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The once and future king(maker): Cringely's 10 predictions for life at Apple after Gil Amelio

Status: [CLOSED]
By Robert X. Cringely
bob@cringely.com

I was in India when Gil Amelio's time at Apple came to an end, so I missed entirely the feeling of foreboding that accompanies such a day. I had felt it every other time, with the unnatural passing of Mike Scott, Steve Jobs, John Sculley, and Mike Spindler. I had felt the shock of the company realizing first that its leader was no more, then the nervous response when the power fell, however shakily, on another pair of shoulders. This time I didn't feel that awkwardness of transition. Because it didn't happen.

Gill was suddenly gone, but it was as though nobody at Apple really cared. Gil or no Gil felt exactly the same. That's what I noticed when I visited Apple last week and polled my few friends who remain there.

It's not that Gil hadn't done anything in his year and a half at Apple, but that what he did wasn't that important. He laid-off a quarter of the company, but a quarter of the company had been lain-off before. He wrote-off old inventories, but inventories had been written-off before. He shut down business units, but business units had been shut down before. Gil brought Apple's finances under some limited control, turning Apple from "a disastrously-managed company into just a poorly-managed one," according to an outside consultant who has had a look at Cupertino's holy of holies.

Gil did what had to be done, yet somehow didn't give Apple any of his own personality, and that's why he failed. Apple needs a prophet and hasn't really had one since 1985.

Gil Amelio was irrelevant and his departure was determined simply by the fact that it was on a given hour that the Apple board of directors finally noticed this fact.

But what happens now? It's time to earn my living for a change by putting myself on the line with a total of 10 predictions. Feel free to throw these back in my face at some later date.

1) There will be no white knights. Any company that might have been inclined to buy Apple outright has already decided against it. In the PC business itself, only Gateway 2000 is wacky enough to give it a shot and I don't believe they will. Absorbing Amiga is more than enough for North Dakota this year.

2) I have no idea who will be Apple's next CEO, but Apple's next chairman of the board is obvious -- Steve Jobs. Steve has for months been attempting to manage Apple by telephone and he'll continue to do that in the coming months. It's the same role he played in the mid-80's, right before Sculley kicked him out the last time. And frankly, it's a role he's good at. There's nothing Steve likes more than messing around in other peoples' business. Sometimes he even adds value.

3) In his new role, Jobs will select Apple's next CEO. Select? He'll seduce Apple's next CEO, and seduction is what it will take to get the right kind of leader for Apple.

4) Not that Steve will necessarily choose the right kind of CEO. This is critical: if Jobs selects a CEO who will stand up to him, Apple has a chance. If Jobs hires a puppet, Apple is doomed. It could go either way, but fortunately Jobs likes people who give him a hard time, otherwise he never would have given me a job 20 years ago. Heck, without Steve Jobs I'd today be delivering pizzas in Palo Alto, rather than being the international pundit and sex symbol that I am.

Those are the obvious predictions. It gets a little murky from here on, but what the heck.....

5) Apple won't get out of the hardware business, at least not for another year or more. I think this is a mistake, but nobody listens to me.

6) Apple engineers -- those who survive -- will be blissfully unaware that anything is even wrong. As of last week, the reality distortion field is still in place over Cupertino.

7) The upcoming Rhapsody operating system will give Apple a big boost, though not until mid- to late 1998. Rhapsody is Apple's combination of the MacOS with parts of its abortive Copland operating system and NeXT's OpenStep. The guts of Rhapsody is the Mach microkernel and Berkeley Unix services. Rhapsody will come in two versions and two flavors: "blue box" is a MacOS compatibility environment that Apple chooses to say over and over again is not an emulator. "Yellow box" is the real thing -- the native Rhapsody environment. Or is it? The first release of each type will be called the "Premier" release and will be aimed at impressing early adopters and reviewers, rather than users. Real folks like you and me will wait and wait and wait for the "Unified" release, the second -- and full -- release, which will really show what Rhapsody can do. And, of course, there will be versions of Rhapsody for PowerPC and Intel hardware and it will be possible to write Rhapsody applications that also run under Windows NT. Got that? There will be a test.

(Note -- At least a dozen people will read this last prediction and find within it so many technical flaws and errors of understanding that they will decide I no longer deserve to survive as a columnist. At best, they'll attack me in e-mail. At worst, they'll arrive on my front steps with an AK-47. Hoping to live a week longer, I want to point out that the idea here is not for me to give a comprehensive account of Apple's Rhapsody strategy, but just to point out that to regular schlumps like me the strategy as it stands is anything but comprehensible. I know you love your Mac. I am not worthy.)

8) What will save Apple, if Apple is to be saved, is an aspect of Rhapsody about which the folks at Apple right now don't even give a damn: Rhapsody is a better server operating system than Windows NT. Microsoft is doing a very good job of educating the market about server operating systems, but a very bad job of delivering a good one. Quite coincidentally, Apple will be delivering in Rhapsody a powerful server operating system with exceptional ease of administration. After all, Rhapsody at heart is Unix, and a pretty good version of Unix at that. Windows NT just pretends to be Unix. And Rhapsody will have that great Mac interface that NT will never have. Apple's salvation will come the day that 100,000 network administrators realize that they can throw away Windows NT, run the same applications under Rhapsody, and none of their users ever has to know. Or maybe it won't happen at all. You know the way life is.

9) This NT-killer aspect of Rhapsody, which gets no respect presently from Apple, where everyone is totally fixated on the desktop they've already lost but don't know it, could make Apple very attractive to another player struggling back from the brink -- Novell. If there is a merger in Apple's future, a good one might be with Novell, though not for another year or so.

10) But absolutely none of this will make any difference if Apple doesn't find a profitable quarter by this time next year. Without a return to profitability soon, the last person out the door can turn off the lights.

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