Has Apple gone from brash upstart to mainstream middle age?

Once 'beleaguered' Apple is now blue-chip; beleaguered was more fun

"One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages," wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It.

Though I probably can't (nor would I) map out specific ages to a company, Apple certainly has had its own stages, and it seems to be entering a new one now. It used to be, as recently as a year or two ago, that Mac rumors sites were flying fun and furious with clever writing and plenty to say as the company reigned at the cool kids' table. But nowadays, such buzz is rare -- there is real news from Apple, of course, but there's less froth and fury and fun. Reporting is, well, sober. Sadly, it seems that Apple is leaving a tempestuous youth and reaching, for better or worse, middle age.

Has Apple really matured? Certainly, Apple had a bit of mewling and puking in its first days, with the homebrew, caseless, do-it-yourself Apple I. "The Apple I and II were designed strictly on a hobby, for-fun basis, not to be a product for a company. They were meant to bring down to the club and put on the table during the random access period," Steve Wozniak has written. "I'd even go over to people's houses and help them build their own." When a local store placed a big order, Steve Jobs had to go to a parts supplier and wrangle a credit deal just to get the components needed to fill the order. Baby steps.

We'll skip over the schoolboy, lover, soldier and justice ages that Shakespeare outlined (though the Apple II did place the company at the forefront of educational computing for a while).

Through those various stages, Apple certainly remained the young kid on the block. Nonconformist, brash, thumbing its nose at authority, actively not being "the man" -- all those adolescent traits could describe the Apple of the 1990s and and the first half of this decade. So, by the transitive property, Apple was a young buck.

And the press treated Apple as such, with a conscious condescension and marginal tolerance. The "grownup" and sober press types that so lionized staid corporations such as Microsoft and Intel occasionally tolerated a piece about Apple -- usually using the word "beleaguered" in 1990s to make clear that soon they wouldn't have to bother anymore. Apple, with its confused and poor-quality lines such as the Performa and its piecemeal sales strategies, came close to proving them right.

But these were fine years for the Mac-centric press, which consisted of a few steadfast print magazines and early Web sites and online fanbois. It was like samizdat, passed among the faithful, full of puns and inside info. And fun.

The young-buck attitude of Apple was pushed into overdrive with the second coming of Steve Jobs. He returned to Apple under the guise of having his company, Next, be bought by Apple, which was then run by the very Dad-like Gil Amelio. (I wouldn't be the first to note the Oedipal nature of Jobs' bloodless coup.)

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