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ALL EYES ON APPLE

Prediction is very hard, as Danish physicist Niels Bohr was fond of joking, especially when it’s about the future. Hence the possibly wildly inaccurate gabfest going on about the Apple Computer Inc announcement next week, which whatever else happens is still being positioned by the company itself as highly significant. Will it mark the merger of Apple and Oracle Corp? Are we to expect radical changes in the way Apple does business with regard to the education market? Must a joint venture between Oracle and Apple regarding the NC (network computer) be the cause of the fuss? Security is tight on this, and we may well find the Apple-Oracle merger is at the very high end of analyst expectations, shall we say. Though no-one’s leaked the data to Wall St yet – Apple shares hardly moved Tuesday, despite the drums beating the news through the jungle.

By Gary Flood

The November 10th press conference, driven from Apple’s base in New York City at 2pm EST, is expected to last just over an hour – but the content of those 75 minutes is the topic of the most fevered speculation in both the Apple community, Wall St, and the business press. The invite to the Cupertino satellite version chirps that Jobs will deliver some milestone news as part of the Company’s (sic) aggressive efforts to ‘Think different.’ [He] will unveil some important and exciting changes – not only to the product line, but to the way the company does business. So what do we actually know about the event Steve Jobs is headlining next Monday in the Big Apple? According to the well-regarded (and connected) Mac OS Rumors site (www.macosrumors.com), the thing is being consistently described by normally reliable Apple insiders as the kind of thing you’ll be seeing on the front page of every newspaper in the country the following day. Moreover, the site has published a note from an Apple employee revealing that all employees connected with the Apple and Claris Mac software business units are to watch the speeches on closed circuit TVs in four Apple US facilities, and that they are required to attend, regardless of your scheduled shift, and that there is an airtight clampdown on information internally beyond that. Scheduled to speak – at least from the Apple side! – are Steve Jobs, interim CEO, Mitch Mandich, Senior VP Worldwide Sales, and Phillip Schiller, VP Product Marketing. The fact that no other company speakers are indicated must be interpreted as either clever smoke – or indicative of the fact that Apple isn’t in play at all.

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But the vision of Apple moving to shelter under Oracle’s banner is gathering strength in some quarters. Some stories – which may be due to imagination! – suggest that lawyers from both companies (how could they tell?) have been seen at each other’s headquarters. There are of course obstacles to such a fusion, as anyone with a clear head can see after a few moments’ thought. A combination on this scale is not done lightly, and it’s worth noting that the culture in both companies is a fiercely independent and competitive one – both firms got to their current sizes by organic growth, not acquisition, after all. Both sets of shareholders would have to approve the deal, which suggests two obstacles – the diehard religious faith of the Apple heads, who will call for a jihad holy war on Microsoft, or somebody, instead, and the more sober Oracle backers, who may balk at the work involved in cleaning house at the troubled hardware manufacturer. Of course Apple, heading for roughly $6.5bn for its full 1997, is bigger than Oracle, at $5.7bn for its last fiscal. Maybe just as likely – or unlikely – is some kind of full-tilt joint NC initiative/joint development announcement, which might let Ellison get what he wants (the Apple brand on top of his NC baby) for a considerably smaller sum. And in the interests of fairness, it must be said that all of the above may be wrong, and Jobs has something wholly different up his sleeve. Jobs has done good work for Apple these past couple of quarters, at least ending the dither about cloning, revamping advertising, achieving a certain amount of reinvigoration, getting some allies and older heads on the long- derided board, and striking the unpopular but shrewd Microsoft investment deal. Coming along the pipeline the next few weeks: reputedly a version of the Rhapsody OS for non-Mac environments, which would conceivably allow the Mac OS to run on many platforms, like Intel – and of course, thin client network- computer style devices – and the shipment of Apple’s fastest desktop computers ever, the Power PC 750 (G3) processor, ranging from 233-MHz to 266-MHz, with prices ranging from $2,050 to $3,000. Once again, we wait for Jobs the ultimate showman to show his cards and wow us.


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CBR Staff Writer

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