Apple’s Darkening Soul

30 Apr

I spent three years in the mid-1990s as editor in chief of MacWeek, the now defunct trade newspaper. These were not Apple’s best years. The company struggled under the likes of mediocre CEOs Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio. Back then, it was still a tight-lipped company, one that guarded its secrets as if Dick Cheney was the boss instead of these other also-rans. It’s ingrained in the company’s culture.

Trust no one, fear everyone could be its corporate motto.

For those of you who don’t remember MacWeek, unless you were an Apple employee, it was one of the few accurate and up-to-date sources of information about the company and its technology. Reporters like Henry Norr, Carolyn Said, Jon Swartz, Matthew Rothenberg, Andrew Gore, and the late, great Robert Hess among others continuously uncovered and wrote impressive scoops about Apple’s product and business plans before the company announced them. It was our raison d’etre.

As EiC, that meant I spent countless hours listening to Apple public relations staffers complain about how we got our information and to deride our ethics. That is, they objected to our publishing stories about everything from operating system upgrades and upcoming Macintosh computers to gadgets like the Newton and online communities like eWorld before the company issued the official news releases. These PR pros smoothed-talked me. They threatened me. They insulted me. They even introduced me to Apple’s hard-nosed lawyers. God, it was fun.

But they never sent the police to bust into MacWeek’s office nor did they barge into a reporter’s home seeking criminal evidence as they have done against the Gizmodo gang that couldn’t shoot straight. At some level, the company accepted that at MacWeek we were doing our job, as despicable and discomfiting as it was to them. The poor fools at Gizmodo find themselves up against an entirely different and seemingly deranged organization.

With the return of Steve Jobs, that lack of trust embedded in Apple’s DNA has evolved into something darker, something soulless. It’s a far more successful company, yes, but it’s become hard and heartless. If it were to be portrayed in some Hollywood thriller, let’s just say, it would not be the good guy.

Truth be told, had Steve Jobs not returned to Apple, the Silicon Valley icon would probably be a footnote of high-tech history and today I would not be typing this piece on my Intel-based iMac nor receiving calls on my nifty iPhone. But his personal paranoia has been layered atop an already untrusting organization so that the natural reaction to a product scoop is no longer considered an irritating inconvenience in business, but a personal affront that must be avenged.

It’s ironic that this month Steve Jobs penned an essay outlining why his company has eschewed the proprietary Flash technology from Adobe. His argument makes sense. But it can also be applied by those who object to Apple’s high-handed actions, such as limiting what tools its third-party developers can use. Apple’s proprietary stuff is not the only game in town. And it may not even be the best game.

Open source personal computers and mobile systems from Google, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and other companies give us alternatives to Apple’s goodies. Granted, it’s not easy moving from one platform to another. But it is much easier than it was in the 1990s to switch from Macintosh to Windows, which people did in droves as the company misfired on all cylinders.

Today the company is not necessarily misfiring technically. Rather, it is spewing nasty smoke ethically, something that once bothered Mac users who complained about the actions of Microsoft on similar grounds. (Anyone who ever typed the word “Micro$soft” in those heady monopolistic days cannot come to Apple’s defense today with a clear conscience.)

I began using Apple products for my personal use in 1987. It would be a pain for me to move more than two decades of my work and pleasure to another platform. But for the first time since then, I am seriously considering it as I watch the Gizmodo fiasco play out. And I do not think I am the only one.

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One Response to “Apple’s Darkening Soul”

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  1. Tweets that mention Apple’s Darkening Soul « Words Words Words by Mark Everett Hall -- Topsy.com - April 30, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Emily McManus and Emily McManus, Mark Everett Hall. Mark Everett Hall said: Have started a new blog at WordPress. Words Words Words One of my first posts Apple's Darkening Soul http://bit.ly/b0UzXI […]

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