Amelio fires back at Jobs

Ousted last July as CEO at Apple, Gilbert Amelio will hit the circuit to promote a book--which bares his true feelings about Steve Jobs and others.

Tech Industry

Former Apple Computer chief executive Gilbert Amelio has fired back at detractors in his recently published book, On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple.

Ousted last July after a string of huge quarterly losses, faltering sales, and declining market share, Amelio is now with Parkside Group, a private investment firm in San Francisco, where he will specialize in high-tech leveraged buyouts. But next month, Amelio will also be busy hitting the book circuit from California to New York, as his tell-all account is prepared to hit store shelves April 8.

Amelio's book covers his negotiations and thoughts on Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, who sold his Next Software to the computer maker, as well as deal-making discussions with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

During the days when the company was struggling to devise a new operating system--amid flagging internal efforts to get Copland off the ground--Amelio talked with Gates about creating a Macintosh system based on Windows NT.

"An OS deal with Microsoft would undoubtedly be among the least popular decisions an Apple CEO could make. But ask the question, 'How do we create the greatest opportunity to have the Mac platform accepted by the broad base of users?' and the leading answer would be, 'By giving it an operating system that would be a variation of Windows NT,'" Amelio wrote.

According to the book, Gates noted that Apple has a better human interface and that such a deal would allow the company to focus on those efforts while leaving the core technology to Microsoft.

"From my perspective, the primary roadblock was not political but technological. Converting Windows NT into a Mac operating system would require scaling some very tall mountains," he added, noting that a major technical objection involved porting software from NT to the Mac. Apple, in the end, did not go for Windows NT.

Amelio, also hungry to get an endorsement of the Mac platform from Microsoft, agreed to Gates's request to bundle Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser on its computers, as it did with Netscape Communications' Navigator.

In the book, the former CEO quoted Gates as saying: "I want Internet Explorer to be bundled on exactly the same basis that you bundle Netscape Navigator. I'm not looking for preference, but I am looking for parity."

After hearing of the Apple deal, Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale reportedly asked Amelio if he thought of going to the Justice Department. The government has charged that Microsoft violated a 1995 consent degree that forbids the company from requiring computer makers to bundle its IE browser with the Windows 95 operating system.

In other discussions Gates pushed to make IE the Mac's default Web browser, according to the book, but Amelio countered that he would agree only if Microsoft made a commitment to produce a version of Microsoft Office to run on Apple's next-generation Rhapsody operating system.

Gates said he could not make that commitment, according to the account, and the two executives hit a stalemate.

The book also tells of deals involving Sun Microsystems' Solaris, which Amelio said was a solid operating system but one that would require a major undertaking to develop a user interface for the Mac. But Apple's former chief technology officer, Ellen Hancock, "went to bat for this as the best choice," Amelio stated.

As reported earlier, a deal to buy Be to provide a new OS fell through over price. Be founder Jean-Louis Gassée started off asking for more than $500 million in a stock transaction for his company before setting on a final offer at $275 million.

Amelio viewed Be as a $50 million deal but eventually agreed to test a $200 million maximum price. No deal was struck, as Apple viewed the $430 million Next acquisition as offering better technology for the price.

"When I don the cloak of historian and look back over the events of my relationship with Steve Jobs, I wonder what I might have done differently," Amelio said.

He said naming Next's Avie Tevanian in charge of all software and Jon Rubenstein in charge of hardware were the right decisions, even though the moves gave Jobs a larger power base to operate from within the company.

"Maybe Steve really was just setting me up, putting his own people in place, ready for a palace coup. If so, the decisions I made were bad for me. But they were beneficial for Apple, and I would likely have made them even had I known for certain that Steve was being guided by ulterior motives," the former CEO wrote.

At one point, Amelio cites a discussion he had with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak to ask him to return to the company as an adviser. Wozniak, known to insiders as "the Woz," told Amelio of an incident that happened before Apple was even formed and that years later prompted a falling out with Jobs.

"Steve managed to get an assignment from Nolan Bushnell of Atari to do some circuits for one of its electronic toys. I'd do the designs and build the circuit board, and we'd get $1,000," Amelio quoted Wozniak as saying. "[Jobs] came back and gave me $300. I said, 'I thought we were getting $1,000.' Steve told me, 'No, they talked us down to $600,' and I figured, you know, it was better than nothing. So I said OK. Years later, I found out from a guy who had been at Atari that it had really paid Steve the full $1,000. I did the work; he kept $700 for himself and gave me $300."

Wozniak, according to Amelio, said: "When [Jobs] knew I'd found out, that sort of ended it. We've never been close since."

Wozniak told CNET's NEWS.COM that the gist of Amelio's account of the Atari transaction is correct but that the dollar amount is wrong.

As for his relationship with Jobs after discovering he had been shortchanged, Wozniak said: "I cried a bit when I found out what had happened, but it didn't affect our friendship one iota. In my own mind, I have always considered Steve a friend, as I do many others that have different personalities and styles than myself."

He added that what he had tried to convey to Amelio "very subtly" was that the decision to buy Next for the price paid might not have been a good deal for Apple. Amelio "might have been taken," Wozniak said.

Comments from Gates and Barksdale were not immediately available. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on behalf of the company and Jobs.

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