Some of Silicon Valley's finest - and not so fine - have been offering up their advice to Apple chairman Gil Amelio on how he can get his company back on the straight and narrow - courtesy of the pages of the 'San Jose Mercury' newspaper.
On the eve of the Mac World trade show in San Francisco, the newspaper opened up its columns to hi-tech chief executives and industry gurus to answer the question: 'How would you fix Apple?'
Marc Andreessen, senior vice president of technology at Netscape, said the emphasis has to be on building and demonstrating momentum on the back of the Apple/Next merger, particularly among the developer community. "Apple's people need to be totally focused on the main thing - shipping the platform - and Apple needs broad developer support now more than ever," he wrote.
Once Mac World is out of the way, he continued, the company needs to spend the next six months to a year concentrating on shipping the first version of the new operating system, while supporting developers to make sure there is a solid mass of applications available for it. A second 6-12 months cycle needs to follow for the second version of the operating system with full backward compatability and the ability to run System 7 applications. Then, and only then, drop support for System 7.
Industry analyst and respected commentator Esther Dyson sees Apple's biggest challenge being to stop Mac developers defecting to Windows. "The next version of the operating system has to support what's being done already for the Mac and it has to take advantage of the Next technology," she advised. "If they can do that, they're golden. If they can't, they should resign."
As for the return of Steve Jobs to the Macintosh fold, Dyson sees it as "one of the great romances of the computer business - reunited at last". But she strikes a more pragmatic note: "I'd try to get [Jobs] preferred stock so that he has more of a vested interest in the success of Apple."
Gordon Eubanks, chief executive of Symantec, wants clarification of the role that Nextstep is going to take, complaining that this is not apparent at the moment. "Whether they have client dreams with it, I would start by completely positioning it as a server platform and/or a high end workstation for high end users," he suggested. "They can always come back in a couple of years and position it as a good client OS as well, like NT."
Mitchell Kertzman, who as chief executive of beleaguered database company Sybase might be thought to have enough on his plate trying to revive his own firm, takes a different tack: they should have bought Be, not Next. "I think Be OS was a better step than Nextstep in advancing state of the art OS design and implementation," he feels. "Apple can't succeed by trying the 'better than Windows strategy'. By most accounts, OS/2 Warp is better than Windows, but that strategy didn't win in the market."
Kertzman also wants to see a focus on personalities. "As soon as you have anything to show, let Steve Jobs show it. If there's one thing Jobs does better than anyone in the industry, it's giving demos," he argues, adding: "Get Bill Gates' attention - convince him he has a two-front war to win. That one is a lot easier said than done."
Jeffrey Papows, president of Lotus Development, wants to see greater communication from the company, with detailed charting of the course the firm is going to take. He also wants to see visible co-operation between Jobs and Amelio, but cautions that Jobs' part-time status may lead to divided interests: "Every second from Steve is a gift. Gil should grab all he can."
The most prosaic response to the newspaper challenge came from Regis McKenna, of the McKenna Group consultancy, whose words will be a pleasure for Amelio to read. "I am sure the people who made the decision to acquire Next had something in mind, so I am content to wait and hear what that is," McKenna wrote.
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