Remembering The Death Of Apple. New Lessons.

As I was reading the media death knells of Dell Computer, I remembered it was about 10 years ago when Apple almost died.

How many deaths can one company endure? Plenty, if Apple’s success and Dell’s woes are to be considered.

Regardless, it was the mid 1990s and Apple was nearly dead. Said who?

Nearly everyone except Apple and Steve Jobs.

I walked into a Borders Book Store to pick up a gift and a couple of magazines and saw the infamous Wired Magazine cover.

There it was, right on the cover—Apple’s multicolored logo surrounded by a wreath of barbed wire and the heading, “Pray.”

It will be 10 years ago this December that Apple announced a buyout of Steve Job’s NeXT Computer company.

Apple’s own future operating system, Copland, was a mess and going nowhere fast.

Going somewhere fast was Apple’s declining market share, revenue, and profits. There was little market share, shrinking revenue, and no profits.

Apple’s Copland was Microsoft’s Longhorned Vista. The future OS that learned to bleed the owner dry.

Prior to, during, and after Apple bought NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back into the Apple fold, the bells were sounding an impending death, funeral, and burial.

Apple was dying. It was all over but the announcement. What happened?

First, a palace coup. Steve Jobs threatened to walk because Apple’s management team was delusional and incompetent.

The Board of Directors kicked out the old, and NeXT’s management team set up shop in Cupertino. Steve Jobs was back.

The rest, is history and future. More on that in a moment.

What was going on back then that caused the headlines, the fears, the bad products?

Microsoft’s Windows 95 walked all over the Mac. Where Apple’s market share and profits once soared (more the latter than the former), Windows new version took big bites of the Mac’s domain.

Compared to Windows 95’s colorful look and new-found ease of use, the Mac looked old, tired, stale. It was.

The ill-fated Mac OS licensing scheme was doomed; sucking profits and sales from Apple and diverting the latter to other Mac makers.

From 1995 on, the headlines, quotes, and jeers were deafening. Apple was doomed.

Early in 1996, Fortune Magazine wrote, “By the time you read this story, the quirky cult company… will end its wild ride as an independent enterprise.”

Apple was expected to die. Even Microsoft was dancing on the not-yet-ready-for-the-grave Apple.

CTO Nathan Myhrvold said, “The NeXT purchase is too little too late. Apple is already dead.”

You get the picture. Times were grim.

In mid 1997, Wired Magazine’s James Daly wrote an article with the headline, “101 Ways To Save Apple”  and he stuck this one at Number One: “Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game.”

Of course, the list reads like a What Every Company Should Do When Things Aren’t Going Well list.

Fire some people. Hire some people. Apologize to customers. Sell yourself. Port Mac OS to Intel. Hmmmm.

Get Ben and Jerry’s to name an ice cream flavor after Apple. Sure. That would’ve helped.

Number 50 was a favorite: “Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants…” Talk about deja vu all over again.

Others are just as memorable and forgettable. Number 62 is “Build a computer that doesn’t crash.” Worse was Number 81, “Merge with Sega.”

Who can forget the precursor to iLife? It’s Number 83. “Develop proprietary programs that run only on Macs… crow about them.”

Sounds familiar, right?

Number 87 was prophetic. “Price the CPUs to sell.” Today we have a $599 Mac mini. It sells. As do all Macs 10 years later.

It’s a list you’ll love to walk through. Apple nearly died in the mid 1990s. The reasons for near-death are many and varied.

So are the reasons for Apple’s survival and prosperity.

Wired’s Number 101 had a curious, prophetic tone to it. “Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about.”

Click here for David Pogue’s NY Times piece on the days when Apple hit bottom, but click here first for Wired’s 101 Ways to Save Apple.

It’s more fun.






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