by Murph Sewall [and Adam C. Engst]
I watched the User Group TV broadcast on September 25th with a couple of media center professionals who were REALLY impressed with Apple's broadcasts last year for educators and developers. I've also talked with a user group member who watched at another site. We've all arrived at the same conclusion - the show took 90 minutes for about 15 minutes worth of content.
[Adam here. I saw the show too and generally agree with Murph. I'll add any comments I may have in square brackets, as usual.]
The "Tour of Apple" was a truly awful amateur production that wasted a lot of valuable time. Frankly, my neighbors home videos are more entertaining. Oddly, after the Apple II segment, the show contained a quick two minutes or so that did as much as the pointless tour.
[Murph's speaking of a fictionalized Odyssey Bus Tour featuring sappy computer user stereotypes, a stupid tour guide in a referee's striped shirt, and a slimy reporter. The slimy reporter was included as a broad poke at MacWEEK, since at the end he flipped the MacWEEK press pass in his hat to reveal the other side, which said MacLeak. I think the rationale behind the tour was to add some humor (only occasionally successful - they could have called the tour bus the "NuBus," but missed that obvious opportunity) and to provide a look at Apple and Apple's history. I also suspect they taped most of it beforehand.]
An appearance by the CEO (John Sculley) is more or less obligatory. We can forgive him for being as bland as nofat margarine.
[He did make one important point that is notably lacking from the visions of the industry I've heard from other multi-millionaires, Mr. Bill included. Sculley said quite rightly that perhaps the most important task facing the computer industry is changing how people use computers. Bill's long-term vision of a computer on every desk is boring if people are using those computers for the same old tasks. However, Sculley's ideas were aesthetically marred by the jerky transitions in the pre-recorded sequence. Shame on those video engineers. As Murph said in email, they could have just used an Amiga and a Video Toaster to clean it up.]
The Apple II segment was something of a disappointment. The stuff on the new Finder was interesting, but HyperCard GS with the Video Overlay Card was so hurried that it was largely unhelpful. Zip, zero, nothing on the new software for the LC //e card :-(
[Yeah, really! That //e card is pretty cool, but I did hear that it will be able to share partitions on an LC with the MacOS.]
The Macintosh QuickTime demonstration was one of the few redeeming features of the night (award second place to the description of Apple's stuff for user groups which Apple Ambassadors know about, but which many [possibly most?] group members are unaware of). Even our jaded media professionals were impressed (especially since the demo used WordPerfect Mac as a "for example" application). Alas, the demo also included "I haven't got time to show you this, so you'll have to trust me on it." If the production had been better managed, there would have been time.
[Murph's right, the QuickTime demo was excellent, but left you wanting to see a lot more. The Apple Events demo was also good, showing linking between a forms package and an accounting package that provided almost relational database capabilities for the two programs over a network.]
Some of the flaws were cosmetic. Most of what the broadcast industry refers to as "the talent" weren't broadcasting professionals, so they can be forgiven for coming over sometimes as paralyzed by the camera and mike. However, many of those segments could have been prerecorded; they probably should have been. That would have given the presenters an opportunity to smooth over the rough spots, but most of all it would have permitted editing in a LOT more production value (more graphics, less "talking heads"). After all, the whole point of buying the satellite time is IT'S VISUAL - "show," don't just "tell."
Apple DOES have folks who can put on a show worthy of network television at the drop of an invitation. I've got a video of Pat Kuras, who works out of Apple's Connecticut office and sometimes contributes a thought or two to the Info-Mac digest, at a User Group meeting last June that's both more informative and more entertaining than Wednesday night's broadcast. Maybe Pat's unique?
[The lack of professionalism came through especially when the hosts were trying to remember what they were supposed to say and swapping turns to talk. There's no reason that stuff had to be live - there was little interaction with the live audience for most of it. On the whole the staff did quite well when responding to the audience's questions, so they should have stuck with that for the live parts.]
Perhaps we're grumpy here because we had to stay up late (I understand that's a function of the lease costs for satellite transponder time rather than simply waiting until after California's dinner hour :-) Also, our opinion undoubtedly is colored by the certain knowledge that Apple is capable of delivering MUCH HIGHER quality.
[Nah, I thought it was mediocre too and I didn't have to stay up late now that I live on the West Coast where the time is funny.]
To Apple's credit, their interest in and attention to user groups certainly contrasts with their competitors (all of them, not just the Blue one). I wonder if Apple has really figured out exactly how to cooperate with user groups to best advantage? User groups are by every account I've ever seen FAR, FAR better than "see your dealer" at resolving problems, especially those dealing with software. However, when user groups ask Apple for some support for those training activities, the response has sometimes been inappreciative. Still, we're starting to see some evidence that change is underway. The support packages (Quicken, FileMaker Pro templates) for user groups shown on the broadcast are a very supportive response (more than the competition offers their user groups :). It would appear that the User Group Evangelists inside Apple are getting the cost-benefit message through to the policy makers.
[To be fair, Microsoft does have two people who are full-time User Group Coordinators (I met one at the UGTV presentation, as a matter of fact). Still, Apple does more for user groups than any other computer company that I know of.]
The outrageous opinions above are my own and do not necessarily represent those of either user group I belong to or my employers media center staff.
[The opinions in square brackets are my own and aren't Murph's. They do however reflect the official views of TidBITS :-). Seriously now, Apple put a lot of money and time into that UGTV presentation, but could have done a far better job. I applaud their willingness to spend money on supporting user groups, but I hope they think more clearly about what they're doing next time.]
Murph Sewall -- SEWALL@UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU