Look out GeoCities, Hotmail and Blue Mountain Arts. Steve Jobs -- Apple's brand new permanent CEO -- sounded more like an Internet executive than a computer maker Wednesday as he unveiled plans for Apple.com that include integrating free email, e-cards and Web hosting with the company's upcoming operating system.
Speaking during his keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Jobs also said he would do something that the Mac faithful had been asking him to do for the past two-and-a-half years: remove the "interim" from his CEO title.
The move puts Jobs in an unprecedented position: simultaneously piloting two major tech companies that he founded, Apple Computer and Pixar, his Academy Award-winning computer animation studio.
"I hope that we've been able to convince the shareholders at Apple and at Pixar that maybe we can pull this dual CEO thing off," Jobs said.
Jobs had returned to the company in December of 1996 as a consultant, and eventually he prompted the ouster of then-CEO Gil Amelio. Jobs has been acting CEO of Apple since September of 1997, when he appointed himself acting chief.
Analysts began speculating about who would helm Apple on a permanent basis, however, that talk soon subsided as Jobs took an increasingly passionate role in the company he founded in 1976, completely revamping its product offerings with multihued translucent computers such as the iMac and iBook, and starting a string of profitable quarters. According to Jobs, Apple's past quarter was its most successful ever, in terms of unit sales.
Jobs' official return to the head of Apple wasn't much of a surprise to company watchers. Still, when Jobs announced the change, Mac loyalists in the audience leapt to their feet and began chanting "Steve."
As he usually does with surprise announcements, Jobs saved the nugget about his new permanent status until the very end of his speech.
Before the announcement, Jobs also unveiled other new products and initiatives that spotlighted Apple's plans to become all things to all consumers. Jobs announced a $200m (£124m) investment in EarthLink -- which will become Apple's partner in providing Internet access to Mac users -- and showed off the sleek features of the company's new user interface for its upcoming OS X operating system.
"It's true that Apple is the last company in our industry that creates the whole widget," Jobs said. But he said that also makes Apple completely responsible for customers' experiences without the need to get 10 companies in a room to agree on protocols.
Jobs said new Internet services would be integrated with its new operating system, joking that his company planned to take "unfair advantage" of being one of only two makers of widely-used OSes (the other being Microsoft).
The unveiling of the Internet features answers a question that's been on the minds of analysts, investors and customers for the past year -- ever since Apple rounded out its computer product line: how does the company maintain its momentum?
In the surest sign it's getting into the Web hosting business, Jobs introduced a set of services called iTools, which provide OS 9 users with space on Apple servers, where they can store 200 MB worth of files and their personal Web pages.
Jobs also introduced an initiative called iReview, a site where the company rates Web pages throughout the Internet, allowing consumers to chime in as well -- in the same way Amazon.com lets readers rate books. He also said the company had licensed lots of images and aimed to outdo other e-greeting companies by letting people customise their cards and include their own photos.
He also introduced a set of services called iTools, which include Kidsafe -- downloadable technology that gives children access only to 50,000 sites that have been deemed "kid-friendly" by Apple and some teachers and librarians. And he introduced a free email service similar to Hotmail using the mac.com domain.
Except for the announcement of his permanent CEO status, Jobs drew the most "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd during his unveiling of Aqua, a new user interface for Mac OS X. The new OS has an interface that looks like it belongs in an iMac, complete with control buttons, sliders, and scrolling bars that look like little pieces of hard candy that come in several colours.
Jobs showed off improvements designed to make the OS more logical, including a preview feature that lets users view thumbnail sketches of documents before opening them. Jobs also debuted a bevy of sliding drawers containing control commands designed to let non-techies easily manipulate their computers. One of the crowd's favorite improvements was the promise that the dreaded Apple bomb -- which appears when an application runs into trouble -- wouldn't crash the entire system.
"This is our foundation for the next decade of operating systems," Jobs said.
Also see Powering up Apple: Macworld Expo Special.