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PowerPC & MCL

An open Letter to Apple,

After the initial shock and dismay at your revelation that you are not
planning to undertake a native port of MCL to the PowerPC platform, the
only consolation has been the overwhelming response from the user community 
testifying to the importance of MCL both as a research tool and as a
delivery vehicle with significant commercial potential for Apple.

Although my own position is similar to many other respondents, I hope that
the following views will continue the effort of convincing you to
reconsider your unfortunate decision, and perhaps underscore the commercial 
potential of MCL that you apparently fail to recognize.  

First, though, it might be worth pointing out how Macs and MCL actually
make their way from the research groups represented by many active and
concerned members of this conference to the commercial world that you
measure your success by.  In my own case, after learning to use Macs and
LISP at university and in one of these research groups, I moved up and
through a variety of jobs in New York and London financial institutions. 
These institutions are typically PC houses, but through persistence and
example, I have been able to turn many departments into Mac workgroups. 
All told I have TsoldU at least a hundred Macs, dozens of printers and
untold software packages and upgrades in this way.  The multiplier effect
of sales through research groups to commercial sales is not just anecdotal. 
 Its real.  The users who actively use and care about MCL are exactly the
sorts of people who create users of Macs and MCL in the commercial world.

In the last few years, however, this process has been more difficult.  It
used to be as easy as getting one Mac into a group and then allowing bosses 
and colleagues to see it work--both in terms of speed and productivity--in
comparison to the best available PC at its side.  However, as the speed of
the Mac has stagnated and Windows has improved the obvious and compelling
side-by-side comparison has become too esoteric to make instant converts. 
Add to this the price advantage of the PC clone that you were slow to
respond to, in the last couple years I have had to recommend and purchase
(with great regret) souped up PC clones as more sensible workstations.  

As a result our target markets have moved to non-Mac hardware and this has
slowed our penetration of these markets using MCL.  In my case--actually
your case for you suffer the consequences more than me--this is the
potentially enormous market for financial software.  Since my target users
are now fairly solidly PC or Unix users, it is impossible for me to deliver 
products to them in MCL.  As a result I build a product in MCL, and then
have programming teams convert the design to C.  This despite the fact that 
the MCL version is not just a prototype.  The MCL version is actually
better than the final version, which is stripped down for easier delivery
and maintenance.  Provide users like me with a decent platform--which runs
MCL competitively--and we will start recommending Macs as a platform and
delivering products using MCL.  Unless you are serious about penetrating
and capturing markets like the financial market where I work--in addition
to your traditional lead in the publishing area--Apple will remain an
interesting inventor of ideas on the periphery of computing.

So, for you to interpret the low sales volume of MCL as a reflection of the 
commercial potential of MCL is a mistake.  The market for MCL will improve
when the market for Macs improves.  Further I believe that it will improve
more rapidly as there are many people like myself out there with very
mature products that only need horsepower to be as fast as the competition
on the basic stuff, and hence have a chance to run rings around them in
terms of additional features.  

Apparently you are not aware of the tremendous potential MCL has as a
development and delivery vehicle par excellence given a decent hardware
platform to run on.  As soon as Apple starts to re-achieve parity on the
hardware level, these real and tangible aspects of your competitive
potential can retake their proper position at the forefront of your
marketing effort.  The advantages of Lisp--and in particular MCL as one of
its best commercial implementations--over alternative languages for speed
of development and maintenance are legend.  

You should fire whoever has done such a lousy job marketing MCL over the
years since Apple purchased it from Coral, and give it to someone with
vision and creativity to run with.  Seriously, the fault is on your side,
and for you to fail to recognize a great product when it is tucked away in
the inner pages of your very own APDA, is yet another appalling bit of
failed opportunity.  The quality of MCL is tremendous as even a casual
comparison of MCL with alternatives in Pascal and C reveals.  As many users 
have pointed out, your marketing of MCL has been lackluster.  The APDA
channel has not even attempted to test the mainstream viability of MCL. 
What MCL deserves is better marketing.  

Apple has, in my judgement, made the mistake over many years of failing to
identify its real commercial challenges.  These are to build fast hardware
and better software at reasonable prices.  With PowerPC you will apparently 
attain parity and perhaps leadership in the hardware arena.  But it will be 
the software that runs on the Mac PowerPC which brings customers back and
builds your market share.  Your system software is still the best but that
is not enough.  Nor will many users need a PowerPC to run spreadsheets or
Word-processing or other mainstream major products.  These are already fast 
enough (with too many features) on current platforms.

You must in the end convince users to move off the PC and older Macs based
on the software which runs admirably if not exclusively on that hardware. 
Mac emulation or add on PC cards and emulation are only a transition
strategy that fools no one in the long run.  Users need access to the real
power of the underlying technology you are moving to for the new box to be
worthwhile.  Developers need lead time and the assurance that you will
support your side of the equation.  MCL is the ideal sort of product for
this future.  

Please open your eyes Apple and see what a great product your employees
have created.  From the many comments generated by your admission of
inactivityPwith the tepid exception of the search for a development
partnerPon the MCL development front it is clear that you stand to loose
many strong believers in MCL as well as Mac users themselves.  I hope you
will reconsider this inactivity in the very near future and will undertake
to contact and understand your supporters better before continuing in your
current direction.  

Sincerely Yours,
Walker Sigismund