SAN FRANCISCO — It was like a love-in.
As Steve Jobs strolled across the auditorium stage of the George Mosconi Center in San Francisco last week, the enthusiastic response of the crowd was more befitting a rock star than a computer geek.
Then again, this is the late '90s, when computer geeks are like rock stars, if not more so.
Nor did Mr. Jobs disappoint his audience, gathered for the Seybold San Francisco publishing conference. He ticked off a list of good news and product improvements: best share results ever, in-stock inventory down to less than a day (Dell, Jobs said, still has about a week's worth of inventory), the new QuickTime4 software to take on the RealPlayer juggernaut, the impressive results of the year-old iMac, the dazzling new iBook laptop, and (saving the best for last) the new G4 - Apple's top-line office product, which claims to be 2-1/2 times faster than the fastest Pentium chip.
Jobs previewed a new commercial about the very fast G4 that showed it surrounded by tanks because the government had to protect it for national security reasons. The advertisement concluded by saying, "The Pentium III? Well, it's harmless." The crowd thundered its approval.
And as soon as Jobs finished, Seybold participants flooded into the exhibition hall to see the new Apple products. After all the turmoil of the past decade, the struggle to regain legitimacy, the CEO musical chairs game, and the return of Jobs to the company he co-founded, Apple was really and truly back. And everyone in the place knew it.
But no one in the hall mentioned the company that could benefit the most from Apple's new successes. Nor did the news media touch on it. Yet, the very absence of the company's name during Jobs's speech, when he maligned Intel every chance he could, should have been a clue.
The company? Microsoft.
One reason that Microsoft finds itself in court so often is that federal Justice Department lawyers think there is a little too much power concentrated in the Redmond, Wash., company. State attorneys-general lawyers feel much the same way.
So when Jobs says Apple is back, it makes it a lot easier for Microsoft to argue that it is not trying to turn the computer/software/Internet industry into a monopoly.
That's probably one of the biggest reason that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates loaned his old buddy Jobs about $600 million a few years ago and hired more programmers to beef up its Apple line of products.
But let's not spoil the celebration. Apple is back. And ignore that man behind the curtain.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society