I kept some of Apple's lawyers on staff to be sure the developers understand that we were serious when we struck those deals.
So our future software is shored up, our distribution system is settling down, now let's focus on the only really important issue, building value for our shareholders.
I cancelled CyberDog, made a deal with Netscape. They committed to support the Macintosh platform on an equal standing with all their client and content software. We will continue to tap into the growth of Netscape's market.
I invested in server operating systems and web programming environments. We built new streamlined hardware for web serving. We will equal the competition on performance, and blow them away in power. We plan to be competitive in this business, it's an important one; we have an advantage and we're exploiting it.
We launched a new web service where we showcase the current state-of-the-art in web content tools. We update the server frequently to match the incredible rate at which Macintosh web content tools are shipping. The service is free to developers and users. We run ads on the pages, of course, and make money on each copy of each software product that sells thru this channel.
I'm cancelling the dividend for 1996 and all forseeable years. If you want dividends, invest in a low-growth stock. We're going to use the money to invest in pre-public companies that develop products for our users. When they develop something new and unique, we'll tell the world about what they've done. Maybe, if the product is really good, we'll buy a song for them!
When growth happens, when a new seed bears fruit, when something happens for the first time on our platform, the world will know. No more Mr. Quiet Nice Underappreciated Apple Computer. We want your respect. We've earned it and we will continue to earn it.
The big picture: we're going to invest in our community, we're going to bet on them as they have bet on us. We'll all grow together and make money together.
We'll have fun.
That's it for now.
Thanks for your support!
PS: Remember, Platform is Chinese household. Send the flowers and the love just flows! It's a mating ritual.
PPS: This piece is running in the current issue of "Upside", on newsstands today. Get your own copy at "MacWorld Expo" Booth #3482.