Albatross Face-Off: Microsoft Bob vs. the Apple Cube

By  |  Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 12:41 am

I promise we’ll stop commemorating the 15th anniversary of Microsoft Bob after today–and today is the anniversary of the app’s formal release–but bear with me for one last item. Bob’s great significance isn’t as a piece of software–it’s as an albatross around Microsoft’s corporate neck. Just about everyone who wants to take a swipe at a new Microsoft product finds it expedient to compare the item in question to Bob. And in that respect, it’s eerily similar to another product released five years later: Apple’s G4 Cube. Like Bob, the Cube was launched with immense fanfare but sold poorly and died after a year. And it, too, is an albatross–one that will live forever as the product people bring up when they want to predict that a new Apple offering is going to be a dud.

After the jump, a quick comparison of these unexpected soulmates, in the form of a T-Grid.

The Product Microsoft Bob

Apple Power Mac G4 Cube

Noble goal Make computing incredibly accessible to first-time users Make computing incredibly quiet and stylish
Price $99 Started at $1799
Relevant specs Required Windows 3.1, a 486 CPU, 8MB of RAM, 30MB of hard disk space, 256-color graphics, and a mouse; sound card optional Base model came with 450-MHz Power PC CPU, 64MB of RAM, 20GB hard drive, a DVD drive, Ethernet, and a modem; keyboard and mouse optional
Announced January 17th 1995 July 19th 2000
Shipped March 31st 1995 Early August 2000
Killed Early 1996 July 3rd 2001
Estimated total sales (units) 58,000 150,000
Initial press-release hype “The use of the Social Interface technology in Bob is a compelling example of how very sophisticated technology can be applied to make the computing experience far better for everyone,” said Gates. “This technology will be important in our future efforts as well.”–Bill Gates “The G4 Cube is simply the coolest computer ever…An entirely new class of computer, it marries the Pentium-crushing performance of the Power Mac G4 with the miniaturization, silent operation and elegant desktop design of the iMac. It is an amazing engineering and design feat, and we’re thrilled to finally unveil it to our customers.”–Steve Jobs
Fatal flaws Most prospective customers didn’t have 8MB of RAM; cute cartoon helpers didn’t resonate with enough people; thin veneer couldn’t shield users from Windows 3.1 complexities Most prospective customers didn’t have $1799; plastic cases cracked; unbelievably easy to turn off by mistake
Positive first impressions “It blew me away”–analyst William Bluestein, as quoted by BusinessWeek “Wow”–Macworld keynote attendees, as quoted by The New York Times
Critical backlash “If it were being introduced by anyone but the largest software maker in the world with the clout to command attention in any marketplace, you would never hear of this program, and I wouldn’t bother to review it. Bob would simply sink into the bog where bad products die quiet, unnoticed deaths.”–Michael Putzel, The Boston Globe “The Cube is Steve Jobs’ baby, and it certainly bears some of the Apple CEO’s famous hubris. Jobs has described it as the perfect computer. Trouble is, it seems to be asking for a perfect human to operate it–no careless fingers, no need to make back-up Zip files, no changing minds about what you’ve plugged in.”–Chris Taylor, TIME
Guarded admission of failure “Unfortunately, the software demanded more performance than typical computer hardware could deliver at the time and there wasn’t an adequately large market.”–Bill Gates ““Cube owners love their Cubes, but most customers decided to buy our powerful Power Mac G4 minitowers instead,”–Phil Schiller
Lasting design impact Clippy; Windows XP search doggie Mac Mini; 5th Ave. Apple Store
Product of historic significance that was released later the same year Windows 95, which shipped in August 1995 OS X, which debuted in beta form in September 2000
Representative recent reference “For an operating system that took five years to create, Windows Vista’s reputation went down in flames amazingly quickly. Not since Microsoft Bob has anything from the software giant drawn so much contempt and derision.”–David Pogue, The New York Times “However, if Apple get any of the details wrong, the ‘iPad’ could be its most notable failure since the Cube. In that case, sales will mostly go to Apple completists who want something to match their MacBook and iPhone.”–OS News

And with that, our Bobfest comes to an end. But we reserve the right to mark the tenth anniversary of the Cube once July rolls around…

 
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7 Comments For This Post

  1. David Hamilton Says:

    Ummm… shurely shome mishtake? Was the cube actually killed 16 days before it was announced? If that were the case, then surely it would be more correct to say that it was aborted?

  2. Tom B Says:

    The towers were a better value from day 1. The design looked cool, but in spite of what Windows fanboys say, we Mac fanboys are more interested in price/performance than style.

  3. David Says:

    Actually, an updated Cube released today with low-voltage processor would probably do quite well–assuming it wasn’t so overpriced. Silent operation is something quite a few people pay for, after all. For example, see http://www.silentpcreview.com .
    In the original, the heat management wasn’t all it should have been–hence the cracking plastic problem. With ULV processors today, that would be easy to fix. SSDs, too, would add to the silence and low heat characteristics.
    Of course, there are “net tops” made by many companies today that have some of the same capabilities, but most are somewhat anemic with the Atom processors…and, of course, they don’t come with the Mac OS.
    The problems of the Cube could have been rectified, given time. It seems to have mostly been simmply ahead of its time.
    Now, Microsoft Bob should have been aborted before it was launched to an indifferent world. I suspect that it was not was more because its product manager IIRC was the same Melinda that is now Mrs. Gates.

  4. Panamajack Says:

    Isn’t the MacMini the successor to the Cube, along with dozens of other miniaturized desktops ? It was certainly a flawed product delivery at the time, but I think the concept has persisted in the industry.

  5. Dan Says:

    At least Apple learned from it’s failure and
    slogged on creating a better product.
    Its current Mac Mini is great!
    It hit my sweet spot for upgrading from
    an old dead XP machine.
    Was able to use old (and adequate) monitor/mouse/keyboard/speakers.
    Didn’t have to suffer XP’s replacements (Vista & Win7)
    It’s now my computer/media center.

  6. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > 5th Ave. Apple Store

    Hilarious.

    My favorite part of the Cube was the introduction, where all the Apple presenters went out of their way to point out the entire computer was contained in “an 8 inch cube” as though people had been asking for that for decades and it was finally here. Not 9 inches, not 10 inches, but 8 inches. Finally!

    Kudos to them for trying for smaller and quieter and more elegant, though. Most PC’s at the time were literally just beige tin towers with a roaring fan. The Cube made a true statement about where Apple was going and probably inspired a lot of people who were working to get there.

    > Actually, an updated Cube released today with low-voltage
    > processor would probably do quite well–assuming it wasn’t
    > so overpriced.

    That is the Mac mini. It’s the guts of a notebook in the same footprint as the Cube and for 1/3rd of the price, and it sells really well. It is a great little box.

    Comparing Mac mini to the Cube really shows how far technology has come, and that the Cube was ahead of its time. Nobody complains about the lack of empty PCI slots in the Mac mini, but that was a major complaint about the Cube because you didn’t have all the external accessories we have today. The Cube had a full-height optical drive while the Mac mini’s optical drive is barely thicker than an optical disc. The Mac mini has double the CPU’s and GPU’s, 10x the MHz, but the entire circuit board is smaller than the Cube’s PCI video card.

    > Mac Mini is great!
    > It hit my sweet spot for upgrading from
    > an old dead XP machine.

    During the past week, 2 of my friends replaced their XP computers with Mac minis. Mac mini is only $200 more than a Windows 7 Ultimate DVD. Both of them also bought Aperture 3 ($500 less than Photoshop) and cannot stop raving about it.

    If you buy Parallels for about $50, you can import your old XP into the Mac mini and you get a much better Windows XP mode than Windows 7 offers. It’s a great upgrade for Windows XP users.

    And XP running on a Mac mini is Bob 2 meets Cube 2.

  7. Joey Caine Says:

    What does it mean by saying that it was incredibly easy to turn off?

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