BOSTON — There was a hint of smugness among the purple-shirted reps at the semiannual MacWorld Apple Computer convention showcase. The slightly smiling Apple-staffers knew that in the race away from the era of room-size computers requiring stacks of unintelligible punch cards to perform even menial tasks, Apple's approach has won the day: Make computing easy, friendly, and accessible, and people - even computer-phobes - will respond.
A major validation of Apple's approach is Windows '95 - software-giant Microsoft's much-heralded and much-delayed lunge through the gates of computer simplicity. Windows '95, which largely emulates the Macintosh operating system on IBM-based machines, debuts Aug. 24.
But a certain nervousness also pervaded the MacWorld floor: Now that the rest of the industry has adopted the standard of simplicity Apple defined, what's next for the company? Apple's overall market share is just 8 percent of total world shipments, according to the market research firm Dataquest.
One response to Microsoft's looming threat was rhetorical counterattack: "To err is Windows," one sign flashed. A conventioneer's T-shirt, showing an Apple logo read, "This is your brain"; the other side, adorned with a Windows '95 symbol, parroted "This is your brain on drugs." Clearly Apple was using the MacWorld Expo to rally the faithful. And faithful they were: The thousands of brochure-laden Mac enthusiasts from all over the East Coast and beyond streamed into Boston's two major expo halls to see the latest and greatest in Apple and Apple-ready products.
Apple's other response, flashing across screens spanning the convention halls, was the credo: "smart, powerful, safe, easy." Apples have been criticized for being pricey and underpowered - un-"smart" purchases. In response, the company has dropped prices and upped power. Last week it unveiled three new Power Macintoshes priced as low as $1,700, with keyboard, monitor, and modem extra. And its successful PowerPC chip, introduced last year and developed with IBM and Motorola, is said to compete well with the upscale industry-standard - Intel's Pentium.
But the most hyped element of the Apple creed was "easy." To expand sales, Apple is focusing on its strengths in markets such as homes and schools, where it has 57-percent share. The company is also extending the definition of the computer to include many more daily activities, such as taking pictures, making phone calls, and sending electronic mail.
And Apple plans to create an even easier-to-use operating system - to be called System 8. The software, currently code-named Copland, is due out next year. Apple hopes System 8 will leapfrog Windows '95 by adding such elements as an enhanced "find" feature for better file organization and more ability to customize the desktop. But during a Copland demo at MacWorld, the differences from the current Mac operating system seemed ornamental.