Monday, August 2, 1999

Week of 08/02/1999

Bits, Bytes, And Barbie Logos
- by David Matthews 2

With all the talk going about in the world of politics and tragedies, I thought I would take some time to look more towards the electronic realm I work out of.

The latest in electronic squabbles involves two behemoth corporations - Microsoft, and America Online. While the world has been focusing on the growth of Microsoft, and whether or not it is a monopoly, very little attention has been placed on America Online and their creeping growth into every aspect of online activity.

In many ways, America Online has expanded much like Microsoft did at first. Of the four major online service providers (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, MSN), AOL came out on top when all others failed. AOL even bought out rival CompuServe, which some might say could be considered a monopolistic move in and of itself. AOL also purchased the Internet messaging system ICQ, as well as recently buying Netscape Communications, still the leading online browser in the market. Certainly if it was Microsoft doing the acquisitions that people would be screaming foul to the high heavens.

But the latest battle deals with instant messaging. As stated earlier, AOL not only developed the instant message system for its online service, but it also came up with an Internet version which as been as popular as their acquired ICQ system. That dominance was recently threatened by Microsoft’s Messenger program. AOL retaliated by shutting Messenger out, claiming that Microsoft’s program steals user passwords from AOL subscribers.

Meanwhile, AOL is in the courts and in the lobbying halls of Washington DC demanding access to cable modems set up and run by AT&T, claiming that they are being shut out of progress. They are also busy urging the US Department of Justice to get the courts to dissolve Microsoft on the grounds of being a monopoly. This past week, two financial firms were asked by the DOJ on how to go about breaking up the software giant. Representatives of the firms declined to speculate to the agents of the Worse Bill (Clinton), saying that to do so would undermine the whole financial community.

Let’s get brutally honest here folks.. can anyone else besides myself spot the hypocrisy? It’s running as blue as AOL’s triangle logo!

Steve Case and the rest of the people running AOL should be ashamed of themselves. It’s one thing to go to the government to bitch and moan about your competition’s business practices, it’s pure hypocrisy when you start doing the very same thing yourself.

Meanwhile, the other "scandalous" activity in the electronic realm involves the release of Apple Computer’s latest "toy" - the laptop version of its highly successful iMac computer.

Apple can credit the iMac as being the invention that saved the company from insolvency. Going back to its original one-piece combination monitor/CPU setup, the iMac used translucent plastic in fluorescent colors to stand out in a sea of pale beige and jet black PC systems. The only hindrances were the lack of internal expandability and Steve Jobs’ decision to eliminate the floppy drive as part of the package, but such things really didn’t matter to the thousands of people who purchased their iMac systems.

So Jobs decided that if the iMac was a huge success in the PC market, they could do the same with the laptop market. So they developed a laptop version of the iMac, which they called the iBook. All the usual Macintosh evangelists raved about the insight of Jobs, and being able to come up with a laptop that would put Apple back into dominance in the computer world.

Then along comes John C. Dvorak.

For those of you who are not familiar with the computer world, John Dvorak is the Brutally Honest of computer commentators. He has a regular column in PC Magazine, and he is the host of the half-hour talking heads show "Silicon Spin" on ZDTV. He is known for telling it as it is.

Well when Dvorak looked at the iBook, he wasn’t really impressed with all the spin from Apple or even what the iBook had to offer in terms of screen size or hard drive space. Rather, he was taken back by the design.. a white box with the same translucent fluorescent plastic trim as the iMac. In his regular column he writes:

"The only thing missing from the new Apple iBook is the Barbie logo. The system, which looks like a makeup case, promises to be a disaster once people come to their senses."

But, like any brutally honest writer, he doesn’t stop there.

"I suppose I shouldn’t say this, but I can only describe this as a ‘girly’ machine. You expect to see lipstick, rouge, and a tray of eye shadow inside when you open it up. You don’t expect to see a 12-inch LCD; you expect to see a 12-inch mirror. No male in his right mind will be seen in public with this notebook. The only guys who might buy it are the kind who wear those ludicrous baggy pants with the built-in rope that’s used for a belt. Is it a women’s computer? No, I don’t think women will think much of it either. It looks too juvenile – something a kid, a little girl, would like. Something you’d get at Toys R Us. It’s awful, and I’m shocked that nobody in the Mac community has spoken up and said, ‘Stop already!’"

Well, as you would expect, the minute anyone mentions gender the feminists are quick to scream sexism. Janelle Brown of Salon magazine was quick to bash Dvorak for suggesting that the iBook was a "girlie" computer. Wired Magazine’s Polly Sprenger sarcastically commented that "Men want audio animated screen savers of Cindy Crawford singing "Let Me Entertain You," and every unit should come with manly accessories like a tire-patch kit, a chain saw, and "World's Deadliest Sports Mishaps" videotape."

Excuse me Ms. Sprenger, but why would a "real man" want to have a videotape of the "World’s Deadliest Sports Mishaps" with their laptops? The "real men" would have it on DVD!

I’m still waiting for the trademark lawyers to open their salvo. After all, one cannot say the word "Barbie" without some schiester in a Brooks Brothers suit demanding an apology, the soul of your firstborn, a pint or two of your blood, and a few thousand dollars for the thirty seconds it takes to fire off a prefabricated cease-and-desist letter via e-mail.

The fact of the matter is that not everyone would like Apple’s new designs, and that’s really their decision. Let’s face it, both the iMac and the iBook look like they’re designed for kids instead of adults! The same could be said about the original Macintosh systems. I remember them well from my days with the college newspaper, and my first thought was that these were toys.

Yes, stereotypical comments hurt. Not too long on my talk show, I got off on a rant because a supposedly "learned" individual still thinks Playboy Playmates appear "airbrushed" in the magazine. Apparently this female writer didn’t understand that in the age of computers, one no longer needs to use an airbrush to edit images. But just as I would come to the defense of my friends in Playboy, so too must I come to the defense of guys like Dvorak who think that Apple’s new designs don’t appeal to his sense of masculinity.

So what if John Dvorak considers himself too "manly" to be seen with an iBook? You probably also won’t also see him wear day-glow green shirts with white slacks and jacket unless it was Halloween and he was trying to look like Don Johnson from "Miami Vice." Let him stick with a gender-neutral beige system and a jet-black laptop, and let’s get on with our lives!

Besides, I thought that geek grrls were above that sort of petty name-calling.

No comments: