December 20, 1996 10:45 PM PST

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In Apple Computer's (AAPL) industry-rocking merger with Next Software, it is unclear what Gil Amelio wants most out of the deal: an operating system or Steve Jobs.

While the acquisition appears to end months of floundering over Apple's operating system, Amelio's comments on the technological benefits of the NextStep OS were glaringly vague.

"The Next technology is operational right now, so the real challenge is to knit the pieces together. Our goal is to get there in 1997," Apple's chief executive said in tonight's press conference. Amelio added he will address the details of the operating system strategy at the Macworld Expo on January 7.

The platform from which Jobs hopes to innovate is built around a microkernel first developed by Carnegie Mellon University. It features the multitasking, multithreading, and memory allocation features that Apple has said it wants. Apple's search for an OS also has shown that it wants insurance in case the PowerPC architecture development falters.

"The thing to point out on Next technology is it's pretty much processor-independent. We've had it running on Intel hardware, [and] we've had it running on PowerPC hardware," Jobs said. "One of the things that this buys...Apple [is] choice in the future as processor architectures come and go, so that [the OS] is not wedded to any one particular architecture."

Amelio, for his part, said Apple expects to get an operating system that has already proven itself in the market, a boost to its Internet and enterprise market efforts. But it is not yet to known if the existing Next operating system can be successfully merged with Apple technology.

Indeed, to some analysts, the merger seemed to yield more questions than answers about the strategy behind NextStep and its integration into Apple's plans.

"There are no real details as to how they are going to use the Next technology and platform to jump-start their own operating system or how long it's going to take," noted Daniel Kunstler, who follows the computer systems industry for the investment banking firm J.P. Morgan.

In recent months, most of the speculation about Apple's OS plans were centered on software and hardware designer Be as a possible takeover target. Apple's interest in acquiring Be reportedly reflected internal discussion over what to do about the fast-growing Microsoft Windows NT operating system.

While some at the beleaguered computer maker argued that Apple should simply license NT and begin offering it on its machines, others were looking to the Be deal as a way to revamp the company's intranet strategy and offer several operating systems including the Mac OS and NT for that market segment.

None of these issues, let alone their solutions, seemed clear in the decision to go with NextStep. Indeed, while Apple claims that "exhaustive research" led it to conclude that the NextStep OS was the right choice, the truth may be that it needed Jobs and his legendary vision more than it needed the Next technology.

Amelio, while respected within the industry for his business acumen, is not known for his charisma. At the press conference tonight, while Amelio spoke of "embracing industry directions rather than just doing our own thing," Jobs harkened back to Apple's early days as an industry innovator, a rallying cry for the success of the company's early days.

"Much of the industry has lived off the Macintosh for over ten years now, slowly copying the Mac's revolutionary user interface," Jobs said in a statement. "Now the time has come for new innovation, and where better than Apple for this to spring from?"

 

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