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Mad Macs and the Unshredder

by Michael Swaine
04/27/2004

Lindows is no more. Michael Robertson, the madcap who founded MP3.com and then went on to start another company seemingly just to get Bill Gates' goat, has lost his Quixotic battle with Microsoft. He's changed the name of his Linux-based windowing operating system from Lindows to Linspire.

Meanwhile, Apple Corps, the recording label owned by the remaining Beatles and their deceased partners' heirs, is once again suing Apple for muscling into the music business -- this time with the iTunes Music Store. The two companies named Apple came to an agreement in 1981 about the use of the name, and again in 1991, but back then the issue was system beeps, not Norah Jones tracks. There could be a little problem here.

The Lindows lesson is that even if Apple (Computer) can successfully defend itself against one Apple (Corps) lawsuit, it could find itself getting sued in venue after venue. It's no use to win one in Finland but then lose in Vera Cruz. Tandy defended its Schlock --er, Shack -- name in just this way a generation ago, and Microsoft has refined the art. I'm guessing the Apple Corps legal team is up to speed on it, too.

So just in case Apple has to change its name, I've come up with a few suggestions. Apple could express its feelings toward Paul and Ringo and the heirs by renaming itself BHM. (Remember when Carl Sagan objected to an Apple product having the code name Carl Sagan, and Apple engineers changed it to BHA, which mollified Sagan until he found out that it meant "Butt-Head Astronomer?")

Or how about packaging that anger in a triple movie homage, celebrating two Mel Gibson movies, The Passion of the Christ and Mad Max, as well as Paddy Chayefsky's wonderful Network with the name Mad Macs and the slogan "We're as mad as Mel and we're not going to take this anymore?" A touch of righteous religious rage is just what Apple's been missing all these years. Or has it?

Maybe Apple could do what it did with the Macintosh and the cat-themed versions of Mac OS X, and spin an old code name out into the market. If they do, they might want to avoid touchy names like Sagan, Gumby, Yoda, Econoline, Oreo, American Express, Ray Ban, Foster Farms, Bloom County, Lady Kenmore, Starbucks, Nike, Mighty Mouse, Tabasco, Cheeze Whiz, Diet Coke, and 7-Up. And just to stay on the right side of the Brits this time, I'd skip the code name Diana, too.

The Unshredder

I got all those code names from Owen W. Linsmayer, the unshredder of Apple Computer history. He's been covering Apple since the early 1980s, and he probably knows more about the company than Steve Jobs does. At least Owen's memory is more reliable. When Mac columnist and aquarium inventor Andy Ihnatko called me recently with an obscure Apple history question, my immediate response was, "Did you ask Owen?" (Andy's predictable reply was, "Duh! Just before I called you, dude.") Moral of the story: people who know know Owen knows best.

So it's nice to see that designer Derek Yee has captured Owen's unshredder nature so well on the cover of Apple Confidential 2.0 [No Starch Press, 2004; ISBN 1-59327-010-0], the third version of Owen's awesome love-hate letter to Apple Computer. The cover image is easier to grok than to describe: strips of shredded paper laid edge-to-edge, revealing the story of Apple's genesis (actually the first four paragraphs of the book's text) in the shape of the Apple logo. Even the book's spine subtly continues the unshredder theme, although Owen initially balked at the spine treatment, feeling that it looked like a font substitution error. It does, but I like it anyway.

People read Apple Confidential both for historical perspective and for entertaining trivia-fetish details. Besides the chapters of solid history, Owen packs the book with old pictures, quotes from Apple legends, and obsessive details of product code names and release dates.

I say "third version" because I count The Mac Bathroom Reader as the first edition of this copious collection of Apple history and trivia. The Mac Bathroom Reader was published by Sybex in 1994, Apple Confidential was published by No Starch Press in 1999, and right on schedule five years later comes 2.0. The Sybex book was short and entertaining and the design and layout were, let us say, in the fun-loving spirit of the San Francisco font. Remember the San Francisco font? Also known as Ransom because it looked like a ransom note?

In Apple Confidential, Owen took over the page layout himself, and the change was as great, and in the same direction, as the change in the title. The design was still fun, but it looked professional. That edition also brought with it much new material, and Owen updated and revised the whole thing.

Apple Confidential 2.0 is a big change, too, absolutely justifying the full-digit version bump. There is an entirely new chapter on Woz; expanded material on Apple's first president, Mike Scott, and on Pixar; and material on developments since the last edition. Owen assures me there are 77 more photos, 56 more quotes, and 65 pages of new material, not counting the 44 more pages of timelines. The book is only 60 pages longer, but that's misleading, because the new design includes new typefaces and a new cut size that get more words to the page.

The timelines have expanded most of any feature: there were only 28 pages of them in the previous edition, and there are 72 in the current one. The Sculley Timeline jumps from 65 to 99 items and from two to four pages, while the new timeline on Mac clones helps to put the confusing sequence of cloning decisions and indecisions in order; the timelines have also been redesigned, a big improvement, in my opinion.

If you're a member of the Mac faithful or just moderately interested in the company (and are not a book reviewer or a friend of the author), you simply must buy this book, even if you already have version 1 or 0. Owen asked me to tell you that he's selling autographed copies directly at www.appleconfidential.com. The autograph and priority shipping will run you an extra nickel over the $19.95 list price.

Michael Swaine has been writing about computers and technology for over twenty years. O'Reilly regulars may recall his "Swaine's Frames" column for WebReview.


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