The plans for Jobs's speech were finalized amid speculation that Apple will designate him as the company's chairman, a position that would allow him to set strategic direction without having to deal with day-to-day management.
"I think he is essential to the Mac spirit. He's a wonderful visionary, but his most useful role is in an advisory capacity," according to one Mac industry veteran who asked to remain unnamed. But the source added that Jobs as chairman would be "scary."
A high-level executive close to Apple said that Jobs is on everybody's short list to become chairman, but he said that he doubts that Jobs would take a more active position such as CEO. "I don't think that would wash," the executive said.
Nevertheless, Apple may well be banking on Jobs's unique ability to sell the Apple faithful on a vision of the company's future.
"Apple and [event management] agree that his appearance is going to be of huge interest to attendees, and that is why he's been selected to speak," according to an Apple spokesperson, who declined to say what the keynote would cover.
Since persuading Amelio and Apple's board of directors to purchase his company, Jobs has taken an increasingly active role in charting Apple's direction. He apparently played a key role in the decision to oust Amelio.
After Amelio's resignation was announced, Jobs was given the task of helping to find the "best CEO" to replace Amelio and set a strategy for the company to execute, an Apple board member recently told CNET'S NEWS.COM.
But with the apparent power to decide Apple's strategic direction comes questions about what that direction might be. Universally acknowledged to be a great motivator and marketer, Jobs also nurtured a corporate culture that rejected technology invented elsewhere--an attitude that came back to haunt the company.
While Jobs was away, Apple fundamentally changed its course by licensing the Mac OS operating system to clone makers. But now clone vendors are getting out in front of Apple in both technology and pricing. A recent example of the clone competition will be exhibited during the keynote.
The president of Motorola Computer Group, Joe Guglielmi, will demonstrate a computer with CHRP technology. The CHRP design, also referred to as the PowerPC Reference Platform, is a specification for PowerPC-based systems that lets manufacturers use off-the-shelf components and technologies, and ideally gives clone vendors freer reign to compete. Motorola's CHRP system will feature a faster design and the next-generation PowerPC processor, dubbed Arthur, also referred to as the PowerPC 750.
This announcement is a milestone since this will be the first computer based on CHRP, a technology that was originally proposed back in 1994. It also points to a festering problem between Apple and the clone vendors--and an issue Jobs has to help resolve. CHRP has been perenially delayed despite the fact that clone vendors have been chomping at the bit for years to bring out systems based on CHRP because it would potentially make them more competitive.
Apple is cited as the root cause of the delay since the company has the final say on CHRP.
So, where Jobs reigned over a Mac-only world, the market dynamics have changed to the point where the clone manufacturers are a threat to Apple in some important respects.
Apple has always had a not-invented-here syndrome, where technology not invented at the company wasn't good enough to be used in their products, one industry source said. That led the company down a path where it had to invent proprietary hardware and software technology in an industry characterized increasingly by partnerships and acquisitions. "The 'We're going to do it ourselves' attitude hasn't worked," according to the source.