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Apple lurks while handheld fans hold hands

The scene at the Newton wake Friday in Apple Computer's parking lot was more like a family reunion/picnic.

Lenny, a mover and a decorative art historian, stood sweating yesterday at the top of my staircase and asked, "Yo, Mistah Doo-Bodd, where you want this 17th century Italian Renaissance armoire with baroque putti carved into the, like, facade?" As the designated keeper of NEWS.COM's Webby Award, I needed a proper showcase; Lenny knew exactly what to recommend. He was less enthused, however, about the award itself. "What's this, somethin' you ripped off a dune buggy?" I must admit, the statuette looks like a fiberglass suppository with a copper spring coiled around it. How it signifies online excellence escapes me.

Always one to accentuate the positive, Lenny had a bounty of award-winning design ideas. His best suggestion was a sleek futuristic handheld--"you know, to pay proper respects to da Newton." He wasn't the only one mourning the dearly digital departed last weekend.

The scene at the Newton wake Friday in Apple Computer's parking lot was more like a family reunion/picnic. Instead of Steve Jobs in effigy, protesters brought toddlers needing naps and pushed infants in strollers. Jobs reserved the lot for them and provided cookies, desserts, coffee, and soft drinks. Despite Apple's best efforts to shine a kinder, gentler face on the proceedings, my Skinfiltrators noticed notorious PR honcho Katie Cotton keeping tabs on the participants with a clipboard. No, she was not using a PalmPilot.

No matter--the Newton acolytes seemed resigned to Jobs's "business decision" and hoped to persuade him to sell the technology to someone with the commitment--and bucks--to market their favorite handheld. Sony, Dell Computer (listen up, Michael!), and Umax were prominently mentioned and are all likely to hear from the Newton Developers Association in the next couple of weeks.

Also lurking and taking names was Skinthusiast Greg Simon, an electrical engineer with Motorola's Lexicus Division who was recruiting ex-Newts for some hush-hush new wireless thingie that's likely to feature handwriting, voice capabilities, and who knows what else. (Greg wrote the first HTML browser for the Newt.) There was no sign of headhunters from 3Com's PalmPilot team or the Microsoft CE crowd, both of which have already fattened up on Newt castoffs.

Most importantly, everyone kept a sense of humor. Apple employee Mike Zimmers (who has his exit interview tomorrow--bon courage, Michel!) passed out the last remaining Newton T-shirts as prizes for a trivia contest. Best item: "Q: How many Newtons were sold? A: It's Apple proprietary information."

My biggest disappointment is the end of the eMate, a wonderful little machine--basically a lightweight laptop with handwriting and a très cool translucent case. Given time and decent marketing, it would have replaced some briefcases, I guarantee it.

Whether the Webby Awards can replace the Oscars is another matter. San Fran mayordomo Willie Brown boasted that the Webbies would be as big as the Oscars someday, and others ventured during the post-award soirée that things were definitely trending toward Hollywood. But one Wired graybeard who has eaten many a power burrito on the South Park grass predicted a more buttoned-down future: "Hollywood? Ha! Next year, it'll probably be at the Moscone and they'll call it the 'Internet Industry Awards,'" he scoffed.

C'est possible, but given the loudest applause of the night went to the deserving winner of the Weird category, Bert is Evil, there's still a fighting stick-in-your-eye spirit among the Web crowd. We can only hope.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of ex-Apple CEO Gil Amelio was the desperate placement of PowerBooks in two of last year's most dreadful movies. Look where that got Gil. Too bad Sun can't take a cue. The company is crowing that its marketeers have landed the company's JavaStation a spot on TV's "Friends." JavaStation is a Java-based "network computer" that the company wants to place on company desktops as an alternative to PCs and bring back central control of user environments, not exactly a sexy concept. "Oh my God, Jennifer Aniston is storing all her personal files on an Oracle database? Don't even go there!"

In my book of insulting images, product placements rest several notches below Michael Milken's hairpiece, so let's all take a deep breath and give a hearty Rumor Mill raspberry to Sun for contributing to the increasing ad pollution in our lives. Save the raspberries for Sun, but send me all the plum rumors you've heard lately.

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