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Pundit sees Apple decline

The Microprocessor Report's Michael Slater says Apple Computer will tenuously hold a shrinking piece of the PC market.

Another industry pundit has weighed in with an opinion on the fate of Apple Computer (AAPL), stating it faces a bleak future and is destined to slowly fade from its former position of prominence in the PC industry.

In an article published

Michael Slater
this week, Michael Slater says Apple will hold tenuously to a shrinking piece of the computer market. Slater is the editorial director and founder of the Microprocessor Report, a well-respected and widely read computer industry newsletter.

Though Apple has made moves to improve profitability, such as selling systems direct over the Web, Slater sees "a downward spiral of diminishing software support and shrinking market share" that is the inevitable result of the company's recent history, including its refusal to widely license the Macintosh operating system.

Apple fans will be sure to punish Slater for his stance, but Slater's tone sounds more like a contrite Macintosh booster than a Microsoft and Intel partisan.

Slater, a loyal Macintosh user for years, writes his column with the machine. His company also owns several dozen other Macs. "I still find the Mac environment to be superior to Windows in some ways. I continue to believe in the fundamental technical superiority of RISC architectures over [Intel]."

But he adds: "That said, I have to say I have lost faith in the future of the Macintosh."

One of the primary problems he sees from the vantage of an executive: When making purchasing decisions, Slater worries about the availability of software for the Mac platform. "As [my company] builds new Web-based business systems, limiting ourselves to software that is available on the Mac just doesn't seem to be a smart choice," he wrote.

"Some people view faith in the Macintosh as a religious issue, but the Mac is a tool, not a deity. My allegiance to tools lasts only as long as they serve me better than other tools," he adds poignantly.

As to the PowerPC processor, the heart of the Macintosh, Slater believes that it would have to offer twice the price-performance ratio of an Intel processor to encourage people to move away from it--a feat that the PowerPC is unlikely to accomplish. And without significant increases in the user base, fewer software developers are likely to offer programs designed specifically for the Mac, further reducing the attractiveness of the platform.

Also, with the introduction of a new operating system next year, called Rhapsody, Apple could exacerbate the problem it already faces, a lack of software support.

"I don't derive any pleasure from [saying] this. This issue is of considerable concern for the industry at large," Slater says. He worries that the pace of innovation in the industry will slow without strong challengers to Intel and Microsoft.

"There's no question, for example, that the whole 'plug and play' initiative on the Windows platform was spurred in response to the Mac. A series of Apple advertisements that showed how much easier it was to add peripherals to Macs led to an effort to fix that on the PC platform," Slater notes.

"I hate the thought that we?re going to end up with no significant competition for Microsoft. It is almost enough to make me stick with the Mac platform. But I can?t compromise my personal productivity, and my business' effectiveness, in the hope that the Mac will flourish, because it just doesn?t seem likely."

Slater doesn't discount Apple's survival altogether. He is of the opinion that the company can find a suitor which it can partner with--or might yet find a way to survive as an independent company.

"It is not out of the question that out of some brilliant strategy they [Apple's management] might find a way to make Apple a healthy, although less significant company," Slater concludes hopefully.