Conflicting stories from inside Apple

As the rumours fly at Apple, with tales of takeovers and investment, one thing is certain says Sutherland Lyall – Apple’s new clamshell is wasted in schools

From time to time when the ridiculous PC vs Mac wars flare up, DW’s letters page begins to resemble a gathering of some clan with stout retainers hauling themselves out of their glens to swear eternal allegiance to the chief.

It’s not, of course, a good analogy because in real life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the chiefs had this nasty habit of then wheeling out the bayonets and shipping everybody off in coffin ships to Newfoundland or Australia. Bizarrely, the forced emigrant clansmen often continued evermore the tradition of toasting the far-off clan – and its laird. Mind you, even on a wet day and in humid kilts, the tropical rain forest was probably a nicer place to be than roamin’ in the gloamin’.

None of this, naturally, has anything to do with the fact that Larry “Net-computer” Ellison has started commentators rotating with his suggestion of doing a hostile take-over bid for Apple – or with the fact that super whizz-kid financier Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has recently made himself Apple’s biggest individual shareholder by stumping up $115 m (70 m) for more than 5 per cent of the company.

People scorned the likelihood of the former on the grounds that you don’t reveal your hand like that if you are serious about a take-over and they were encouraged by the latter because Alwaleed has an investment record of apparently total success. Alwaleed is worth $10 bn (6.1bn), Ellison is worth $6 bn (3.7 bn). Now it turns out that they are good friends. Apple is said to be looking for non-Ellison friends maybe for a friendly takeover. Most of those named so far turn out to also be good friends of Ellison. Ellison is said to want to reinstate good friend and Apple founder Steve Jobs as boss after sacking the existing management – although I thought Jobs had recently rejoined Apple management in some way anyway. So now all the commentators are suddenly pointing in all directions not sure which way to spin.

What can go wrong, you ask? Two answers might be that corporate shenanigans could become sexier financially for Apple than the graphics community and, second, the deadline for a fully operational version of Rhapsody could find itself being pushed further into the future.

All this column has to say to desperately loyal Apple clansmen is that two years is a very, very long time in computing and that for 3D and animation work Windows NT, despite reader Graham Mitchell’s views a couple of weeks ago about the total fallibility of Windows, is already the platform preferred by those terrifying young cropheads doing leading-edge multimedia.

A word in your shell-like

What Apple probably has got right is the forthcoming Apple eMate 300 portable at a bulk price of 500 basic. In technological and price terms that is. And maybe design terms. But unless you’re in the education industry you won’t actually be able to buy one of them.

Maybe it’s a clever marketing ploy. On the other hand, it could be an extremely stupid one. And nobody has the faintest idea why the restriction exists. Sales in the education sector surely can’t offer many clues about sales to grown-ups.

Although it’s a clamshell it’s the same concept as the Amstrad Notepad – simple functions, 24- hour battery life, not-amazing screen, cheapish, compact flash memory, relatively low weight, built-in software, easy downloadability of files to desktops of either persuasion and so on.

The sadly demised Notepad was about the size and feather-weight of an A4 pad, really cheap and black with only a few nasty-coloured keys. It had a barely readable 8-line screen but that didn’t matter if you were a hack writing copy on the train back from an interview. Our trade doesn’t call for a lot of fancy formatting, and the subsequent download would be for spelling checks and because it was quite difficult to attach a modem.

Tandy now flogs a clone but in a garish white which you could only really use comfortably in a bathroom.

The eMate has a bigger screen, an apparently just-usable keyboard, and it can take a number of peripherals including flash memory, an infra-red port, printer, sound and, of course, a modem. The technology is Newton-based and the case is in a desirable shape made from faintly transparent plastics.

I can’t really get my rocks off on sneak views of faintly visible printed circuit boards but I love the idea as a functional fashion victim accessory for grown-ups. But because the eMate is lightweight and small, I prophesy it will be going missing from schools in scads. The Apple/Acorn education sales combo, Xemplar, on 01223 724 724 is distributing them, so sign up as a school governor now.

If you’re desperate, you could always lurk outside school gates with bunches of tenners… Perhaps not.

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