Apple officials influenced Desktop III requirements

Richard A. Danca
Government Computer News

April 17, 1989

If the Air Force, as expected, chooses something other than Macintosh computers for its Desktop III procurement this year, it will not be for lack of trying on the part of Apple Computer Inc.

Apparently no Apple dealer or reseller is bidding Macintosh computers in that procurement. But somebody could be, because Apple officials clearly influenced the Air Force's decision to change Desktop III operating system requirements from OS/2 to MS-DOS.

Apple officials acknowledged meeting with Air Force officials in the early stages of the Desktop III procurement, though they generally will not name names.

However, Phil Dunkelberger of Apple's Reston, Va., Federal Systems Group, has said officials from Apple, most likely including that group's director, C. Lloyd Mahaffey, met with Andrew E. Bilinski while he was deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for command, control, communications and computer systems.

In addition, industry sources have said that teams of Apple officials met at least five times with officials at the Standard Systems Center at Gunter Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala., which prepared the Desktop III request for proposals.

Vendors commonly do meet with federal decision-making and procurement officials to discuss procurement specifications. Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates also met with Bilinski to discuss Desktop III. There is not the slightest hint that either Apple's or Microsoft's meetings were anything but perfectly proper and legal.

Two points should be made here. First, the meetings show how serious both companies are about competing in the federal microcomputer arena. Second, apple's efforts may have been more successful than Microsoft's this time.

The distinction between OS/2 and MS-DOS is important for Apple. Third-party software and hardware solutions allow Macs to run MS-DOS, but not the more hardware-dependent OS/2. However, a Macintosh equipped with either a 286 board from AST Research Inc., Irvine, Calif., or SoftPC from Insignia Solutions Inc., San Francisco, would cost more than a native-mode MS-DOS machine, and that probably will keep Macs out of Desktop III.

But the Air Force RFP specifically stated that MS-DOS application programs do not have to run in their native mode.

Of course, the Air Force also correctly noted that OS/2 has not become a standard, which undoubtedly influenced its decision to stick with MS-DOS. Little OS/2-specific software existed when the RFP came out in November 1988 and that is still true, two years after IBM Corp. and Microsoft introduced OS/2.

Nonetheless, the trouble and expense Apple put into this effort may pay off in big future procurements. "One job was to get in and talk to people about how their specifications are written," Dunkelberger said.

Another way Apple talks to federal people is through Federal Forums it holds in the Washington area and at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. At the first forum last fall in Cupertino, officials from 13 federal agencies attended, Dunkelberger said.

It is clear Apple intends to be a significant presence in the government, even though probably as a subcontractor to its dealers, not as a prime contractor.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Cahners Publishing Associates LP