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Apple eats a bit of humble pie

Gil Amelio's shrewd use of the word humility in his first encounter with Apple's developer community did enough to win at least the benefit of a doubt.

Gil Amelio lacks Steve Jobs's charisma, John Sculley's media experience, and Michael Spindler's long history in Apple's trenches. But his shrewd use of the word humility today made the recently appointed CEO's first encounter with Apple developers good enough to win the benefit of a doubt, probably the best that he could have expected at this point in the company's troubled history.

Developers at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference gave Amelio cautiously positive reviews for his new strategic direction for the company outlined here in his keynote address this morning. With his primary purpose to appease the people for whom the conference was named, Amelio predictably spread the praise for Mac developers on thick, but most in the audience saw some real value in his words--and they think the address may spell a real, discernible change in attitude from Apple management.

"He's got vision, and he's not afraid to commit to it," said Jerry Pickering, senior software wizard at Qualcomm, maker of the popular Eudora email software. "I look for someone who tells me what it with the 5300 recall. He's a straight shooter."

Both large and small companies have complained for some time that Apple has been arrogant and distant in its relations with developers, an attitude that many say has seriously compromised their ability to write for the platform. Amelio's promise that Apple will be more humble hit a bull's eye with his audience.

"The company has been kicking its developers in the shins for a long time," said Stephan Somogyi, senior editor of the industry newsletter Digital Media.

But Somogyi, like others, noted that while Amelio is new to Apple's executive suite, his is a familiar face to the board of directors that has overseen Apple's decline. "He's been on the board of directors for two years. The board's as much to blame for all these problems as anyone else," he said.

And it remained unclear how Amelio's speech played with investors. Apple's stock was virtually unchanged, down 3/16 of a point to close at 27-1/16.

Still, the developers were willing to give Amelio a grace period in his new job and applauded his three specific ideas raised as peace offerings.

First, they breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing Amelio's promise to "avoid gratutious competition" with third parties. "We've plenty of our own work to do," he said.

Many also cheered Amelio's pledge to give Heidi Roizen, vice president of developer relations, $20 million over the course of the next 12 months to seed third-party development projects and promote the platform.

But mostly, Apple developers seemed comforted that Amelio wants to harken back to the qualities that made Apple a legend in the first place: "complex technology made simple," as he repeated several times.

Julie Walcer, software developer at help-desk vendor Remedy said it was a matter of getting back to basics for Apple: "It's more like going back to the original goal of Macintosh, to be for the people, except with business savvy."