A minor upgrade to the MacOS, new Microsoft products for the Mac and a clutch of celebrity Apple users will make up this week?s MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. But interim chief executive Steve Jobs is unlikely to give attendees what they really want: the name of his successor.
When Jobs takes to the stage in San Francisco Marriott hotel to give the keynote address for the MacWorld conference on Tuesday, one of his main tasks will be to erase memories of last year?s three hour rambling speech by former chief executive Gil Amelio.
That under-rehearsed presentation generated enormous criticism for both the company and Amelio at an event which might justifiably have been promoted as something between a victory rally and a technological second coming.
Only weeks earlier, Amelio and his then technology officer Ellen Hancock had pulled off what seemed inconcievable. They solved Apple?s long standing need to find a new operating system by buying Next Software and in the process pulled ageing enfant terrible and ousted company founder Jobs back into the Apple fold.
But a brief ten minute cameo by the charmismatic Jobs, cast in the role of the firm?s returned prodigal son, was not enough to divert attention from the inadequacies of Amelio and his management team. Within a few months, Amelio and Hancock were gone, replaced by Jobs as interim chief executive and his chosen people.
So when Jobs faces the Mac faithful on Tuesday morning, the audience can be forgiven for having high expectations about what they are about to hear. Unfortunately they might well be disappointed.
For starters, unless something changes at the last minute - and this cannot be ruled out with the mercurial Jobs at the helm - Jobs won?t be making the one announcement that everyone wants to hear: the name of the person who will take over as full-time Apple CEO.
The show itself will smaller than last year, courtesy of Jobs? drive to kill of the Macintosh clone market. Although there will be 350 exhibitors, the floor space in the exhibition at the Moscone Center is 10% smaller than twelve months ago.
But there will be demonstrations of a minor upgrade to the Mac OS in the shape of release 8.1, which will offer enhanced Internet-access with Microsoft?s Internet Explorer in place as its default browser. Mac OS 8.1 will also include the Macintosh Runtime for Java 2.1 and Apple?s Java compiler. It will also include revised file handling capabilities and support of reading DVD files.
Evidence of the fruits of the $150 million investment alliance between Microsoft and Apple - the showpiece announcement made by Jobs at the Boston MacWorld last summer - will come in the shape of IE 4.0 for Macintosh. (IE 3.x will be the default browser in Mac OS 8.1.).
IE 4.0 for the Mac will include a Java virtual machine which Microsoft says supports verson 1.1.3 of Sun Microsystem?s Java Development Kit. Also included will be an offline browsing tool, support for dynamic HTML and Microsoft?s push technology Channel Definition Format, Microsoft's implementation of push technology.
Also on view from the Microsoft camp will be Office 98 for Mac, complete with a ?self repairing application? feature not yet available in the Windows version. This allows Office98 software to identify and repair program-critical files when they are damaged. But it is uncertain whether the company will finally commit to producing Office or any other application for Rhapsody.
But this all falls in the category of solid, but a bit dull. So what will Jobs use to fire up the audience, already let down by the lack of ?steak to the go with the sizzle? from his so-called Apple Event in November last year? Fuelled by an extravagent PR machine, this promised announcements of enormous significance, but in the end delivered an - admittedly successful - online shopping site and some rather childish baiting of Michael Dell.
One likely announcement from Jobs wil be a decision to make both Rhapsody and WebObjects available at cost price to schools and colleges worldwide. According to Silicon Valley sources, Apple will make the operating system and its ?Yellow Box? development tools available to educational establishments from the middle of this year.
Less likely seems to be the long awaited confirmation of what exactly - if anything - is going on between Apple and database supplier Oracle. The big rumour surrounding the November event was that the software firm would either buy or take a stake in Apple. Neither option occured and the current hot rumour in the Valley is that the Oracle salesforce will start selling stripped down Apple network computers.
One element that will reoccur will be the rolling out of minor celebrities as Macintosh users, apparently in an attempt to add some glamour to the proceedings. This aspect flopped terribly last year as showbusiness personalities were wheeled out one after another to no apparent purpose, climaxing with a clearly ill Muhammed Ali being given a standing ovation for no other reason than being Muhammed Ali.
Ali is back this year, although with more justification since he is the subject of the latest celebrity-centred ?Think Different? adverts from Apple. He is joined by dancer Gregory Hines and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh who are - according to the Apple PR machine - "extraordinary people who use the Macintosh to make the world a better place?.
Whether these ?extraordinary people? will send the Mac faithful home happy remains to be seen. One observer last week had his doubts. ?MacWorld will be a significant event for Jobs to show us what he got in his mind,? he commented. ?Is it going to be similar results of Nov. 24's or does it have something good to share? This is a final opportunity for Jobs to present his views regarding Apple's future before he steps down from interim CEO, or becoming permanent CEO.?
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