Back when Windows 95 was still known by its codename Chicago and Apple Computer was busy cranking out horrible Performa computers and obliterating any technical lead it had over Microsoft, I started a little email newsletter called WinInfo. The newsletter was originally aimed at keeping administrators and technical instructors at Scottsdale Community College up to speed with the goings-on in the IT world. I called it WinInfo because Windows was, and is, the dominant computing platform, but one of the fundamental precepts behind the newsletter was that readers shouldn't have tunnel vision about a single platform: Windows did, and does, coexist in an environment that includes other companies, platforms, and technologies, and from day one, I wrote about these non-Windows entities when I felt the topics were important.

Apple has been part of that mix from the beginning, as have such topics as UNIX and Linux, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, Palm and mobile computing, video games, digital media, and much more. And while my coverage of Apple over the years has adapted to the degree of hyperbole coming out of Cupertino since Steve Jobs returned, one thing has remained constant: Apple is important and worth discussing. They're relevant.

What's amazing is that it's now truer than ever. In the past decade, Apple rebounded, stabilized and then surged. While there was no evidence at all of the so-called iPod halo effect for quite some time--Apple's market share struggled to get above 2 percent for several years--it's clearly in full swing now. In the most recent several quarters, Apple has shown steady and regular gains, both worldwide and in the US. And now that Apple is the uncontested third largest seller of PCs in the US behind (well, significantly behind) Dell and HP, I think it's time to recognize a simple fact: Apple is a force to be reckoned with.

While I do wonder if the company will hit a wall at some point and just plateau in the PC market, I welcome the alternative. Sure, Apple is a brazen even dishonest company when it comes to the marketing of its products, but my goodness, look at those products. Apple's PCs and operating systems are high quality and beautifully designed for the most part, and should be an inspiration both to potential users on the Windows side and to those who are currently selling products to this majority. A world in which Apple dominates may not be welcome--just look at its behavior in the digital media space for an obvious example--but I look forward to even more significant market share gains on the Mac's part in the years ahead. This is good for the industry, and good for customers.

People have occasionally asked me why I cover Apple so frequently both in WinInfo and in more recent years on the SuperSite, and of course the Mac weenies have asked me to stop for completely different reasons. The reason is simple, and it's never changed: Apple matters. I've never been blind to other technologies, especially those that influence (and are influenced by) Windows and its users, and I don't believe you should be either. Even if you never buy an Apple product, you should at least be aware of what's happening there. Apple is a fascinating and dynamic company. No, I don't always agree with them, but that's part of what makes it interesting.

There's also a related issue here that I think many of us old-timers forget: While we may be stuck in whatever technological rut we think makes sense, we should never forget that an entire generation of students today is using technology solutions that might be unfamiliar to traditional Microsoft guys. They manage their email, schedules, and lives on the Web. They buy Macbooks, iPods, and iPhones. These people will be running the show in a few years, and they aren't necessarily tied emotionally or logistically to Outlook, Windows, or other Microsoft technologies. This isn't just a potential threat to your way of life, it's a threat to Microsoft's very existence, and it's why I place such an emphasis on their Windows Live services here and wonder aloud, a bit too frequently, why Microsoft isn't doing more to address this coming change.

Anyway. Look at Apple. Just look at them just kicking butt. And realize that for all its faults, and the weakness of its reliance on a single person to guide the way, this is a company that truly matters. I love this industry.