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Jobs: Apple "stumbled" on Intuit

Intuit's decision not to develop a new version of Quicken for the Mac calls into question Apple's ability to keep developers in the fold.

CUPERTINO, California--When Intuit, maker of the popular Quicken financial software, said earlier this week it would not produce a new version for the Macintosh, it raised some questions about Apple Computer's ability to keep developers in its fold.

Today, the matter was high on the agenda of topics addressed at Apple's annual Jobs faces shareholders shareholder meeting here. Acting chief executive Steve Jobs tried to address concerns in a "town hall" setting, saying that Apple "stumbled" by not getting "in Intuit's face" enough to prevent an important developer from dropping its Mac software product.

Jobs promised that Apple and Intuit would address shareholder questions by making a joint announcement next week, but declined to provide details.

Whatever is announced, it appears Intuit is focusing more on Web-based applications that are not tied to any single kind of computer. Along these lines, Intuit is also involved in deals to develop Internet software for next-generation digital set-top boxes with cable giant Tele-Communications Incorporated.

Intuit will continue to develop its Macintax tax software for the Mac platform. However, Intuit continues to develop a wider array of software for Windows-Intel computers, which brings into relief the problems Intuit has had with Apple.

Apple's Intuit blunder was particularly embarrassing because William Campbell, Intuit CEO and president, is an Apple board member. But Intuit's decision highlighted a much larger and more serious problem: Keeping developers interested in writing software for the Macintosh.

As the company struggled last year to halt its market share slide and stem the flow of red ink, Apple's stalwart developers, such as Adobe and Macromedia, found the Windows versions of their software outselling Mac software. The sheer numbers of Window users has made it impossible for large Mac developers to focus as much development effort on the Mac as they had in the past.

Jobs insisted that Apple has taken measures that will entice developers to focus on the Macintosh again. Given Apple's back-to-back quarters of profitability and a year-on-year increase in shipments for the first time in nearly two years, Jobs claims Apple is on track again. "One significant difference in terms of attracting developers is Apple's viability," Jobs said. "Unit sales are important to developers," he added.

But the developments in the Intuit mishap indicate that Apple may have a tough row to hoe.

Campbell said that a decision to skip a fall release of its Macintosh version of Quicken was made back in July. That decision was based on Apple's questionable financial state last summer, the computer makers' focus on the education and desktop publishing markets, and its declining sales, Campbell told CNET'S NEWS.COM in an interview.

"We felt we could skip a release and redeploy our developers to our Web [site] efforts," he said.

That decision fueled rumors that Campbell would resign from Apple's board, which he joined last fall. But Campbell said he has no plans of resigning and stressed that despite the decision to skip the fall release of Quicken for the Macintosh, Intuit remains committed to the platform.

Keenly aware of this misstep, today Jobs also talked of focusing the company's resources on a few key developers. "We stumbled on Intuit," Jobs said, by not letting Intuit know of Apple's plans for the consumer market. There are roughly 10,000 Mac software developers, but the top 100 Mac developers are largely responsible for bringing new software to the greatest number of users, he said. Apple is focusing on more aggressively supporting those top 100 developers, he said.

Intuit appears to be sufficiently interested in Apple's plans to "aggressively" go after the consumer market later this year. Apple is reportedly working on an all-in-one computer priced at around $1,000 similar to the Power Macintosh released recently for the education market.