It was like a habitual drug. That?s why I used to be one of those Apple devotees. I bet you did some Apple too. People in bars and clubs were talking about it. It was trendy. It put weird colours and amazing images in front of your eyes. It was simple to use. Everyone was doing it ? the Apple Mac ? and everyone wanted to get ?sorted? with the real quality stuff, stuff with weird names like Quark and Ventura. You could sell it and make a decent profit, while using a bit yourself and enjoying all it had to offer. You couldn?t stop. Sales were simple ? everyone in schools and the media was addicted and couldn?t buy enough of the stuff. Then it all went wrong.
Gradually, people switched to the more common PCs and Apple was left only for hard- core users. New users became hooked on PCs ? all those trippy, rainbow colours and graphics were for hippies. The PC was the cheaper, modern way for the power user. Coming down from the Apple high was like an intense nightmare ? in vivid multicolour multimedia. The young people ditched the Apple habit and it went out of style quicker than acid house music.
Nobody wanted to get ?sorted? with Macs because Microsoft did most of the things they needed in a similar way. Dealers were left storing loads of Apple and the street price of the stuff went down. Eventually, they got caught with too big a stash. The dealers got busted.
But some survived, hoping that eventually an Apple evangelist would make the stuff popular again. Apple CEO Gil Amelio was touted as that man, but so far all he has done is slim Apple down, taking an enormous salary and lucrative bonus options while sales and margins fall. He is making a personal fortune despite the misery of Apple dealers.
His latest great idea is Applemasters, an initiative and Web site to show how great artists, inventors and ?world-changers? use Apple in what they do. So, despite its incompatibility, some inventive, creative people love using Apple. This is not new. Everybody knows that it has a hard core following in those fields.
Applemasters is the manufacturer?s latest unnecessary expense and will do nothing to boost sales. If you are an Apple dealer it is enough to make you turn to drugs.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison agrees that Amelio is clueless and has said so. Ellison argues that Amelio knows nothing about computers and is merely a bloke who ran a semiconductor manufacturing firm, who might be good at making staff redundant and therefore is called an expert ?turnaround artist? by all and sundry.
Estate of the art
This week I think Ellison is right, although last week I disagreed with him. I falsely accused him of flying to work in a helicopter but female insiders at Oracle tell me he has no chopper. He prefers riding in an estate car.
A fail imitation
Occasionally, us Brits love to see the efficient German machine fail. We love the underdog and Germans always finish first, so we want them to lose ? at football first and in business second, of course. I bet few UK distributors had sympathy for Computer 2000 over its disastrous acquisition of Ameriquest, the US wholesaler which has lost money ever since. It is blamed for C2000?s slow growth and sold off its storage business last week. Most observers now place Tech Data above C2000 in the distribution game.
The problem is that C2000?s failure is other distributors? success ? companies including Ingram Micro, Tech Data and CHS Electronics. If the German giant jettisons Ameriquest, it cannot offer presence in the US and therefore cannot offer global services to vendors. But Ingram is big in Europe, CHS is getting bigger, and companies such as Tech Data have stated they want to set up European business. In recent years, it has become necessary for distributors, Vars and SIs to give customers pan-European IT presence, but all the discussion at US conferences over the past six months has been about global business models and worldwide partnerships.
They may eventually want the higher growth on offer in Asia but for now the Americans are scrambling to start, develop or buy significant European business. The snowball is rolling: companies become global to compete; they therefore demand global service from their suppliers; that forces the suppliers to become global; the suppliers can then demand global service from whoever supplies them and so on. The non- global business loses.
C2000?s situation is similar to many European IT companies. If it pulls out of the US and cannot find a way back in, while it faces increasing competition from American companies at home, it will be at an even greater disadvantage when competing with American companies in our largely American industry, because it isn?t global.
Fortunately, we have European cultures which most Americans will never understand. Local companies with local knowledge and contacts are crucial to business. But the world is getting smaller, and large, non-global companies need to look carefully at their organisations. In IT, American companies dominate and are invading Europe while European competitors are struggling to crack the US market.
C2000?s Germans may not be the last to lose to the US. But fair competition in business is a good thing and as long as the US never beats us in the World Cup finals, I?ve no complaints.
James Harding is US Editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco.
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