As the summer winds down, the hot breezes in Silicon Valley whisper all kinds of intriguing scenarios into the ears of pundits like John Dvorak. He revives the old Apple/Sun merger on the heels of Google CEO Eric Schmidt joining Apple's board of directors. Much has been written (TechMeme) in the last 24 hours commenting on this possibility. Some think they are connecting dots, but it's more a special kind of Silicon Valley Boolean pretzel logic. Sun has an alliance with Google (so far not much to write home about) and Google's CEO Eric Schmidt is on Steve Jobs' board. Dvorak suggests that Schmidt can be the dealmaker and would even be the right person to head up a Snapple.
"...with Eric Schmidt in the game as a middleman it's quite possible that he could take the reins of such a combined operation and make it work. In fact Schmidt is a more natural fit in such an arrangement than he is at Google."
Schmidt got his start at Sun, spending nearly 15 years with the company before a stint at Novell as CEO and then getting the Google gig. He has helped steer Google into the stratosphere, but Steve Jobs is the unquestioned King of Silicon Valley for his turnaround of Apple and Pixar play. Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's relatively new CEO, has made some of the biggest bets in the Valley in driving his company fully open source and evangelizing the idea of Sun as the infrastructure provider for the planet...and building the products. Sun and Google announced a multiyear partnership in October 2005 to help spread and develop each other's software, which includes OpenOffice.org, OpenSolaris and Java from Sun, and Google's Toolbar. Not exactly a home run. Now Schmidt has an Apple board seat. Is his next play to create or run Snapple as Dvorak suggests? That would be up to Steve Jobs, and you have to ask why he would want to take on Sun as his next project. The two companies share an R&D passion, but it's difficult to imagine Jobs focusing his attention on Sun and infrastructure versus, say, Disney, where he reigns as the largest shareholder, and Apple at the center of digital lifestyles.
Regarding the impact of Schmidt joining Apple's board, Om Malik thinks there is some real juice in the appointment, at Microsoft's expense:
It is hard to argue with the timing of the appointment, despite corporate PR speak. Microsoft’s ZUNE effort is coming soon, and this could mean a long drawn out, and costly skirmish for King Jobs. Bill’s boys are going to spend their enormous hoard of cash to buy into the digital media - music, movies and whatever - space. No one can outspend Microsoft, but one can outsmart them. An Apple-Google informal alliance is one way of taking on Microsoft and its coterie. As Valleywag puts it, “this has to be a lousy day at Microsoft HQ.”
Dana Gardner reflects that Apple will "cede to Google more of the online services world — including the hosting and creation of blogs, websites, business marketing and sales initiatives around ads/search, and productivity apps — and then Google cedes to Apple the music and video sales, as well as the creation of the ecology of controlled content delivered to the mobile-connected iPod/cell phone."
It's also hard to imagine a secret cabal of Google/Apple and via Dvorak Sun and via Jobs' holding, Disney, plotting to become the Microsoft of the first half of the 21st century--a super dominant force with massive share of market and ad dollars that can dominate for next two decades. Schmidt can be a solid, successful, rich, operationally savvy and plugged addition to Apple's board. His appointment could foster some projects between the two companies, and it will be friendlier between the two, at least for while. Schmidt seems capable of working with talent (Sergey and Larry...and now the true test, Steve Jobs), which is a critical skill in an era in which innovation in several dimensions is requisite for success, as in the case of Apple. But Google ceding to Apple music and video sales to Apple, as Dana suggests, wouldn't be in the best interest of Google shareholders. Apple buying into Google's suite of applications--not any time soon. In fact, most of them need the magic touch of Steve Jobs, who probably finds them aesthetically lame and user unfriendly, to make them more usuable by mere mortals. Of course, a healthy share of ad revenue would be good Apple.
Paul Kedrosky provides the acerbic perspective:
Given that it is the leaders of two of the stronger cults of personality in the Valley coming together, it might better be described as the heads of two particularly funky New Age cults finding one another on a long weekend at Esalen. Sure, it feels earth-shattering to the true believers, but the rest of us can be forgiven for having little interest in all the over-aggrandized silliness being spewed.