TV-PGMarch 23, 2001: Apple prepares for the Mac OS X rollout by expanding its tech support call center. Meanwhile, a couple of classic Jobs moments emerged from Wednesday's press briefing, and Motorola lops off another 4000 jobs, because why mess with tradition?...
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Apple: Ready For Trouble (3/23/01)
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Only one day left! Unless you're a software pirate, a developer with connections, a users group representative, a member of the press, or lucky enough to live near a Staples store run by people with an overly-lax definition of the phrase "Do Not Sell Until Saturday," tomorrow is the first day you can get your hands on Mac OS X. Yes, tomorrow marks the official kick-off of the Mac's second era: the Aqua Dynasty. According to faithful viewer dabiz, it also happens to be Alyson Hannigan's 27th birthday, but that's beside the point. (Or is it? Everyone knows that Sunnydale's cute-as-a-button spell-slinger uses a PowerBook, so a connection isn't impossible-- just very, very unlikely.)

But here's the thing about Mac OS X: there's UNIX in them thar hills. Mac OS X is one big, scary customer underneath the lickable surface, with all sorts of crazy system files splayed out all over the place. When it works, it's likely to be even easier to use than Mac OS 9, especially for newbies. When it doesn't, well... all the Mac experience in the world isn't likely to help you much, since the days of booting with Extensions off and rebuilding the desktop file have been relegated to the dustbin of techie history. Instead we may well be booting into single-user mode and running fsck at the command line (though we sincerely hope not). In any event, we're anticipating some far ickier troubleshooting sessions than we're used to under the "Classic" Mac OS. And evidently, Apple's anticipating them, too.

According to a Globe St. article, Apple has just leased another 39,000 square feet into which it can expand its call center in Austin, Texas. Reportedly this is an "18-month sublease" and purely a "temporary expansion," presumably in preparation for an increased call load following Mac OS X's release. However, "if demand remains high" (in other words, if Mac OS X-related tech support calls keep Apple's phones ringing off the hook), those extra 39,000 square feet might officially turn into permanent Apple digs.

We are, of course, reserving judgment on the crisis-situation user-friendliness of Mac OS X until we see what's up for ourselves. Our copy is currently on a FedEx truck somewhere between here and Pennsylvania, and it ought to make it into our hot little hands sometime tomorrow. Our PowerBook is prepped and ready, with Mac OS 9.1 on one partition and another just waiting to be Xified. Of course, we won't know how Mac OS X performs in a crisis until we have a crisis-- and if Apple did its job, that might take a long time indeed. Well, if the call center turns out not to need that extra 39,000 square feet for additional tech support personnel, we imagine it'd make a kickin' game room...


 
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"Do Not Provoke The CEO" (3/23/01)
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You know, we're really starting to regret not having been invited to Apple's big Mac OS X press briefing last Wednesday. What, no engraved personal invite from Steve, just because of the niggling little detail that we're not actually "press"? Just for that we're not inviting him to our next all-day Kevin Smith DVD-athon! After all, four hours of hoo-hah surrounding a product we've all been hearing about in one form or another since 1996 certainly had the potential to bore us silly, but don't forget: Steve was there. And where Steve goes, drama is sure to follow...

Most of what we've heard about the event is pretty much what you'd expect: seemingly endless instances of Apple's official celebratory horn-tooting about how the long-awaited release of Mac OS X ushers in a new era of personal computing with unprecedented elegance and ease of use, yadda yadda yadda. But faithful viewer Johnny Asbury spotted a couple of Jobsian nuggets-o'-fun glinting amidst the mountainous backdrop of marketing fluff, tagged onto the end of a Macworld article. Apparently His Royal Mercurialness mostly kept his scarier side under wraps, but on a couple of occasions he did his part to contribute to "a few tense moments" at the shindig.

One reporter was gauche enough to raise the subject of the rumored disbanding of the Cube development team (Alert Miss Manners! That's like talking about terminal diseases at a Debutante Ball!), to which Steve responded with "a denial... that anyone had been laid off." Take that how you will, since Steve isn't exactly known for being Truth Guy all the time. Another reporter failed to slip into the mood of the occasion; rather than celebrating Mac OS X's arrival, the journalist in question insisted on asking "about Apple's reliance on IBM and Motorola for PowerPC chips." Geez, some people really just don't know how to loosen up. In response, Steve reportedly got a wee bit grouchy, and simply replied, "You don't know what you're talking about."

What do you think-- was it just a meaningless emotional outburst, or an accidental slip of the tongue? After all, everybody knows that Apple is reliant on IBM and Motorola for PowerPC processors, so in what way, exactly, did that reporter not know what he or she was talking about? Unless, of course, Apple has something big up its sleeve, like an outright purchase of Motorola's entire PowerPC operation, or the long-rumored and dreaded "Bail To x86" plan. Believe whatever you like, of course, but the real lesson here is that the best way to get Steve to talk about something is to bombard him with annoying questions totally removed from the spirit of the occasion to which you've been invited. But don't blame us if he grabs a letter opener and goes for your throat.


 
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Still Cutting, Still Bleeding (3/23/01)
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It's kind of like watching a train derail in slow motion; we know we're witnessing a horrible event, but we simply can't look away. 2500 layoffs in January. 4000 more in February. 7000 just ten days ago. At that point, we were forced to assume that Motorola had enrolled in some kind of "Pink Slip of the Month" club, or maybe it was just an aggressively accelerating weight-loss program. At that rate, we had pretty much resigned ourselves to see perhaps another 13,000 jobs cut in April, 28,000 in May, and so on until the last man standing was in charge of turning out all the lights before throwing himself under a truck with a pink slip stapled to his shirt.

Instead, though, Motorola has sort of jumped ahead of schedule. According to a CNNfn article delicately pointed out to us by faithful viewer Sunflower, despite the fact that it's still March, the Big M has just shed yet another 4000 jobs from its increasingly slimmer frame. CNNfn claims that this latest round brings the total to "about 23,000" since December, so apparently we missed a few at some point along the line. (That's not hard for us to believe, given how often the headcount reductions are coming through; we briefly stopped watching Motorola last week to catch "The Simpsons," so we probably missed another 5000 jobs cuts during that half-hour break. And the remaining 500 pink slips could've snuck right by us one of those times we blinked.)

Thankfully (at least from a Mac user's perspective, if not necessarily a stockholder's one), these latest cuts are once again from Motorola's mobile phone end of the business, so they shouldn't directly affect the production of the PowerPCs that make our Macs go vrroom. Still, the company's accelerating spiral towards having a personnel directory that fits easily on a single piece of paper-- in 14-point type, no less-- has to be giving somebody at Apple a Maalox moment. Publicly, Steve Jobs continues to deny that there's any chance whatsoever that Mac OS X will ever run on x86 processors, but we sure hope Apple has some kind of Plan B up its sleeve. It's still way too early to start writing Motorola's obituary, of course, but if 23,000 job cuts in three months isn't valid cause for concern, the world's gotten far too optimistic for our tastes.


 
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