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Confession Of A Microsoft Converter

The Netly News

By Joshua Quittner

(TIME, March 17) -- I have a confession to make: I'm thinking about converting. I'm having trouble believing in my Mac anymore; all the cool stuff on the Web comes out for the PC first and sometimes never even makes it to my desktop. It's dawning on me that the Windows I've scorned for so long might in fact be the One True Way. I've always been an honest, DOS-fearing man, so I go in search of spiritual comfort from the ultimate convert himself: Steve Capps. Capps didn't just abandon a long, brilliant career at Apple. He joined the forces of the Antichrist. He went to work for Microsoft.

Capps, 41, was the kind of guy who, when pricked, bled in rainbow colors. His defection, when it came six months ago, was so startling that the New York Times reported it. Now when he walks the streets of Silicon Valley, people hiss.

Lured to Apple in 1981 by Steve Jobs, Capps was among the half a dozen architects of the first Macintosh. The Mac then was a cathedral of computing that made mortals suddenly see the beauty and empowering potential of a desktop machine. It gave new meaning to the word mouse; ordinary people could now make computers do extraordinary stuff, such as quack like a duck. Later, Capps, leading the Newton development team, tried to bring that same humanist spirit to the handheld market. The Newton was the world's first "personal digital assistant" and was supposed to rejuvenate the flagging company. But if the Mac quacked, the Newton gobbled like a turkey. Critics decried its buggy handwriting-recognition system and boutique price. It was dismissed as Doonesbury fodder soon after its 1992 release.

Even that didn't defenestrate Capps. Version 1 failures only juice him. An inveterate inventor whose house in the foothills of San Carlos, California, is filled with homemade toys such as the Jaminator--a plastic guitar that permits users to jam, in key, with rock tunes etched into silicon chips--Capps thrives on the multi-iterated quest for perfection. "There's nothing better than doing version 2," he says, "and being able to go back and fix all your mistakes." No, what finally drove Capps out the door was Apple's inability to stay relevant, to reorient itself around the Net. "If Bill Gates could say, 'I was wrong about the Web,' so can you," he told Apple's leaders, urging the company to scrap Copland, its overdue operating system, partner with a Net-savvy computer maker like Sun Microsystems, and "make Apple the Net cruiser of the '90s." They ignored him. So he left. At present he spends two to three hours a day on the Internet and is hatching a plan to use it to create a new approach to computing.

"Steve," I whisper as he's whipping up a batch of no-recipe brownies in his kitchen, "I'm afraid to give up my Mac." Don't be, he says. While Macs were once prized for their ease of use, all computers are becoming equally complex. If I were buying my first computer today, he says, a PC would be every bit as easy (or hard) to master as a Mac. In fact, he insists, "there are a bunch of things on the PC that are absolutely superior." With the zealotry of a recent convert, he ticks off the holy trinity of Windows features (the task bar, the start menu, the two-button mouse) and slowly, almost against my will, I start to believe. Forgive me, Bill, for I have sinned.

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