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Apple Fatigue sets in for some as company unveils latest plan

Is there a 12-step program for Apple Fatigue?

We want the Apple-troubles story to be over. We would prefer a happy ending, but more than anything we want a climax for this gut-churning soap opera.

We can't have it yet. This isn't some movie of the week that ends, happily or otherwise, at 11. It's real life. It's messy. It seems endless.

I pull a clipped-out magazine story from an overflowing Apple folder. It's from 1990, is titled, "Yet Another Strategy for Apple," and features a picture of former CEO John Sculley saying, "Apple always does its best when its back is to the wall."

Underneath that clipping is a story from 1992, from the same major business publication. This one is about "Apple's Plan to Survive and Grow," and in it an Apple "director of software" (who later went to Microsoft) explains why a batch of joint ventures with IBM will prove incredibly smart.

And Friday, as Apple executives hosted yet another conference call to explain yet another strategy and pile of layoffs, Apple Fatigue drained us.

But this story matters, because Apple matters.

Friday's announcements held few surprises and no stunners. It was more of the same, a beleaguered company doing the best it can with the few cards it holds.

Apple all but drove a stake into the heart of OpenDoc, a software technology that stemmed from the Apple-IBM alliance. OpenDoc always had a technical edge. But it lost to Microsoft, a more relentlessly focused software company back then, and now.

Apple, paring back to what it calls core markets, faces a terrifying balancing act. Cutting deeply was necessary to clean the wounds. But will the cuts go so deep that they bleed the patient dry? (Haven't we heard this before?)

We can't allow Apple Fatigue to dull us to the fact that layoffs are about human beings, about loss. In one sense, this round could not have come at a better time, given the torrid Silicon Valley economy that with luck should sponge up most of the departing talent in fairly short order.

I suspect that Apple's CEO, Gilbert F. Amelio, would be pleased if Apple Fatigue led the media to give the company more breathing room _ more space to move through what is either an endgame or stunning turnaround. Many of you would be pleased, too.

For those of you who simply don't care what happens to Apple, I sympathize. I think you should care, not just because people's lives are involved, but also because of what Apple and the Macintosh have meant to Silicon Valley and computing.

I'm weary of the saga, but not of the Mac. I'm weary of corporate knifings, but not of the company's focus on making technology something that is easy to use. I'm weary of wondering whether Apple will survive, but I'd be measurably less happy in a world where the insanely great were co-opted by the powerful or, worse, dismissed as, well, insane.

Will Apple make it? Beats me. I still think there's a shot, though.

And while my Apple Fatigue is especially draining today, I remember why this company holds my weary attention. I can't keep my mind off a company that seems equal parts brilliance, fuzziness and resilience, a perpetual-motion machine of promise and peril.

_ Write Dan Gillmor at the Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190; (408) 920-5016; fax (408) 920-5917; e-mail: dgillmorsjmercury.com

Web: http://www.sjmercury.com/business/gillmor

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