Apple's Last Tango in Paris?

Apple Expo as bazar
Usually only mail-order, retailers run 'fire-sales' 'sur place,'
to Macintosh users' annual delight.

Not Like It Was - But What Is These Days?

Paris:- Friday, 19. September 1997:- When Jean-Louis Gassée phoned me from Roissy airport yesterday, he said there was a 'fire sale' at Apple Expo, and then he got on a big airplane and flew away to California.

It was good of Jean-Louis to remind me of the existence of 'Apple Expo.' It is the only computer-type salon I go to; but they forgot to send me an invitation and except for some hints I overlooked in some recent junk-mail, I didn't know it was currently playing.

The 'Wintel-PC' expos and salons are on about every other day in Paris and the big ones take up more space at the exhibition centre 'Paris- Expo' than the huge Foire de Paris. By going to the Apple-Expo I get a free apple and some elbow-room - plus I usually get to talk to some interesting people; who are mostly out of their heads because they have fun 'playing' with computers. The rest of us just have headaches with them.

The first person I talk to - have I said it is a very bright and warm day? - is a mademoiselle doing a survey or poll at métro Convention, which is a stop short of métro Porte de Versailles and Paris-Expo. I need a photo for the 'Au Bistro' column and I'm more likely to get it here than there, so I'm here - and thinking of calling off the whole visit to the salon.

The survey people only get paid for the number of surveys they do, so if I feel like standing in the sun instead of rubbing against plastic bags with Apple logos on them, I'll help out.

This particular survey is a questionnaire about current posters around Paris. As soon as we start, I am looking at the pavement for some reason and the reason turns out to be a fifty-franc note lying there. This 'pays' me to do the survey, and I therefore give it my full attention; except for glancing around to see if there are any hundred or two-hundred-franc notes lying around.

I am a good survey person because I have seen about 92 percent of all the posters I am asked about; and I can name about 75 percent of their brand-names. I mean, who doesn't get Cinzano mixed up with Martini and Rossi once in awhile? In fact, I know too software author 'Fernandez' much, and the girl tells me to hurry up because she wants to go to lunch with her partner.

Modest Ruben Fernandez shows off his modest software, with pride. And he made a sale.

At the expo I get tripped up by not having an invitation - who wants to pay to get into a 'fire sale?' - but, manage for the first time in 11 or 12 years to get a 'press' badge from them and this is for the third year of covering the thing.

You might have noticed that the Apple Computer Company is in the 'news' a fair amount these days. In the early '80's this company put an 'insanely great' PC on the market and called it 'Macintosh.' It was a peculiar machine, because - for a computer - it was easy for an ordinary human being like you or me, to use.

Purists and nerds hated it and bought the 'Anything-else' PC instead; so they could spend lots of time doing 'configuration' or 'spread-sheets.' I shouldn't use these techno-jargon words, because I have no idea what they mean.

Anyhow, the 'father' of the Mac, Steve Jobs, was a bit like Henry Ford. You could have a Mac in any color so long as it was black and white. Jobs lost his job on account of this; and Jean-Louis got it, because he had a California license plate with 'COLORMAC' on it as the registration.

There were fires, and mudslides and even a largish earthquake, and slightly more than a decade later, here we are. 'El Nino' is back and so is Steve Jobs. In a total change of roles, Jean-Louis is now the guru of the 'geeks' and you are probably wondering what this has to do with today's Apple Expo.

The Macintosh computer has evolved into a beast as complicated as the 'Anything-else' PC, so there's little advantage in having one and the latest number for market share is four percent - so instead of showing a bunch of BeOS stand at expo 'wow' 8th-dimension stuff at this Apple Expo, all you see are mail-order booths flogging over-priced hardware and software for slightly-above realistic prices.

Hard-core Macintosh users in France know this will happen at this salon, so they never buy anything anywhere else - which is very discouraging to independent developers of software for this machine.

The less-than-modest Mr. Gassée's stand was showing the new 'Be' system in operation to good crowds.

In a corner of the 24,000 square metres of expo space here, there is a tiny stand behind some staircase, beside a blank wall. I ask the lady here if I can borrow a chair to stand on to take a photo - of a neighboring exhibit. I take a couple of her leaflets to put on the chair so it won't get dirty.

When I put them on the chair's yellow seat, I notice that they describe... a bit of shareware I bought for 50 francs about five years ago. 'Hey!' my mind says; this must be... I've forgotten the name. The guy there; I say, "By any chance are you...?"

"Ruben Fernandez," he finishes my sentence.

"From around Toulouse?"

"We've moved," Ruben says, "to Tarbes." This is southwest of Toulouse; just north of Lourdes, world capital of miracles. Imagine! - meeting the author of software you use.

Ruben had a neat little text-thing for doing 'stand-alone' notes, and now here it is - all grown up in version three and called 'Top Note.'

Ruben is on the ball and he pitches me its companion software which is a calendar, and when you put the two of them together you click on the date and up pops the 'note.'

You understand, I need something like this. I already have - not one but two - packages of date-contact-organizer software ; both so overloaded with features that I can't use them because their user manuals are bigger than an airport novel with an impossible plot.

Even though the Fernandez' database is back in Tarbes, Ruben gives me the special upgrade price and I snap it up. I feel good; I got a decent piece of simple software.

When I stand on the chair, I can't get a good photo angle on Jean-Louis' 'BeOS' stand which is next to Ruben's booth. There are a lot of people around this 'Be' stand and it is not just because they are giving CD-ROM 'BeOS' - free away a preview version of their operating system - called 'BeOS' - software for Macintoshes.

Here it is - the 'BeOS' for Macintosh; given away like apples used to be.

Over on the gigantic Apple stand they are selling their new operating system - called 'OS8' - for about $100; less than half a year after they were selling the previous version of it for $125. They don't do any 'upgrade' prices like Ruben.

I wonder if Steve Jobs is tired of living in a garage and is dreaming of moving into a $50 million house like his friend William 'Uncle Bill' Gates. Since Be's software is free, I take a copy. If Jean-Louis' house falls into the San Andreas fault someday, I'll send him a 'shareware' fee to help out.

For some reason, I find myself engaged in ridiculous conversations with, first, an American-sounding 'Be' developer from Florence and then with a Dutch-sounding one from Amstelveen, near Amsterdam. The one from Italy says his mom came from Holland too. I say I know somebody in Amstelveen too - you see? - this is ridiculous. The Dutch guy tells me users want thousands of features and I tell him to talk to Ruben. This could have gone on all afternoon.

More interesting, I think, for you - are digital cameras. You see the results while reading this magazine - and I can personally say they are really a lot of fun; especially if you like nearly instant gratification.

There are more than 20 million visitors to Paris every year and everyone brings a camera; it's some sort of rule I think. If you have a regular camera, when you get back home in - say, Sydney - you see your prints, and you see you blew Testez ePhoto 307 the shot of the kid falling in the pool at the Luxembourg gardens - well, if you have a digital darkroom, you can probably fix it up. A 'pro' photo lab could probably fix it too, but it would cost as much as a digital camera.

Agfa was loaning their consumer model camera for half-hour periods.

So, after getting away from the 'Be' people, I find myself talking to Mr. Ricoh and Mr. Agfa, who are sharing a dime-sized booth with Mr. Focus (who does TV and not cameras).

It is very warm and my head feels like mush and I cannot remember what these two tell me, nor what Mademoiselle Adobe says - because you need software for these digital photos - and there is a semi-strike of the métro which I only noticed while coming down here to the Porte de Versailles...

And on the way out, I do not see the usual barrel of free apples anywhere just as I didn't on the way in. I take the fast exit out of building seven, right down to the ground instead of the horrible elevated tunnel, and walk past a good lot of Paris-Expo's huge hangers.

As soon as I get to the métro platform, I remember the strike. There are a lot of people waiting for the next train from Issy and it will be standing-room only. I think I read somewhere that this one will be the last Apple Expo Paris sees. I saw some of it - sort of.

The other things I've mentioned here, I think I'll see again.

Visit the Websites:

Apple France has a website with complete information about this year's Apple Expo.

If you feel that a new flavor of computing might suit you, pay a visit to Mr. Gassée's BeOS website, where you can find out all about his little company and the odd stuff they do there. Who knows? BeOS may become the next flavor of the year - maybe sooner than you think.

For contact information about Ruben Fernandez' simple and easy to use 'Top Note and Calander', give his website a hit. Ruben has some other simple stuff too.

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