Apple turnaround is a Jobs well done

I can count on one hand - without affecting my typing speed - the number of times I've praised a computer industry executive in an open forum. That said, the IT community owes a debt of gratitude to Apple Computer's mercurial and dogged interim CEO, Steve Jobs.

No, I don't expect any of you will put a hold on the 400MHz Pentium IIs you've ordered for your corporate users in favor of Apple's snazzy new IMac. Nor do Apple and Jobs' rise from the ashes necessarily mean that Apple will regain what used to be a strong niche presence in the enterprise (though I wouldn't bet against it, either).

If nothing else, the birth of the IMac means there's still a force out there that can compete against the staid Intel-based PC world - albeit in the consumer space for the time being. Real innovation in the PC space is alive and well. And where competition and innovation thrive, consumers (at home or in the enterprise) benefit.

People such as Bill Gates and Intel's Andy Grove surely don't underestimate Steve Jobs. While he didn't invent the graphical user interface, he made it usable for millions of consumers years before the Wintel duopoly could.

It wasn't Jobs who set Apple on its recently reversed skid as much as his successor John Sculley, who refused to broadly license Macintosh technology. Sculley was succeeded by the hapless, bumbling Gil Amelio, who appeared to personally drive the final nail into Apple's coffin - never mind his apologia of a memoir or his claim that the company's present resurgence is a result of an Amelio grand plan.

This is still an industry in which ego and individual drive - as well as innovation - count. Jobs' unflinching confidence, even his showmanship, have keyed a resurgence of optimism at Apple and among its formerly distraught dealers. The IMac itself sports the first truly distinctive basic design changes to the PC in years, while staying loyal to its ease-of-use pedigree. I guarantee you will end up supporting them in your users' home offices.

By contrast, what innovations can you cite in the Intel PC business, other than those owing to Moore's Law? Dell, the fastest-growing PC maker in the past five years, doesn't so much make PCs as assemble and market them. Most innovation in the PC market is directed at imitating Dell's brilliant distribution strategy. Now the Wintel crowd has to at least wonder what Jobs might have in mind beyond the IMac. In a world of bloated inventories and thin profit margins, Apple sits atop a pile of IMac advance orders - for a floppy disk-less, odd-looking machine that sells for US$1,299, no less.

True, some order-makers are Apple diehards fired by pent-up demand. But most "Mac nuts" aren't nuts at all: They're just people who believe the Macintosh was the best, most complete, friendliest PC available. What does Jobs know that the Wintel world doesn't?

I'm not suggesting that Jobs' vision includes trying to replace the PC as the corporate standard, or even mounting any kind of enterprise attack. I do believe that Apple's re-entry into the computer market with a viable and attractive offering will be a wake-up call to a PC industry that has grown sleepy in that company's absence.

And for that, you should drop Jobs an e-mail and say thanks.

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Bill Laberis

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