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TV-PGMay 17, 2001: Is it just us, or do Apple's new retail stores not have a name? Meanwhile, new evidence indicates that the Mac community really is a cult, and Pixar switches from SGI to Linux-- after planning to move to Windows...
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...In A Store With No Name (5/17/01)

Sure, we all know retail is tough, and that Apple probably has a bumpy ride ahead-- certainly many analysts and pundits seem to think so. But has anyone stopped to consider the stress that Apple's retail initiative is putting on the Mac fanatics in the trenches? We've seen more than a few Apple enthusiasts stopped cold in mid-sentence-- not because they couldn't come up with nice things to say about the stores and the good they will bring to the Mac platform, but because they simply don't know what to call these new stores in the first place. Frankly, it's a nomenclatural nightmare.

We've been talking about these stores for months, now-- years, even. And in all that time, we've been forced to use unwieldy, dull, and un-Maclike generic phrases such as "Apple retail stores," "brick-and-mortar Apple stores," and "Apple's own stores" to describe the concept. (The engagingly simple "Apple store" causes too much confusion with Apple's online sales effort.) We had hoped that once Apple took the wraps off its first, uh, "Apple-owned retail outlet" earlier in the week, we'd finally have a real name to use, like iStore or MacVille or... well, just about anything. Instead, we found ourselves faced with the only situation worse than having to fall back on lame, uninteresting "Apple retail stores"-like phrases: as far as we can make out, these places have no name.

Seriously, Apple's web site only refers to them generally as "retail stores." And once we stared at it for a while, Apple's gorgeous storefront (pictured in several MacSlash photos like this one) chilled us to the depths of our souls: there's no name identifying the place at all. Look for yourselves; there's nothing there (other than the kick-butt window displays, of course) but two lit-up Apple logos. Granted, Apple's logo is one of the most recognizable ones on the planet, and no one's going to wonder what's inside that store, but how the heck are they going to be listed on those "You Are Here" maps in the malls? This is like when Prince changed his name to that squiggly thing and the press kept calling him "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince." Eventually he changed it back (thus becoming "The Artist Formerly Known As 'The Artist Formerly Known As Prince'"), probably because he got tired of trying to spell out his symbol when ordering a pizza by phone.

We think we understand what The CEO Formerly Known As Steve was trying to accomplish-- what better way to underscore the power of the Apple brand than to open stores bearing nothing but the Apple logo? Still, though, we wouldn't have minded a store name that's easier to communicate. What is it with Apple and difficult-to-name retail initiatives? This is almost as frustrating as that CompUSA deal which had us all saying "store within a store" over and over again for a few months...

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Say, This Is Great Kool-Aid (5/17/01)

You've heard it before, and no doubt you'll hear it again-- probably over and over and over: Mac users are a "cult." That's the charge leveled by frazzled pundits and journalists who bash the platform and immediately suffer the searing pain of a zillion flaming email messages. It's repeated by IT departments trying to switch their graphic design teams to Windows and who are baffled at the resistance they encounter. The "cult" argument has long been a mainstay of Windows apologists because it's easier than finding real reasons why Mac users are so fiercely devoted to their computing platform of choice-- at least, that's what we used to think. Now we're not so sure.

See, in our aimless cruising around the 'net, we stumbled upon an interesting resource at the Cultic Studies Journal: a "Checklist of Cult Characteristics." The purpose, of course, is to help concerned individuals determine if they or their family members are unwittingly involved with "manipulative groups." In reading through the published cult characteristics, several of them rang alarm bells:

  • The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

  • The group is preoccupied with making money.

  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader, and members.

  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.

Uh-oh. And those are just the crystal-clear ones; others are more subtle, but still applicable. For instance, "mind-numbing techniques... are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader" could be linked to Macworld Expo keynote addresses and iTunes visuals, while "members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group" brings to mind the whole "Demo Days" volunteer structure.

So, the bad news is that it's apparently true: we're a cult. The good news is that Apple is therefore one step closer to being a religion, which would qualify it for tax-free status, and that should make those quarterly reports even rosier. C'mon, you'd all suit up in black turtlenecks and chant to save The Mothership a few bucks, right?

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Steve: Crack Some Skulls (5/17/01)

Say, um, Steve... about that other company you run... not to disrespect your boundaries, or anything, but it's recently come to our attention that Pixar is apparently making some rash decisions, and you may want to "correct" its behavior before things get out of hand. Don't get us wrong; we're huge fans of both Toy Story movies and A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc. looks like it's going to be a hit, too-- which is why we're a mite concerned to hear about the company's recent computer platform choices.

It's a well-known fact that traditionally Pixar has relied upon massive farms of SGI UNIX systems to render the 3D images which comprise Pixar's films. But what's this? Faithful viewer Matthew Guerrieri pointed out a Wall Street Journal article about how Linux is taking Hollywood by storm, beating out Microsoft in creative houses. Normally a story like that would warm the cockles of our hearts (more so, if we knew what cockles were), but there's one line in the article which gave us pause: "Pixar Animation Studios, which helped bring Walt Disney Co. into computer-generated animation with 'Toy Story,' is also converting its workstations to Linux." Now, we have to ask: if Pixar is going to go through all the upheaval to switch computer platforms from one version of UNIX to another Unix-like OS such as Linux, why on earth aren't they switching to Mac OS X instead? After all, it's UNIX at its core, and we hear that Steve may have a little pull at Pixar. Why not get the next big Pixar release produced entirely on Macs?

But even more disappointing than the news of an ongoing Pixar migration to Linux is this other quote, which gave us one serious case of the heebie-jeebies (right in the cockles, no less): "The studio was in the process of switching from SGI technology to Microsoft's Windows NT platform, but shifted to Linux in midstream as it gained momentum and credibility." Holy Dodged Bullet, Batman! Pixar running NT? Talk about your doomsday scenarios... Granted, Hollywood is a great place for irony (for instance, the Dreamworks flick Shrek was borne of Linux instead of NT, and we're told that Bill Gates just happens to own a chunk of Dreamworks), but a Jobs-run company migrating to Windows when Mac OS X is available would be too much to bear. Our cockles could never take it.

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Previously, on As the Apple Turns...

TV-PGMay 16, 2001: Business Week goes multiple personality disorder on the whole Apple retail issue. Meanwhile, rumors of a tablet-style Mac resurface with tantalizing (though questionable) details, and dark sources whisper that Apple is working on a rack-mount Mac to go along with its alleged "big iron" server...

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