The last flushing of the Apple old guard?

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 09/90 item 02 - scanned

At last year's Macworld Expo in Boston, Jean-Louis Gassee was the star of the show. He sparkled his way through the keynote session, charming everyone in the audience with his wit, style and obvious love of the Mac. This year, the Wang Theatre was packed with people hoping for a repeat performance. No one could figure out what this man, due to leave Apple in seven weeks, could possibly have to say.

Since the event was totally under Apple's control, had Gassee been put under orders to follow the party line? He had been reported as being a bitter man since his resignation. Was he going to be allowed to say what he really thought? Hardly: he must have some very interesting stock options to protect So why was he there?

Looking back, I suspect he was there for a public humiliation. The man who, more than anyone in the world, personified Apple's "computers for the rest of us" stance, was about to be turned into a non-person.

Gassee was treated to a massive build up. It started in the darkened auditorium with the playing of the Shirelles Soldier Boy.

At the time, I thought this was a jolly pleasant song aimed at getting the audience in a good mood. It was only afterwards that I thought the choice may have held some deeper significance. A warm-up man then came on and promised us that, despite the fact Gassee was leaving Apple, this would not be his last public appearance. Then two massive screens lit up and a very long video sequence was shown of the great man himself - at last year's conference, in his office, at all sorts of public events. The video showed the very best of Gassee, the Apple superstar. The audience loved it. By the end they could not wait to see the man in the flesh.

Then on came this small guy in a suit and tie. This seemed to be a deliberate break with the previous day's keynote, where every guest was squeezed into a Macworld sweatshirt, regardless of what they were wearing underneath. This is, after all, Apple, and you have to look laid back even if you do not feel it. Gassee seemed to want to show he was now different. The trouble is that, although he made himself look different to the Apple folk, he just made himself look like all the faceless non-Apple computer folk.

We waited for the humour, the charm the sparkle. But it did not come. He cracked a quick joke about MacWeek, calling it MacLeak. He said Claris was bought back because Apple needed Bill Campbell (boss of Claris). He had once been a sports coach and knew all about writing play books so all his team pulled in the same direction at the same time.

Gassee suggested the Apple management badly needed such a play book themselves. His bitterness was beginning to show.

He talked of Apple being into serious applications at last - he referred to the Department of Defence filling out its expense claims on a Mac. The man was a shadow of his former self, a fact reinforced by the playing of the video sequence just before his entrance.

He told a very funny joke which had been doing the rounds of the Apple community for about three months. Still it was new to many in the audience and they appreciated it. This marked the end of his solo slot. He then started to wheel on a series of guests whom he interviewed, chat-show style, about their thoughts and feelings.

The first was Bill Campbell, one time Apple man, then head of Claris and now head of a wholly-owned Claris. He immediately confessed "it was nice to have been out. Maybe I wish I was still there". He added that "Spindler and Sculley decided and I was informed after the fact" When asked what Apple software would be passed over to Claris - HyperCard, for example - Campbell said: 'I am trying to be as vague as possible.'

Gassee suggested that, if Apple takes his Claris years into account, Campbell might qualify for a sabbatical. Campbell said he had not thought about it but if he took one, it would be far away from the West Coast.

It seemed incredible to me that Gassee and Campbell could be allowed to deliver such a lacklustre and disloyal performance. Things did not improve with the next guest, who tried cracking jokes about Apple buying back Microsoft. At this point, I decided to leave. Colleagues tell me things did not get any better.

It was only a few days later that I wondered whether the whole thing was quite deliberate: the last flushing of the old guard before Spindler and Sculley get their teeth into a new kind of Apple.