Columns for OSOpinion.com

Apple's Buried Treasures

Published on OSOpinion.com on June 22, 2001
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Apple has a treasure trove and doesn't even realize it. The company that "thinks different" has produced many valuable products that have been discontinued or abandoned for some reason or none at all. Mac-users who enjoyed these products have sometimes petitioned Apple to revive them only to be disappointed--Apple sees no reason why these products should be exhumed.

The following are four of Apple's buried treasures, a brief introduction to a series of articles that will cover each of these products in more detail.

HyperCard
As Microsoft Windows 2.0 was floundering in 1987, Apple quietly released an extraordinary software package called HyperCard. HyperCard was a graphical programming environment that made it easy for an average user to create a simple address book and powerful enough to produce the award-winning game, Myst. HyperCard can perform many of the same tasks as Macromedia Director and Microsoft's Visual Basic, and its system of stacks, cards, and links between them is similar to the way hyperlinks connect multiple pages in a web site. HyperCard was truly ahead of its time.

Apple is still missing the opportunity HyperCard presents, but the enthusiasm shown by HyperCard programmers gives this program great promise. If Apple has no interest in continuing HyperCard's development, it should be released into the hands of those eager programmers who want to keep it going.

An Apple PDA
The Newton MessagePad was the world's first personal digital assistant (PDA). Despite its flaws--a steep price, bulky size, and a reputation for flawed handwriting recognition--many came to love it.

Ever since Steve Jobs gave Newton the ax after he returned to Apple, rumormongers have whispered that Apple was preparing to unveil a new PDA. Some users even produced their own bogus prototype photographs of a soon-to-be-released Apple PDA. The reason these rumors persist is because many Mac users want them to be true.

Apple should seriously consider making these rumors come true, because a PDA that is compatible with Mac OS X and can communicate over an Airport network fits nicely into the Apple "whole widget" mold of integration.

eWorld
Apple's ill-fated ISP was a close-knit, community-oriented Internet service wrapped in colorful, loveable artwork. Unfortunately, poor services and a steep price doomed it to failure. Nevertheless, eWorld still invokes warm, fuzzy thoughts in the heads of Mac-users; the memories are so strong that the IconFactory has released several sets of icons based on eWorld's artwork.

Ironically, Apple offers many of eWorld's services for free, like integrated bulletin boards and online software archives. Putting Apple's free and useful Internet services under the umbrella of eWorld would create a unified marketing tool that could attract new users to the platform.

Appearance Themes
Ever since the sledgehammer plowed into Big Brother's telescreen in Apple's famous 1984 commercial, Mac-users have identified themselves as a creative lot who enjoy using the Macintosh to express their individuality in a variety of ways.

Most users are familiar with "skins," or "themes," files one can install to change the look and feel of an operating system or an individual program. Apple planned to introduce custom appearance themes with Mac OS 8.5, but they were buried without explanation at the last minute.

Mac-users could not be deterred so easily, however. A group of eager programmers formed the Mac Themes Project and started work on a "theme machine" that could generate custom appearance themes for the Mac OS. ResExcellence now hosts an archive with dozens of themes users can download to customize their Macs. Unfortunately, Apple resented these efforts, and threatened legal action against the Mac Themes Project instead of thanking them for their work.

Apple, once the champion of individual expression and creativity, now wants users to conform to one appearance theme. That Big Blue Brother is back, and this time his name is Aqua.

Get a shovel
Like the Apple Lisas buried somewhere in Utah, HyperCard, Newton, eWorld, and Appearance Themes are being unnecessarily left to rot. If Apple sees no benefit in reviving these lost treasures, then it should allow aspiring third parties to roll up their sleeves and do the digging themselves. Apple only stands to gain by giving its users what they want.


Author's Background: Matt Johnson is a graphic design student and a Mac-user of seventeen years. He enjoys creative writing, drawing cartoons, and maintaining a list of free Macintosh software on his web site. Look for his next article about HyperCard, Apple's intuitive programming environment, and how Apple can profit from reviving it.

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