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Jobs touts "very cool technology"

Speaking at an industry conference, Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs pitched hope while also elaborating on upcoming strategies and the Mac clone vendor imbroglio.

SAN FRANCISCO-- Speaking at an industry conference, Apple Computer (AAPL) interim CEO Steve Jobs pitched hope and "very cool technology" to multimedia content developers while also elaborating on upcoming distribution and product strategies and the Mac clone vendor imbroglio.

At the Macromedia Users Conference, Jobs continued his campaign to restore confidence in Apple, focusing on QuickTime as a key multimedia playback technology for the industry, how Apple is revamping its distribution and marketing strategy, and new product features.

Jobs also appeared to indicate that he is thinking about staying on as CEO. When asked by an audience member when he was going to drop "interim" from his title, Jobs obliquely replied that he was going to try to take a vacation and "take a while to think about it." Apple is currently engaged in a search for a new CEO after ousting Gil Amelio as its leader in July. The company named Jobs, who repeatedly has turned down the CEO and chairman position, interim CEO in September.

"Steve Jobs is our interim CEO," said an Apple spokesperson. "We are continuing our search for a CEO," insisted the spokesperson.

The focus, however, was on upcoming technologies needed by content developers. A QuickTime engineer demonstrated QuickTime 3.0, which Jobs said would be available in the "next few months" on both Windows and Mac platforms, and how Apple is planning to give users the ability to apply different special effects to a video clip in real time. The duo also showed a way to easily build QuickTime VR (for virtual reality) scenes for a 360-degree view of an environment by "stitching" a series of photos together automatically.

During a question-and-answer period, Jobs said Apple would offer support for FireWire and USB peripherals in Apple products by mid-1998. FireWire (also called IEEE 1394) is a technology invented by Apple that offers high-speed connections between PCs and equipment such as digital camcorders and VCRs. USB is a technology for connecting peripheral devices such as keyboards, scanners, and cameras.

Saying that Apple hadn't kept up with the industry as a whole in terms of innovations in distributing and selling products, Jobs stated, "We will be doing some very, very, innovative things in distribution in the next 90 days."

The new strategy could include some mixture of the direct and indirect sales model based on a build-to-order manufacturing scheme such as the one being used by Compaq. In this system, computers are assembled only after orders are received from customers or resellers, which saves companies the cost of storing parts and finished goods. Apple recently implemented a new distribution strategy that will allow more computer resellers to buy computers directly from the company, a move which might result in better product availability and lower prices.

Jobs also sought to allay fears that the Mac market was collapsing, saying the recent decision to end Mac cloning would help the company's long-term financial viability.

"We were charging $50 a copy to clones on the theory that the market would be enlarged. The clone manufacturers were basically taking that license and attacking the high end of the market," Jobs explained. "The market wasn't being enlarged. Less than one percent of Power Computing's customers were new to the Mac."

Jobs said he went to Power Computing and the other clone vendors and asked for more money but that they told him to "go pound sand." After four or five tries, he claimed, "We did what we had to do." The result was that Apple bought back Power Computing's license to the Mac OS, effectively taking it out of the Mac market, and forced Motorola to exit as well. IBM is further expected to stop licensing the Mac OS, leaving Umax Computer as the only major producer of Mac clones.

Jobs has said that the cost of engineering Mac hardware as well as the Mac OS itself was hundreds of dollars more than the clone vendors were paying in licensing fees and that a continuation of the program would have been disastrous for Apple's financial health.

Most of the presentation reiterated themes he gave in a speech last week at the Seybold '97 publishers conference. At both speeches, Jobs outlined 12 reasons why Apple will survive as a company and showed Apple's new "Think Different" ad to audience members.