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Apple Switches Its Core

When I note that people were surprised by this news, I must include myself among them. You can hear what a bad pundit I am by listening to a panel discussion led by industry analyst Phil Leigh a week before Apple's conference. (Scroll down to "May 31, 2005: Our expert panel discusses Apple and new Steve Jobs book" for a choice of downloadable or streaming audio formats.)

Jobs's Other Big Speech

I happened to be in the Bay Area the same week as WWDC, but not for business -- this was part of a vacation. The trip concluded with a stop in Palo Alto to see my sister-in-law graduate from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business (way to go, Laura!).

And the commencement speaker? None other than Steve Jobs. For a brief moment, I thought, "Great, I can't escape my work at all!" But the speech was the rare bit of commencement oratory that was both memorable and discussion-worthy. Here's coverage from the Chronicle and from Stanford's own news service.

Jobs talked in much more personal terms than the average CEO does -- about how his adoption as a newborn (not by his biological mother's first choice of parents) almost fell through, why he decided to drop out of Reed College and what courses he wound up "dropping in" on afterwards, why being fired from Apple in 1985 turned out to be a good thing, and what it was like to spend a day thinking he had three to six months left to live. (Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, but it took a second test to identify it as a treatable form.)

The overall message -- "To thine own self be true" -- wasn't exactly new, but the path Jobs took to get there sure was. At times, I wondered if he'd cross the "too much information" line that nobody ever seems to spot until they've passed it. (Fortunately, he didn't.)

Jobs's address lacked any overt plug for Apple products, but there was no need -- university provost John Etchemendy did the job in a glowing introduction that cited Apple's successes. For example, Etchemendy praised iTunes for allowing people to download -- "legally," he emphasized -- songs off the Internet.

I couldn't miss hearing some snickers and laughter from the assembled students at that last line. To put this as kindly as possible, there still seems to be plenty of potential for growth in the market for paid music downloads.

A More Open Office

No, I'm not talking about the upcoming OpenOffice 2.0 release (although that update to the open-source productivity suite is on my list of review topics for this summer). Microsoft, the company that essentially owns this category of software -- thanks in no small measure to the way it's kept its file formats closed and proprietary -- now says it will fully document these formats when they're revised in the upcoming Office 12 release.

The news came at the beginning of this month in Office developer Brian Jones's blog on Microsoft's developer-network site.

Here's the important bit:

"Open Format: These formats use XML and ZIP, and they will be fully documented. Anyone will be able to get the full specs on the formats and there will be a royalty free license for anyone that wants to work with the files."

This, if done as described there, will solve one of the biggest annoyances in computing -- the inability of other programs to read and write Office files properly. Thus far, such competing developers as Corel, Sun Microsystems, Lotus, Apple and DataViz have had to use partial documentation from Microsoft and lots of trial and error to piece together their own Office file translators. As a result, these solutions are often less than fully reliable (not that a copy of Microsoft Office itself can't occasionally have trouble opening documents created in other versions of the site.)

Jones's blog entry also points to additional Microsoft documentation of the new Office 12 format -- in the form of links to Word files that may or may not be readable in other word processors.

Thoughts? Comments? E-mail me at

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