DaveNet: Wednesday, July 16, 1997; by Dave Winer.

blue ribbon Jean-Louis Likes Apple So Much...

I Like Apple So Much I Want Two of Them

By Jean-Louis Gassée, jlg@be.com.

Charles De Gaulle, while not known as a jester, had a cruel wit. A connoisseur of Germany, he obliquely paid his respects to the great country by saying he loved her so much he wanted two Germanys. That was cold war humor. The heads of state in Cupertino may be feeling more heat than cold, but, as you will see, we have a vested interest in a more successful cure to Apple's problems.

Let's focus on the problem du jour: Finding a new CEO for Apple. The latest coup is business as usual in the Hall of Mirrors. Think back 14 years:

Da capo? Another spin around the dance floor, Nellie? Unhappily, not quite. The patterns emerge and the names are the same, but the orchestra is packing up and the chairs are on the tables.

When Jobs hired Sculley, the company was on the way up. Today, it's losing customers, developers, money, and market share. (And Bill '95 isn't just a greenhorn angling for a license to the Mac look-and-feel.) Who wants to run Apple under these conditions -- where's the Lee Iacocca of the personal computer industry? Simply wanting the job (so the joke goes) disqualifies you. The Jim Barksdales are too happy, too rich and, some say, too smart to consider it.

Apple doesn't need a CEO, they need a messiah (or a crash test dummy). And any problem that requires walking on water as a solution is, you'll grant me, a problem ill-stated. Still, there may be a way to make the search for a new CEO easier. That's where General De Gaulle comes in...

Split Apple into two companies, one for hardware, the other for system software and applications:

I realize this involves convincing shareholders, perhaps with terms involving a temporary reduction of their stake in order to attract new investors or new lenders. But taking this new course will generate more excitement (if less blood lust) than backing up the car and running it into the wall again with a new driver.

Instead of requiring superhuman skills of its new CEOs, the restructured Apple merely requires skill, courage, and hard work. And we have examples of these already in the industry. Does the hardware company sounds like Power Computing? Then merge it with Power or hire Steve Khang. On the software side, Guerrino De Luca was happily and successfully running Claris before valiantly signing up for the only job more dangerous than the CEO position at Apple: VP of Marketing. Make Guerrino CEO of "AppleSoft" and watch more cloners come back into the Mac space, thus reversing the market share slide.

Our interest in this is fairly obvious. We've always hoped for a level playing field for all Mac hardware manufacturers. Disentangling Apple's hardware from its system software would make everyone's life -- ours included -- much easier. In theory, CHRP offers an industry standard platform, the PC/AT for the PowerPC. But in practice, Apple appears to want to keep an "enhanced" version of CHRP for itself, in order to "de-clone" some combination of hardware and software features. Apple has tried to have its cloners and eat their lunch, too. It's not working; nobody's happy. This does not sound like a level playing field.

What other choices does Apple have? Many observers think an acquisition is likely; they even diagnose the recent upswing in AAPL as the result of traders betting on a sale. One Silicon Valley wag even speculates that Apple's Board of Directors gave Steve Jobs an expanded role in anticipation of the deed. After all, who better than Steve to charm a prospect into buying Apple at an interesting price?

Fair or not, such witticisms serve to emphasize the sentiment that Apple's current business formula must be revised, or else. We all hope -- for sentimental as well as business reasons -- that Apple(s) will emerge from the current crisis and regain the health and the vibrancy that made it such a unique icon of Silicon Valley technology and creativity.

Jean-Louis Gassée is CEO of Be.

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