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`Pink' May Get A Pink Slip

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Is Apple leaving Pink to Big Blue? Could be. The computer maker has begun shopping around some of its shares of Taligent Inc., one of its two software joint ventures with IBM, according to sources close to the company.

Both Apple Computer Inc. and IBM insist they remain committed to Taligent, founded in 1991, and the operating system software it is developing, code-named Pink. But observers believe Taligent is struggling to get Pink out the door. Apple, they think, is losing interest. "Apple wants to sell at least half its stock in Taligent," contends Steven P. Jobs, Apple's co-founder and now chief executive of rival NeXT Computer Inc. Analysts and competitors confirm that Apple has offered to sell shares to Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., though neither has made any commitment. Neither will comment.

BORROWED BLOCKS. Pink was initiated at Apple in 1988, intended to produce a successor to the operating system for Macintosh computers. But Apple's current software strategy is unclear, given its financial troubles, and Pink may have lost its importance--especially as Apple's new CEO, Michael H. Spindler, reevaluates the company's commitments.

Moreover, outsiders say, the project appears unlikely to meet its planned 1996 delivery date. To speed things up, Taligent CEO Joseph M. Guglielmi is taking a major detour. Instead of building an entire system from scratch, he is borrowing existing technology from IBM and others. The question is whether that derivative tack will leave Taligent with any advantage over competing systems, including Sun Microsystems' Distributed Objects Everywhere project and Microsoft Corp.'s Cairo, which also are expected to hit the market by 1995. NeXT Computer's NextStep already is out. Most observers give Microsoft the edge.

The Taligent rumblings follow ashakeup at the other IBM-Apple venture, multimedia software developer Kaleida Labs Inc. There, IBM veteran Michael A. Braun has replaced A. Nathaniel Goldhaber. It's another indication, some say, that IBM is increasing its influence. Or simply that Apple is losing patience.Richard Brandt in San Francisco

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