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Happy Days for Apple Computer and Kinki Mac Users
by Robert L. Seltman

This article appeared originally in the October 1999 issue of Kansai Time Out.

How often did you wish you had access to a circle of friends to get you through the hard times. . . kindred souls to offer a bit of inspiration and advice in your new adopted home? Kinki Mac Users Group this month celebrate her tenth anniversary, as a friend to all English speaking computer newbies that land here 'Mac in-hand' each year.

KMUG was established by a bunch of Apple loving guys, looking for still another excuse to party and a little hacker hobnobbing. These early KMUG party animals were riding a new wave of technological innovation that would change the way we play and work, for better and for worse, forever. Still today these wizen webbers wait ready and able under the leadership of their Apple evangelizing president Garr Reynolds. Scattered over the internet kousoku-douro, driving their old revitalized classics or supped-up processors at remarkably higher speeds, this friendly computer club is there to assist Kinki region neighbors.

At this very moment a network of new and seasoned members meet on-line. Gathering monthly in the flesh, or for a multitude of seasonal celebrations, they share their dreams and dilemma in a casual raucous of computing camaraderie. KMUG's Kinki-net, their on-line BBS, is a cool source of hot music concerts, bread recipes, and advice on everything from immigration to finding a good barrito. They talk computers too, to keep the darn things running enough to get to the fun stuff, fast lane Kansai living.

KMUG was born in the mid-eighties, like digital mushrooms after a virtual rainstorm, both in Kobe and Kyoto. In Kyoto early innovators like David Kubiac (USA presidential candidate), Ian Shortreed (Mercury Software), and Tim Brown (MIT Media Lab) initiated meetings. In Kobe the seeds were sown and later replanted east, circa 1989 in Osaka, via the likes of Jim Reppond digital-graphics guru, now back in America but still logging on, computer pro Bill Standford and John Haywood, connecting now from Down-under, and other early techno-devotee like Steve Porritt and Robert Liddington. But it took a modest collection of centralized resources, and a few local heroes to survive the bursting of a very large economic bubble and an even bigger fault line.

KMUG survived both recession and the Great Hanshin Earthquake because of the tenacity of a dedicated cadre of core members and an endless supply of questions. Manic panic from mystified Mac fans wired in tiny apartments, corporate cubicles, or inaka homes across the Japanese landscape dial KMUG's Kinki-net for assistance. Key administrators, like the knowledgeable Jimmie Jenkins, Net-magician Doug Jones, or the warmhearted activist Louise Pender, marry these inquiries to a battalion of veteran techno-wizards, professional educators, and Japan-hands. Despite the revolving door phenomena of expat membership, and the changing fortunes of both Japan and Apple Incorporated, a friendly family atmosphere continues for the forlorn, frustrated, or just fun hunting Kansai community.

Remember in the beginning, back in the days of typewriters and dial telephones, IBM held all the marbles in the computing world market. Big main frames were the name of the game then and IBM felt self-assured in their blue-chip status. But technological innovations in a wide variety of sciences made processing accessible to an ever expanding market. The IBM language was standard yet available to anyone with a license, and the hardware could be built here in Asia for far less, which allowed small upstarts to clone their way to millions.

Apple took the personalizing of processing one step further. Apple's young founders, working out of a garage, stopped following the standard formula and invented their own operating system. This freed up processing power for more innovative tool building. Great new tools useful for graphic and publishing professionals blossomed. Tools so useful they revolutionized the way we process information. The media we were in love with, Hollywood movies, TV, magazines, books, music, and art all embraced these Apple innovations. Meanwhile, business and many poorer hobbyists clung to their more affordable cloned workhorses.

Everyone continued to perfect their machines. Software and peripheral hardware took on every technological challenge imaginable. Apple was cool because anyone could start computing from day one, yet this innovation came at a price, so most of the world bought cheaper mass produced standardized computers and learned the needed arcane commands. Along comes Bill Gates, who creating a Mac-like face and layered it over the existing standard, bringing user-fairly-friendly computing to the masses.

Gate's Microsoft company became a force to be reckoned with on all fronts. Apple meanwhile was floundering, confused by dynamic market conditions and uncertain about which direction to move. Trying several radical steps, like clone licensing which was tremendously successful for everyone except Apple, and a small personal almost-pocket size device the Newton, which also had eventually to be abandoned, Apple stock prices plummeted. Something had to happen, and it had to happen fast.

Apple products were good quality but too expensive for a large market share. Returning like a troubled prodigal son or a knight in shining armor, depending on who you ask, early Apple leader Steve Jobs returned from his other struggling creation Next computers. Steve Jobs was the gamble Apple needed to take, and so far it has proven a good bet. His iMac changed things with a flare. . . COLORS, not only on the screen but everywhere, in a fast state-of-the-biz machine at a price families could afford.

Witness a phoenix-like rebirth and a David to Goliath challenge, as a perennial Apple rises against the world's most celebrated capitalist, Bill Gates and his infamous empire Microsoft. The whole i-World is watching and, for the betterment of KMUG, Apple is again winning the processor speed wars. Market share is soaring. The iMac and iBook, two industry-shaking innovations introduced by the returning Steve Jobs, has brought Apple back from the brink. The new G4 series, on the heals of the hardy G3, smokes the Pentium III.

Apple leads on the straight away, but in the curves, a more sinister competitor has been trying a few tricks. Industry watchers rumor that Microsoft is using an inordinate cash stash to bolster stock value, suggesting a potential stock option meltdown in-house, on top of a legal-beagle PR hassle from on going litigation. These are 'thin ice-stepping time' for Microsoft, while Apple has never looked better. While money from the richest man in the world can buy a lot of media allegiance, many journalists have begun throwing stones at Windows, as they once did at a wounded Apple.

But for most computer users, who simply prefer the unique Mac operating system or the sexy design innovation of a smiling fruit flavored computer, all this corporate one-upmanship matters little. The Mac is cool and easy to use, say the buying public, no matter who is atop the digital heap. Most important, Apple is now affordable with prices under $1000 for a very stylish product.

Finally a computer Mom wouldn't mind in the living room. Finally a fashion conscious model in keeping with the gender switch of the industry. Finally a Mac exec with the chutzpah to turn things around. To the merriment of the market place, Mac power has been maxed without nudging the price. In fact, Apple computers have never been more affordable. Working closely with each stage in development, Apple has tweaked her systems for more speed at a lower cost.

High-end users, Apple's traditional market, have a new easy-opening tower design, G4 super speed, and a more advanced operating system. The booming family market finally has a 3-D game machine, with easy web access, and style. With the bounce-around iBook, targeting school kids and rough riding professionals, everyone is smiling. Apple still has no true mini yet, to replace the Newton, but insiders say this too will change soon. Apple has come of age just in time for Kansai's own Kinki Mac User Group's tenth anniversary celebration. . . simply by thinking differently. How very cool for Apple lovers and Kinki's friendly user's group KMUG.

Additional Information:

KMUG membership is 8,000 yen per year which includes a private e-mail account, access to Kinki-net (the KMUG BBS) and free admittance to all KMUG meetings. Non-members may join meetings for 900 yen per meeting, though the first is free.
Contact KMUG via email: kmug@kmug.org or on the web: http://www.kmug.org

Copyright@1999 Robert L. Seltman. All rights reserved.

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