For Apple, A Risky Assault On I.B.M.

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

January 23, 1984

When Apple Computer Inc. introduces its long-awaited Macintosh computer tomorrow, it may represent the last serious assault on the dominance of the International Business Machines Corporation in the personal computer industry.

The Macintosh, unlike many personal computers introduced over the past year, is completely incompatible with the I.B.M. Personal Computer. Thus, it is a gamble for Apple because many of the most widely used computer programs on the market are designed for the I.B.M. machine.

''They are taking an awesome risk,'' said David Lawrence, an analyst for Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. ''The bottom line is 'Can you establish an alternative to I.B.M.?' ''

Whether Apple is successful will depend largely on whether consumers believe that the Macintosh represents such a large technological advance, in computing power and ease of use, that they will choose it over the more secure I.B.M. alternative.

Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chairman and co-founder, and John Sculley, the president and chief executive, said in an interview last week that more than Apple's future rides on the Macintosh. ''This industry survives on constant innovation,'' said Mr. Sculley. ''Unless Apple does it, no one will be able to innovate except I.B.M. But if we are successful, it means there still is a place for new ideas.''

Most of those who have seen the Macintosh, which Apple has previewed for the press and industry analysts, agree that it is refreshing. ''Everything else in the past year has been an echo of I.B.M.; this is a choice,'' said Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0, an industry newsletter. ''It won't dislodge the I.B.M. standard, but it is a good No. 2.''

Much about the Macintosh departs from the I.B.M. standard. Instead of 5 1/4-inch disks, which store information permanently, it uses a 3 1/2-inch format. The disks are sturdier and fit easily into a shirt pocket.

Moreover, the computer is driven by the 32-bit Motorola 68000 - a microprocessor that handles 32 pieces of information at a time. That is about twice as powerful as the Intel chip at the heart of the I.B.M. And like Apple's Lisa machine, which floundered last year, the Macintosh relies on a handheld device called a mouse.

Instead of typing instructions, the user rolls the mouse on a desktop. As it moves, the cursor - an arrow that points to specific points on the screen - moves accordingly. The user can give instructions by pointing the mouse to pictures on the screen, such as a file cabinet or wastepaper basket. Or, by using a graphics package called MacPaint, he can draw his own creations.

Mouse Is a Selling Point

The mouse is the Macintosh's biggest selling point because it takes almost no prior knowledge of computers to run the machine. As a result, Apple hopes the computer will appeal to a new market: executives, students and home users who want to use a computer without having to understand its inner workings. Analysts say that the image of simplicity should give the Macintosh a strong position in the marketplace. ''People will like it, because it is a cuddly machine,'' said Mr. Lawrence, the industry analyst. ''The question is whether the simplicity will prove compelling to someone deciding whether to buy a computer.''

But the success of the Macintosh may depend less on the design of the hardware than on the availability of software, the programs that give the machine its operating instructions. I.B.M.'s success has snowballed because it made the technical specifications of its Personal Computer available to third parties, and as a result, thousands of specialized programs are on the market.

Similarly, Apple put prototypes of the Macintosh in the hands of some software manufacturers as long ago as early last year. And it will announce tomorrow that more than 80 software manufacturers have agreed to write programs for the machine.

Among them are Microsoft Corporation, which developed the operating system for the I.B.M. Personal Computer, and Lotus Development Corporation, which soon will have a version of its Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program for the Macintosh.

''The list of people is great,'' said Miss Dyson. But determining how many will actually come through with marketable programs, she said, ''is like inviting people to a party. The question is how many will show up.''

Apple officials say that more than 500 programs should be available by the end of the year and that the software will also operate on the new generation of Lisa machines, which the company is introducing tomorrow, too. The new Lisa will sell for between $3,495 and $5,495, depending on the size of the memory storage. It will be aimed at the business market.

One of the biggest attractions of the Macintosh may be its price. For $2,500, purchasers will receive a keyboard, a mouse, a high-resolution video screen, 128,000 characters of internal memory and one disk drive. A similar configuration from I.B.M. would cost about $1,000 more.

But there is disagreement over how well Macintosh sales will hold up beyond this year. Mr. Lawrence, for example, believes that ''the problems may come when the first market - university students and professional looking for a machine to use at home - is no longer growing.'' At that time, he said, ''you have to move up to the business users, where I.B.M. has really locked in.'' For that reason, he and others say that while Apple can make inroads temporarily on I.B.M.'s market, they cannot do serious damage over the long run.

Miss Dyson said the critical period is its first few months. ''Once you have created a standard and gotten the software in place, things get easier,'' she said.

GRAPHIC: photo of Steven Jobs and John Sculley (page D5)

Copyright 1984 The New York Times Company