It used to be that Apple Computer Inc. was the cool computer maker. The Macintosh was hip, nonconformist. Apple was on the cutting edge of the latest trend--ease of use, multimedia, laser printers. But in cyberspace, Apple is a laggard. While Netscape Communications and other companies grab the headlines, Apple has barely made it onto the Information Highway.
Now, the computer maker is finally revving up. Job one: Make the Mac the PC of choice for this explosive new market. The Mac has been a favorite "platform" for developing World Wide Web pages. Now, Apple is trying to make it the favored vehicle for Web surfers, too. Last summer, the company began offering a $59 Internet Connection kit complete with a Netscape browser, choice of Internet service providers, and the Claris E-Mailer, which is a program that consolidates a user's mail from different services. Apple says future PCs will include the Internet kit as standard equipment. On Dec. 4, Apple announced plans to support Java, the new Web programming language from Sun Microsystems Inc.
In January, Apple is expected to launch its most important Internet software effort--a programming system called Cyberdog that could make Net-surfing much easier. "Cyberdog is Apple's last, best chance to make an impact on the Internet," says John R. Deal, president of software maker Lizard Tech Inc. in Santa Fe, N.M.
What's so hot about Cyberdog? Based on the IBM-Apple OpenDoc software standard, which will let software modules work together as though part of one application, Cyberdog will let users easily add Internet links to their favorite applications. Want to get E-mail without quitting your word processor first? You could drop in a Cyberdog E-mail reader for one-touch access. Click on the button and check your mail, then resume work. Want to get a daily weather report? Drag in a part that calls into the National Weather Service Web site each morning. These software modules don't exist yet. Apple will release Cyberdog and key parts--a Web browser, an E-mail program, and others--in January. But by licensing the software for a nominal fee, Apple hopes developers and individuals will build their own custom modules.
Apple is also trying to beat rivals by providing content for the Internet. The goal: Operate like a cable-TV company and make money on Web sites by attracting advertising and charging for premium "programming." The company already has a site called The Learning Community for grade school teachers and in November launched one for the literati called The Salon. A four-month-old Internet Services division will convert the money-losing e-World online system to the Web next summer.
Attracting attention--and keeping cybernauts interested--is a daunting task. Some visitors to The Salon, for example, found discussions there too shallow. "The key will be the quality of the content, but Apple's heading in the right direction," says Tim Bajarin of market researcher Creative Strategies Inc. Following the right course is one thing. Getting there on time is another.
Apple's I-Way Itinerary
CYBERDOG: Set for release early next year, this software lets users set up their own custom-made Internet interfaces. Rather than jump between browsers and gophers, customers could, for example, plop an icon for Internet mail into their word-processing programs.
CONTENT: Apple is rolling out Web pages targeted at specific Mac customers such as The Learning Community for teachers and The Salon for intellectuals.
NET SERVERS: Since many Web-publishers create their content on Macs, many want to house their Web sites on Mac servers. This has helped Apple vault to No. 2 in this fast-growing market, according to market researchers Gartner Group.