Macophiles Converge At Campus Trade Show

By Louis Gray
Contributing Writer

Speaking on campus Saturday, Apple Computer's head of technology said the company needs to stop underestimating consumer demand for its products.

Ellen Hancock, executive vice president for technology, said Apple was thrilled -- but caught a bit off guard -- by the high demand for the latest release of its operating system software, System 7.6. When the product was shipped in late January, demand was twice what the company expected. Hancock said the company can improve its financial condition only when it learns to gauge the needs of its customers.

Hancock made her remarks as part of a mini trade show held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Saturday. The conference drew hundreds of Macintosh computer enthusiasts and featured exhibits showing off new software and hardware products, including Tempo, the successor to System 7.6, the Motorola company's new Macintosh clones, and the Be operating system, designed by former Apple Vice President Jean-Louis Gassee. Hancock and Gassee spoke as part of the conference.

The annual show, called "MacFest," was sponsored by the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group, the largest such user group in the world.

Hancock said that when she came to Apple in July after 28 years with IBM, she spoke with Apple CEO Gil Amelio and was shocked to discover that the company had no plans to help Macintosh users transition from the operating system in use at the time to its planned future operating system, Copland. Copland was supposed to be so revolutionary it would not be able to offer compatibility with all existing Macintosh programs. Further, no interim system software releases were planned before Copland's debut.

"I said, 'What do we have planned between July 1996 and December 1997?' and they said, 'Nothing,'" Hancock said. "I said, 'I think that's strange -- we have 25 million users; don't you think they want anything?'"

Apple eventually changed its plans, releasing System 7.6 and axing the Copland system. The company plans to release the parts of Copland that work under the title System 8.0 and later debut its next-generation operating system, code-named Rhapsody.

Hancock also said Apple needs to remain grounded in its loyal user community.

"It's really a pleasure to talk to customers, since customers have really defined the Macintosh," said Hancock. "In business, at home, in education, Macintosh customers created a vibrant and demanding community of users."

Also at the show, Gassee told attendees that his company's Be operating system, which Apple passed up last January when it was shopping for an operating system to use in developing Rhapsody, is a powerful alternative to the Macintosh's operating system.

Gassee made several references during his hour-long software demonstration to being "the little guy," an underdog compared to system software behemoths Microsoft and Apple. To increase the number of Be operating system users, the company plans to distribute its operating system freely from the company's Web site on the Internet.

"I won't do a frontal battle with Microsoft. I may be foolish, but I won't do that," said Gassee. "Our goal this year is to have 1 million (operating systems) in the field, and next year, we should have 5 million."

The Be operating system will run on any Macintosh powered by a PowerPC 603-series or 604-series microprocessor.

Gassee praised the enduring relationship between Be, Apple and BMUG, the campus Macintosh group.

"BMUG has a huge role in the Macintosh community," said Gassee. "It's a center of energy for the Mac population, so it was a natural fit for us to come here. We've been Macophiles forever."

Non-student BMUG members comprised most of the show's attendees, with students making up about one in 10 participants.

"The reason I'm here is to check out the hardware," said UC Berkeley sophomore Brian Chui. "Since the Be (operating system) was written to take advantage of the multiprocessors, it really interested me."


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