After a few minutes of pleasantries—far more than Jobs usually engaged
in—he abruptly announced the reason for his visit. He wanted Amelio to
help him return to Apple as the CEO. “There’s only one person who can rally
the Apple troops,” Jobs said, “only one person who can straighten out the
company.” The Macintosh era had passed, Jobs argued, and it was now time for
Apple to create something new that was just as innovative.
“If the Mac is dead, what’s going to replace it?” Amelio asked. Jobs’s reply didn’t
impress him. “Steve didn’t seem to have a clear answer,” Amelio later said.
“He seemed to have a set of one-liners.” Amelio felt he was witnessing Jobs’s
reality distortion field and was proud to be immune to it. He shooed
Jobs unceremoniously out of his office.
By the summer of 1996 Amelio realized that he had a serious problem. Apple was
pinning its hopes on creating a new operating system, called Copland, but Amelio
had discovered soon after becoming CEO that it was a bloated piece of vaporware
that would not solve Apple’s needs for better networking and memory protection,
nor would it be ready to ship as scheduled in 1997. He publicly promised that
he would quickly find an alternative. His problem was that he didn’t have one.
So Apple needed a partner, one that could make a stable operating system,
preferably one that was UNIX-like and had an object-oriented application layer.
There was one company that could obviously supply such software—
NeXT—but it would take a while for Apple to focus on it.
Apple first homed in on a company that had been started by Jean-Louis Gassée, called
Be. Gassée began negotiating the sale of Be to Apple, but in August 1996 he overplayed
his hand at a meeting with Amelio in Hawaii. He said he wanted to bring his fifty-person
team to Apple, and he asked for 15% of the company, worth about $500 million. Amelio
was stunned. Apple calculated that Be was worth about $50 million. After a few offers and
counteroffers, Gassée refused to budge from demanding at least $275 million. He thought that
Apple had no alternatives. It got back to Amelio that Gassée said, “I’ve got them