Apple's Amelio: `Do A Few Things Incredibly Well'

Amid tech delays, Apple takes a few steps forward

When Apple CEO Gilbert F. Amelio takes the stage before 4,000 or more programmers at the convention center in San Jose, Calif., on May 13, it will be his debut before the people vital to his company's survival: the techies who create the software that can make or break Apple. But Amelio will be without a key prop when he gives his speech--Apple's long-awaited new Copland operating system for its Macintosh computers. Amelio won't even have a promised rough-cut version of the software to hand out, which is akin to hosting Thanksgiving with no turkey.

Fortunately for him, Apple Computer Inc.'s software partners are used to disappointment. Most say they're just glad Apple is admitting what they already knew--that it won't ship Copland this year. And they'll probably warm to Amelio's message: He's expected to insist that only crisp execution, not grand visions, can save Apple. Uninspiring, yes, but a good first step. "Apple's always gone for the long bomb to score, but most great companies grind it out with the running game," says Jean J. Belanger, chairman of Austin (Tex.) software maker Metrowerks Inc.

ERRANT COPLAND. What Amelio's plan lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in scope, Apple sources say. He is expected to streamline everything from engineering to public relations. He'll pledge to no longer compete with small software developers, killing internal Apple projects that do. He has okayed a splashy promotional campaign tied to the upcoming blockbuster movie Mission: Impossible, set to open May 22. And he'll lay out plans to secure a major role for Apple on the Internet. "The way to get market share is to do a few things incredibly well and service the hell out of them," Amelio recently told analysts. "Then you wake up one day and you have market share."

Reenergizing software developers may be the key. "Years ago, the Mac was the platform of choice for leading edge developers, but that's no longer the case," says Dean Witter Reynolds analyst Eugene G. Glazer. And customers have taken note. Denise A. Gotham, PC buyer for the South Lyon (Mich.) school district, plans to buy PCs rather than Macs because Apple no longer owns exclusive rights to the hottest education titles.

Job One will be to reset expectations on Copland. Rather than hoard new features for the delayed Copland rollout, now set for mid-1997, the company will focus on folding new features into the current System 7.5 software this fall. That probably will include CyberDog, a soon-to-be-released technology designed to let Mac users embed links to Web pages into standard software.

Copland also will be beefed up for the Net: Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java technology and Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator Web browser will be embedded in it, for instance. The goal: to make jumping onto the Net as easy as opening a word-processing document.

Dallying has cost Apple key Internet markets, but it still is a major player. Some 25% of all Internet traffic is still done via Macs, and Apple gear is widely used by the techno-hip programmers who create Web sites. Some key partners have recognized its potential. On Apr. 30, Netscape announced it would adopt Apple's QuickTime technology as its standard for transmitting video online. Apple is working with Netscape and Adobe Systems Inc. to enhance graphics on the Net. Even Microsoft Corp. has taken notice. A Microsoft unit in Santa Clara, Calif., recently unveiled a version of Microsoft's Explorer Web browser for the Mac. Robert J. Bach, Microsoft's marketing director for desktop applications, says Microsoft's relationship with Apple "is in an up cycle."

The task of further bolstering support among software developers has been handed to J.A. Heidi Roizen, an industry veteran who joined Apple on Amelio's first day, Feb. 2. Roizen has convinced Amelio to make developer relations a priority, and increase her staff by 50 to 300 people. She has assigned full-time staffers to work with key software makers. Says she: "In the past, we sometimes forgot that developers were our partners. But this company can't afford to carry the world on its shoulders anymore." If Apple delivers on Amelio's pragmatic plans, maybe it won't have to.

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