NEW YORK — In 1980, when Apple Computer went public, then-President Michael M. Scott marked the passage by sending a wreath of black roses to Digital Equipment Corp. Chairman Ken Olsen.
It was a typical bit of Apple arrogance: the upstart pioneer in personal computing firing a shot across the bow of the then-struggling maker of minicomputers.
But things change fast in data processing. Tuesday, Apple Chairman and Chief Executive John Sculley came here to pay homage to a resurgent DEC at a trade show for users of DEC's line of VAX minicomputers.
And Sculley won a standing ovation at his packed keynote address at the Dexpo trade show, which was dominated by talk of last month's agreement between Apple and DEC to make their machines--the Apple Macintosh and DEC's VAX--work hand in hand.
"When the Macintosh was introduced four years ago, nobody at Apple dreamed that we would ever participate in a major Digital conference," Sculley said. But, "the market Digital created and the market Apple created are starting to need each other," he added. DEC's "technical users are beginning to realize how important usability is. And (Apple's) non-technical users are beginning to demand more power and functionality."
Everywhere at the DEC show, there was evidence of the new alliance. Apple rented more floor space at the show than any other exhibitor, and dozens of other companies showed off custom computer networks featuring the ease of the Apple Macintosh and the raw computing power of Digital's VAX line.
TechSouth Inc., a unit of BellSouth, showed off a Macintosh and VAX-based typesetting system that telephone companies in six states last year used to put together more than 100,000 display ads for Yellow Page directories. About a dozen employees working at Macintosh terminals can do the work of about 60 typesetters, said TechSouth Vice President Dewey C. Anderson, who has targeted the newspaper industry and advertising agencies for future sales of the system.
"What you are seeing here is symptomatic of the growing entrenchment of the Mac in corporate environments," said Brian McGann, vice president of Touch Communications, a Scotts Valley, Calif., software developer. The Mac--once derided as a toy for yuppies or, at best, a tool for corporate art departments--is finally winning acceptance as a heavy-duty business computer.
"The liaison gives Apple legitimacy in the business market," said Corey Sandler, editor of Digital News, a biweekly newspaper for VAX buyers. "For DEC, whose most celebrated failures have been at the personal computer level, the deal boosts Apple at the expense of IBM and makers of IBM-compatibles."
Actually, the link mainly formalizes what had already been happening in the marketplace. Although Apple has only about 10% of the business market, independent surveys found that fully 36% of DEC owners use significant numbers of Macintoshes.
There is logic behind Apple's penetration of the DEC market. DEC users have already been weaned away from depending strictly on IBM products. "They don't have a closed mind," notes Gursharan Sidhu, Apple's manager of network systems.
When the Apple-Digital technical alliance bears fruit later this year, "the Mac user won't have to know anything about operating a VAX. It will be straight Macintosh point-and-click simplicity."
This kind of networking, invisible to the user, "is Apple and Digital's attempt to leapfrog over IBM," noted Touch Communication's McGann. "This is a marriage of the two most elegant computer systems, and it will be formidable."