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on June 2, 2002
Useful history and inside looks, but reading his 1998 back-of-the-hand dismissal of Apple's chances of survival is pretty humorous nowadays. His opinion that Apple should have licensed earlier is similarly wrong-headed and lacking in any technical appreciation of the downsides of licensing (dilution of brand,difficult QA processes, cherry-picking, loss of platform homogenieity ).
He similarly doesn't understand the silliness of Apple developing an x86 MacOS in the early 90's, and again reveals his technical ineptitude by failing to pursue the ramifications of an Apple-brand x86 offering (ie a Mac with an x86 CPU) vs a software-only offering like Windows or NeXT's Yellow Box.
He also repeatedly blows the 5300 battery issue out of proportion.
But I think the weakest theme in the book is that an alternative platform with less than 10% "marketshare" is automatically doomed to failure. While there is a strong positive network effect for the 'standard' and a negative effect for the alternatives, in his near-hagiography of Gates & Co he simply missed the bigger picture that the lamosity of the Wintel platform's inherent legacy issues is and was a countervening force.
5-10% of the total market is sufficiently large for Apple, given a) it's the top 5-10% and b) Micros~1 continues to [stink] as it always has.
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I found Carlton's book to be well-written, stimulating and unbiased. It seems that other reviewers feel that Carlton was flat wrong in his prediction that Apple will ultimately not succeed (he devotes only a few pages at the end to this). To these individuals, I suggest that you reread the book. Carlton did not say that Apple has always been a complete failure. His book was about how the company, which was YEARS ahead of others in terms of technology and design, lost its market share. His prediction is simply that Apple will most likely not thrive in the LONG-term.
To those who thought that Carlton's book was overly negative: What else could you call what happened to Apple? A success story? Of course not. Apple DID create an unbelievable company with brilliant design, technology and marketing. But the tragedy is that it chose to ride on its past successes without devising a strategic plan to maintain its lead in the ever-changing technology industry.
I suggest that anyone interested in learning how to manage a company over the long-haul read this book.
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on February 24, 1999
Apple Computer company has, in the past two years, made a bona fide turnaround. It is easy to enumerate a few facts supporting this proposition, not the least of which is five straight quarters of profit after some very tough times. The iMac was the number one best selling computer in the last quarter of 1998. Steve Jobs is a charismatic and visionary leader back at the helm. Apple has a creative community of loyal users like no other computer company. Apple has a powerful OS in the offing called Mac OS X. Many developers, particularly game developers, have been jumping back on board the platform. Apple's agreements with Microsoft has guaranteed its office software development for the Mac for five years minimum. Apple has, now, a powerful board of directors, as well as a little reported technology genius named Avie Tevanian, and with Avie comes some very adaptable software from the former NeXT team which is being wrapped into OS X. Apple has Quicktime -- the muldtimedia standard. And now Apple is marketing their stylish, yet powerful, new computers with pizzaz via the amazing advertising firm called Chiat-Day. Et cetera, et cetera... If all these facts make my contention that Apple is on the right track to gaining some semblance of market share back from Microsoft "absurd" as Mr. Carlton, as well as certain previous reviewers of this book, might contend, so be it. In the light of Apple's current day performance I will accept my absurdity like a man. I don't suggest that the road ahead wont be rough and competitive for Apple. All I'm saying is that Apple is today in a promising position. Journalists like Jim Carlton should now stop ladling the erroneous attempt at the self fulfilling prophesy that Apple has no niche, no chance, and no capacity to be a serious, albeit positively unorthodox, player in the game. Jim Carlton's book assumed that Apple's culture was stuck and etched in stone and monolithic. It is his book, however, which has become obsolete decades before Apple Computer will see its demise. The book, in its present form, is a catastrophic mis-prognostication, along with some interesting tid-bits on a portions of Apple's history. Mr. Carlton would do well to produce a second addition in which the author learns to "THINK DIFFERENT."
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on February 8, 1999
It's amazing, though the Wintel crowd wants to refute it and say that the war for the desktop is over, that Apple survived through the events Carlton describes in this book. Reading the book today is like reading about a completely different company. The book illustrates how Wintel boxes became the standard - because Sculley and Spindler were ignorant (and Amelio was just brain dead) of what had to be done to push the company and industry forward.
Now Apple is regaining marketshare and developers are coming back onboard. They've fallen out of the ivory tower and realize that they can't compete living inside of it. However, Microsoft now resides in that tower, thinking nothing can touch them. Apple, IBM, Intel, Gateway, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard all realize the world is starting to turn away from MS (and towards the Mac and Linux), just as they did from Apple earlier this decade.
Bill Gates and his crowd would be wise to read this book and realize there is no such thing as a desktop standard, and that they're making many of the same mistakes Apple made. But they won't. Eventually, Windows will be eaten alive and MS will be brought back to an applications company.
And Apple will still be standing.
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I, personally, could not stop reading this book, despite the mind-numbing repitition and poor metaphors. It is somewhat saved because (I understand?) it is fairly accurate. What compelled me the most about this book was not the combination of bad decisions and bad luck, with some bad economics thrown in, that made the downfall of the company that invented the personal computer equally as fast as its rise. What I found the most compelling was the obvious pride of the fantastically intelligent think-factory that was Apple. Read between the lines, at it is obvious that Apple engineers had a genuine love for beautiful code: code that was thrown out at Apple is the code that Microsoft SELLS. Look especcially for the famous story of shaving the seconds off the startup of the mac 128K. The work was worth it, wasn't it? No matter how hard Carlton paints Apple as a failure of generals following different trails, he cannot hide the success and hope of the individuals who invented, reinvented, and most recently, fully made good on the promise of the personal computer.
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on March 25, 1998
After reading the reviews on this book, I must comment that the Apple fans must not have been reading the same book! The mistakes made by this company (the author is more than fair in his comments on the horrific performance of Apples' CEO's. If anything the author seems to be sickly enamored with John Skulley. Apples' major mistakes were enought to kill off 20 organizations.
Yes I agree, Apple does make great products but it is now the Betamax in a VHS world. My questions of why didn't IBM coordinate their efforts with Apple? This question was answered by yet another failure of the CEO to do what was needed. The Author probes, and gives us insight into the personality of the CEO's (ie.) Mr. Amelio's "What's going to happen to me when we join up with IBM? Who's going to pay attention to a VP ?
This ego centered CEO, and others in top management have driven this company into the ground. It only hangs on because of the great products produced by the workers - dispite management...
If the facts from the author are correct, his journalist habits have served the reader well...
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on March 10, 1998
Previous reviews have covered many of the flaws and good points of the book- I'll just add that it is a bit biased against Apple. Apple did do some things well- the Powerbooks and the PPC transition were done well. (Ask IBM about porting OS/2 to PPC- an utter disaster.)
However, there are two areas where the book has major problems- one fixable, one not.
First, events have moved so quickly at Apple that the book is already seriously dated- it doesn't cover the death of the clones, the death of Newton, Jobs and the permanent-interim CEO problems, etc. Easy to write a sequel here!
The bigger problem is the huge number of technical errors in the book, such as Carlton's belief that only microkernal OSs can have memory protection and pre-emptive multitasking. He repeats this at least a dozen times, yet it's just plain wrong. Other massive errors include calling MultiFinder "A row of pretty icons" and saying that the Mac couldn't open more than one file at a time until Copland. The range and number of technical blunders really calls into question Carlton's understanding of computers as well as his comments that he uses a Mac.
I know the book was written quickly, but even the most cursory editing would have caught these problems and made a so-so book into something far better.
Eric Remy
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on November 24, 1997
I am an Apple loyalist but if I read this book two years ago things may have been different. reading this book frustrated me to know that with a few different decisions, maybe the DOJ would be after Apple today and not Microsoft. Carlton did a good job in researching the topic. However, my only complaint is that it is difficult to follow along. Reading this seems like reading an overlapping Gantt chart. The writing style is certainly not as smooth as I would have liked. If you are planning to read this book you more or less have to read it in a straight setting as you need to reead it all and then do a "merge" of dates and events in your head to get a clear view of the big picture. Following Apple from its early days I was familiar with a lot of what the book presented but Carlton reveals a lot more shocking details of projects that were put on the chopping block. For example the "Star trek" project. Had that flown, there would probably be healthy competition amongst all PC's and not necessarily the Windows domination. Oh well great book a definite read for anyone who 1. loves Apple 2. is in the computer business and 3. plan to be in the computer business.
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on November 2, 1997
The book shows hasty editing, a lack of continuity and several factual errors. This does not, however, detract from the important lessons it conveys about managing high growth and high technology. More than anything, it shows that religion and the arrogance that comes with it can cause the best technology to whither in development, the biggest business advantages to fail to keep customers, the most powerful organizations to sacrifice their own best people, and the smartest individuals to forget their own fundamentals. Apple stands as one of the saddest stories of our industry.
Despite the obvious challenges in organizing the chronicle of Apple's downfall, I was disappointed with how difficult it was to build a coherent mental picture of the sequence of events at Apple. Chapters are redundant and repetitive, covering overlapping periods of time. Many chapters go back and forth in time as well, in attempt to develop a coherent topical narrative, but so doing, losing the temporal chain of cause and effect.
As a person who consulted for Apple and NeXT and served as a technical strategist for Microsoft during much of Apple's largest downturn, I found many factual errors. Some errors were technical, some had to do with people's responsibilities, some were small misrepresentations of events, and some were because the author was not "inside" enough to know all the details of what had really happened. None of them, however, were drastic errors and are probably within reasonable editorial license. The lessons here were still important.
I found Guy Kawasaki's foreward to the book quite ironic. As the chief Macintosh "Evangelist", it is people such as Guy who strongly contributed to the religious fervor that deluded so many of Apple's executives and employees. In the foreward, Guy praises the Army's tradition of AAR, After-Action Reviews, designed to let the Army learn from mistakes and successes. Guy gives his own AAR, including his list of ways to fix Apple. I noted, however, that nothing in his list addressed preventing Apple from once again becoming deluded in its own religion.
The industry has evolved and passed Apple by. It will not allow Apple to ever be the old Apple again. Jobs will not bring it back. As one of the first independent Macintosh developers who put a lot of time into the Macintosh and believed in its principles, I feel a sense of loss.
A final note about the Kirkus review. That reviewer reviewed an earlier edition of the book. The book now carries an Epilog that discusses events through August 1997, including the search for a new CEO and Steve Job's de facto CEO role, but not the descision to stop licensing the Macintosh OS to clone companies like Power Computing. Interestingly, the author writes that he expects the CEO spot to be filled by the time the book is in press, which is not true. The author lists his A-list of CEO candidates, but fails to note that the re-emergence of Jobs' power at Apple is itself a deterrent to strong candidates for the CEO position.
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on November 1, 1997
"What happened?"...I've read bits and pieces about some of the strategic blunders made by the top management throughout the years, but there still was a missing piece as to why Apple is in the shape it is today. This book provided me the missing part, and I finally understand what really went on behind-the-scenes, inside Apple. Some of the things that happened are so unbelievable and appalling, and even painful to read. Had all this happened to any other company but Apple, it probably would not have survived. The fact that it somehow did so far represents to me "Hope" in Pandora's Box. This book is a well written, detailed study of an American icon company. It is far from dry, however, and reads like a novel with plenty of colorful characters including Jobs, Gates (who was not the Darth Vader-like despicable character as we often perceived), Ellison, McNealy, and Jean-Louis Gassee. I recommend this book to anyone, and especially to those who care at all about Apple and the Macintosh.
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