This Week in Apple History: June 18 through 24

Exit left, pursued by a lack of success

It's a week of departures from Apple -- and not to spoil things too much, but whether people chose to leave or were pointed toward the door, it doesn't seem to have worked out brilliantly for them. Then again, it's not as if this has been an entirely good week for Apple itself, as there are two huge product launches that are marred by mistakes. All in all, there's not a lot in this week of June 18 to 24, across 1976 to 2016, to give you any clue that Apple would take over the world. Except, this is the week it did take over eWorld.

This week, it began small with eWorld, which officially launched on June 20, 1994. If you were using a Mac in the 1990s, you may have heard of this -- but you aren't likely to have been a user, as not many people were. When Apple CEO Gil Amelio cancelled it in 1996, it's believed to have had 147,500 subscribers. The closest comparison figures available are AOL's, which in 1994 crossed the one million subscribers figure.

Yet eWorld is significant, because this was right on the cusp of the internet, when everyone knew online was the future -- and nobody knew that their attempts to corner the market weren't just doomed, they were going to be practically erased from history.

Brave New eWorld

In retrospect, we all spent an enormous time just waiting for the internet to get going. From at least the 1980s onwards, though, it felt like we were usually floundering in the dark, or that the odd step forward was a bigger deal than it seems now. Then, too, there were successes that were like the online equivalent of Blockbuster video stores: they grew big and they seemed unassailable, but they were assailed rather quickly.

We're thinking of services like AOL, and perhaps especially CompuServe there, which even at the time was known colloquially as Compu$erve for how expensive it was to use. That was the future: the old-fashioned dialup bulletin board systems that had three geeky users and, always, a Star Trek chat room, would be replaced by what now looks exactly the same. Dialup, slow, text-based, Star Trek, online services had it all -- but you needed to be technically-minded, to have some particular pressing need, or to have some time on your hands, and the ability to pay for spending that time online.

If any industry called out for Apple to come along and reinvent it, perhaps it was online. Apple came, Apple saw, and Apple failed.

You look so young that we're going to have to back up here and explain both of the things in that image, aren't we? These were floppy disks, software came in boxes with these and -- no, okay, let it go: the past is another country. Once you schlepped though all this stuff and had eWorld running, it worked like CompuServe and the rest by charging you for the time you spend online. It just didn't look like CompuServe which was, sorry to say, just a bit dull and full of text. Whereas eWorld, well:

Give eWorld some credit: you looked at that image, and you immediately understood how it worked. That's true now and it was true then, you just had to be on a Mac to do anything with this knowledge -- and while we're fine with that in principle, back then it meant eWorld's audience was limited. There was going to be a Windows version, and it even made it to beta, but it was cancelled.

Success has a hundred parents, but failure only needs one assassin: before he cancelled eWorld, Gil Amelio told the Wall Street Journal that his reasoning was simply "does the world really need another computer service?". Yes, actually, it did, it's just that the one it needed was the internet. According to Apple Confidential 2.0, Amelio also saw this as a way to make his mark as he took up the post of CEO. "If it's necessary to shoot one of the lead buffaloes in order to send a message to the rest of the herd, you'd better be prepared to do it."

Take a telling

Gil Amelio talked the tough talk, and one of the advantages of seeing Apple's history in these week-by-week slices is that you can spot the repeats, the echoes and the harmonics. For Steve Jobs would later shoot a lot of buffalo, and if we know for certain that products like the Newton were one of them, we can be pretty sure that he also took out Amelio.

The dates around this one are tricky -- because it's something that happened close to anonymously, and over a short period. What went down was that by the end of June 1997, someone sold 1.5 million shares of Apple stock, and the jolt that made is one of the things that led to Amelio's exit. A month or two later, we learned that suspicions were true: it was Steve Jobs, and he'd sold off all but one of the shares he got in the deal where Apple bought NeXT Computer.

"Yes, I pretty much had given up hope that the Apple board was going to do anything," said Jobs in a Time magazine issue from August, 1997. "I didn't think the stock was going up. If that upsets employees, I'm perfectly happy to go home to Pixar."

Ouch. There are signs of the petulant young Steve Jobs in that last line, especially, but if it were calculated as part of a plan to oust Amelio, it was possibly also a foreshadowing of the more far-sighted businessman he'd become since being ousted from Apple.

Speaking of Sculley

This week may have been when Gil Amelio's exit became likely but, in a different year, it was certainly the end for John Sculley. Only, endings never seem to be very clear at Apple: what happened on June 18, 1993, was that Michael Spindler replaced Sculley as CEO of Apple (this slicing through the weeks can get confusing: Sculley begat Spindler begat Amelio. Now read on).

So this date was the end of Sculley being in charge, and the start of him becoming just the chairman of the company. You'd think that chairman was an important post, but we know it isn't, because Sculley had previously banished Steve Jobs to it. As with Jobs, the job might as well have been a euphemism for Not Fired Quite Yet.

Sculley held on at Apple until October, and arguably did little in the meantime but tinker with Newton and polish up his resume. As he rather ducks out of the Apple story this week, though, keep in mind that he's actually done a huge amount, and is currently reported to be worth an estimated $200 million, but let's examine the biggest moves of this man who would be a far-sighted technology visionary.

He first joined a company called Spectrum Information Technologies after what the Los Angeles Times called "a whirlwind courtship by Peter Caserta, then chief executive and now president of Spectrum." Maybe he asked Sculley about sugared water. Whatever Caserta did, it had a bit of a reality distortion field, as Sculley failed to look into the company he was joining.

After he'd taken the job, The New York Times asked him what he felt about the company's being delisted from NASDAQ and problems with US securities regulators. "It sounds like you know more about it than I do at this point," said Sculley.

He joined Spectrum in October 1993, the same month he left Apple, and he left Spectrum in February 1994 -- suing the man who hired him, and in his turn being sued right back by the company.

We've covered his far-sighted nature now, and this isn't This Week in John Sculley, so let's just quickly rate his technology expertise: in June 1994, he joined Kodak.

Not so famous

John Sculley's exit is perhaps the second most famous story of anyone leaving Apple, but in this week someone hugely important left. Steve Capps had joined Apple from Xerox PARC, the famous company that developed the mouse and so much of the graphical way of working with computers that we now use. At Apple he worked on the Lisa, the Mac, and the Newton, and on June 26, 1996, he left -- to join Microsoft.

Steve Capps demos Newton (via Stanford University)
Steve Capps demos Newton (via Stanford University)

He said at the time that while watching the recent PBS series on the origins of the PC industry, "I was struck with how the Xerox work from the 1970s is at last becoming persuasive, but it isn't scaling well to the 1990s." Translation: Windows is winning. "The industry has simply been broadening the desktop metaphor to this new wired world. Microsoft is giving us the opportunity to take a long look at this and rethink basic technologies and interactions for the user, the computer and the internet."

Oh, no, they aren't. Oh, yes they are. That quote was from the official Microsoft press release, about Capps and another Apple engineer Walter Smith joining the company. Flash forward to when Capps has been working there a while, and things are a little different. Speaking to Wall Street Journal journalist David Bank -- and quoted in Banks' 2001 book Breaking Windows -- Capps explained that he had campaigned for Microsoft to ditch the Windows desktop and replace it with something else from Windows Me, launched in 2000.

"Sure enough, the old Windows desktop is there. [Microsoft] is the most successful company in history doing X, so there's a tendency to continue to do X. Then a yahoo like me comes in and says 'you should change everything.' They say: 'You did Newton, so screw you.'"

Mistakes and missteps

You can't say that John Sculley made a mistake leaving Apple, as it's not like he had a choice, but you could make a case that Steve Capps should've guessed he wouldn't gain any traction at Microsoft. Yet he's gone on to a long and fine career in technology -- and it's also not like things were flawless at Apple, either.

In this week, Apple made two mistakes: one of which accidentally helped a new product become a hit, and the other looks like it has set the company back years. Interesting, one was a hardware mistake and one was software.

That's an unusual product launch for Steve Jobs and Apple, as it comes replete with more technical specifications than we ever get now, or usually got then. He even jokes about not knowing what some of it means. Yet one reason for listing them all is that this was a remarkable machine: it was the Power Mac G5, which on this day of June 23, 2003, was the fastest desktop computer ever made. It was the world's first 64-bit desktop processor. Years later, Apple would so startle the technology industry by moving the iPhone to 64-bits that every other manufacturer tried scoffing at how unnecessary it was. Nobody would need that power, they said, and then brought out their own versions.

The other reason for focusing on the specifications was, as you'll see in that video, there had been a mistake. The week before this G5 was released, someone at Apple did what Jobs says the company now calls "premature specification." They somehow posted the new G5's specifications on the website. Now Jobs spent quite some time going over each of the specifications, and explaining how significant they are. He spends so long on it that he doesn't show us the computer itself until much later. Take a look at this second half of the clip.

The Power Mac G5 only lasted a year, before being replaced by the Mac Pro with an Intel processor. Yet the G5's industrial design with solid aluminium and easily-opened case continued through that Mac Pro, and on through to 2012. Given that it wasn't replaced until 2013's release of the "trashcan" Mac Pro, that's 10 years of the same hardware design. It doesn't end there, either, as people continue to use and upgrade the machines far beyond what Apple expected.

Not such a good move

If that little bit of a botched launch may even have helped get attention for the Power Mac G5, in this week eight years later, Apple did the opposite. The company launched a good product, and they launched it without any mistakes that we know about, but it was a bad move. For on June 21, 2011, Apple announced Final Cut Pro X.

We'd argue that this wasn't the mistake, though. Certainly FCP X got panned, and it clearly was one of Apple's typical moves of stripping back key software to its basics before building it back up. On release, it was a good product, and now five years on it's very good again, but the problem is that it now barely matters whether it's good of bad.

The mistake Apple made was killing off its predecessor Final Cut Pro. It was a lightswitch change: from the release of the new version, you could no longer buy the old. Since film studios around the world were using it and were buying new seats, as it's called when you need extra copies for your new film editors, this forced companies to change to Final Cut Pro X -- except they didn't.

It's easy to say in hindsight that Apple made a mistake, but some of the greatest movie editors in Hollywood were saying that to them at the time. Ultimately, many just moved to Adobe Premiere instead, and unless Adobe does something really foolish, they aren't coming back.

Previously on Apple History

Listen, we obviously hope that you enjoy reading this series slicing through Apple History at least as much as we enjoy researching it. Yet if you're in a hurry, we can help.

That's the trailer to Pirates of Silicon Valley, a movie account of arrogant Steve Jobs and brat Bill Gates which premiered on TNT on June 20, 1999. We mentioned echoes and harmonics before, and here's another one: 12 years before Apple would alienate the film editors of Hollywood, this show won an Eddie award from the American Cinema Editors association. Richard Halsey won it in the category of Best Edited Picture Movie for Commercial Television. We don't know what he edited it on.

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)
  1. Avatar
    cashxx Junior Member Joined: Apr 13, 2009

    I think Pirates of Silicon Valley is still the best movie on the whole industry with Jobs, etc.

  2. Avatar
    OldMacGeek Forum Regular Joined: Aug 04, 2010

    Ah, eWorld . . .

    I was one of the first beta users, and was in the main chat room when they turned the lights out (I still have the chat log). Good times.

  3. Avatar
    coffeetime Grizzled Veteran Joined: Nov 15, 2006

    That floppy disk. It's so nostalgic. Miss my LCIII Mac.

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