An end to the Apple turnover

Steve Jobs accepts the inevitable -- and embraces the CEO title.

Published January 5, 2000 1:00PM (EST)

After more than two years back at the helm of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs came clean and admitted that yes, he is, in fact, the company's CEO. Not interim CEO, or iCEO -- though he did say he might keep the "i" in his title to remind him of the importance of the Internet. Just CEO.

The overflowing crowd at San Francisco's Macworld Expo gave Jobs, sporting his trademark turtleneck, a standing ovation.

After all, it was an official acknowledgement by the man himself that he's committed to more than quick turnaround glory. The headhunters looking to fill that tricky slot can throw in the towel and leave the company in the hands of its founder. Though the news delighted the Mac faithful gathered to hear Jobs at a keynote early Wednesday morning, Apple fans were hardly surprised.

Who did Jobs think he was kidding, anyway? The neon glow of iMacs everywhere and the company's continuing profitability in the last seven quarters -- after six consecutive quarters in the red and a bout of management troubles -- are proof positive that the man is back where he belongs. (He is not, however, abandoning Pixar, the animation studio where he also retains the CEO title.)

And the fourth quarter results, due in two weeks, should be stellar, hinted Jobs. Some 1.35 million Macs sold; that's one every six seconds, he grinned. Apple also has more cash in the bank thanks to a June 1999 investment in Akamai, a company developing technology to speed Internet performance; Apple's $12.5 million investment has ballooned into $1 billion.

The cash-flush Apple is investing $200 million in EarthLink, the nation's second largest Internet service provider -- as part of a deeper embrace of the Internet. As Apple's official ISP, EarthLink will become the exclusive access provider in the Internet set-up software included with all Macs sold in the United States. Apple will take a cut of each new EarthLink subscription it generates -- and will get a seat on EarthLink's board of directors.

But Apple's Net thrust goes beyond the simple idea of getting more people to choose Macs as their gateway to the Web. The company is clearly looking to build something of an online community with its new iTools Web-based applications like e-mail and home page building kits, with free space on Apple servers. Now Mac fanatics can sign up for e-mail with a address and Apple will even host their Web pages.

These iTools apps work much more like desktop applications and not clunky browser-based ones, thanks to integration with Mac OS 9. For instance, iDisk, which offers Web-based file storage, looks just like another drive on the desktop, with public and private folders, picture thumbnails and all. The click-on file access, certainly makes file sharing user-friendly.

Apple has also added other Web services to its site: iReview, a directory of Web site reviews that invites users to weigh in on their favorite sites, and iCards, a Web greeting card service, and KidSafe -- a Web content-blocking service for underage surfers.

Building community online has, after all, become the rallying call of many an Internet company -- but do we really need more Yahoos or Blue Mountain Arts? The new services certainly aren't cutting edge, but they do have a useful appeal that will likely draw users to the Apple site on a regular basis.

It was refreshing to find Apple emphasizing software development, after the focus of past years on translucent polycarbonate, cool as it is. Despite rumors of a new PowerBook and an iMac with a 17-inch screen, Jobs made no new hardware announcements. However, the Mac faithful did get a glimpse of the new operating system, Mac OS X -- and greeted it with enthusiasm, snapping photos and clapping.

Code-named "Aqua," the face of the OS sparkles with water-droplike buttons and translucent menus. The new OS, scheduled to ship in late summer, looks a tad gimmicky, with windows that shrink and expand like genies from their icons. But there was substance to the style as well; a new "dock," similar to the Windows task bar but oh-so-much snazzier with icons, and a new Mac Finder with a file-tree option and an option to browse by file type.

But the biggest product announcement during the Macworld Expo keynote was clearly the upgrade in Steve Jobs' title. Jobs returned to Apple before the departure of former CEO Gil Amelio in July 1997 as an advisor to the company; he quickly stepped into the "interim CEO" role -- a post he has used to bring the company back from what seemed a near-death experience. Since his return, Jobs has directed Apple's resurgence with the iMac and the iBook, a successful online Apple store and a $150 million investment from long-time rival Microsoft. Regardless of his title, Jobs has clearly been in charge and orchestrating major change.

When Bruce Chizen, executive vice president of Adobe -- an Apple partner announcing support for OS X -- got up to speak, he didn't even make the semantic distinction between Jobs and Apple, talking about "Steve's products" and "when Steve ships OS X." The man is back, in name as well as spirit.

By Lydia Lee

Lydia Lee is a San Francisco writer


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