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On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple Paperback – April 7, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

It's hard to think of a company that has captured the public imagination as much as Apple Computer. The rise and fall of the business that single-handedly created the PC market and then let it slip away has been the fodder for several books, most notably Insanely Great by Steven Levy and more recently Jim Carlton's Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders. Now in On The Firing Line, former Apple CEO Gil Amelio tells his own story about his 500 days at Apple.

The book provides some insight into the significant events that occurred under Amelio's watch, such as Apple's failed in-house development of Copland, the search to license an operating system for the Macintosh, as well as details about those who would buy Apple including Sun Microsystems and Oracle. But the real focus of the book is Amelio's own frustrations in working with Apple's chaotic and undisciplined culture as well as Steve Jobs, the man who would eventually fire him. Although Amelio's account is at times overly self-serving, On the Firing Line is an interesting read that should interest most Macaholics. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A worthy addition to the growing body of history about the world'smost famous personal computing company." -- PC Week

"A fast-paced, heartfelt look at life as a Silicon Valley chieftain...Compelling." -- Peter Burrows, Business Week


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (April 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0887309194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0887309199
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,509,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Simmons on January 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
On the plus side, there is a lot of unintential comedy in this book. Gil is very impressed with himself, as this from page 1 will show:
"Apple seemed a natural, considering my background as a Ph.D. technologist with a number of patents and my reputation as a business leader who had established a notable record for transforming ailing companies."
Whether this confidence was justified can be discerned in many places in the book, but I will always treasure this one from page 187:
"Solaris, on the other hand, is based on a programming language called Unix..."
For those not technical enough to be in on the joke, Unix is an operating system, not a programming language. While your average man-on-the-street might make this mistake, for a computer company CEO to make it is pretty funny/pathetic.
For those more into human emotion than technical humor, here is a lot of spite in here, mostly directed at Steve Jobs, as shown by this from page 269:
"The success I was creating threatened to get in the way of his plans. Betrayal, assassination, trashing of reputations are all part of the everyday tool kit of a person obsessed with power, control, or revenge."
Even as I type this I confess that I cannot even begin to imagine what success Gil is referring to: the billion dollar losses? the massive layoffs? the plunging sales?
As a bonus, the book has some fascinating contradictions. Take this from page 273, regarding the deal with Microsoft:
"Eager for a dramatic move, he [Steve] called Bill Gates and gave him the deal I wouldn't, handing over everything...But he failed to get the one essential element...Instead he settled for cash, a sum Microsoft could write a check for without blinking.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Peter Clark on August 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
See Gil. See Gil run apple. See Gil get fired. Poor Gil.
This book has some interesting observations about apple culture, and a couple lessons for tech managers, but it's also full of self-congratulatory prose, with an occasional good dollop of self-pity. It's also written at around a 4th grade level - there were lots of opportunities for deeper analysis of what happened at apple, why Gil's strategies for turning the place around might have worked or might have failed, NeXT vs Be, and how apple changed as an organization. Unfortunately, Amelio and his co-author never delve into the details.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By on April 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Amelio seems totally honest in this book. He still doesn't get it though. He treated Apple like a company and not like the culture that it is. It took him half of his tenure to figure out that Apple had a cult status! He seems absolutely right about his description of Jobs. Amelio didn't seem nearly as pragmatic as Jobs is and that is why he didn't understand the company. But he tried. He really did. I wonder what he thinks now that Apple has had two very profitable quarters? Worth the price of admission.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The most accurate description of Amelio's tenure at Apple was his own observation on page 213: "I often think how wasteful it is that those with real capabilities should doubt their abilities, while bunglers seem so damn sure of themselves." Since the entire saga lacks a sense of irony or any shred of introspection it will serve just fine as his epitaph. The book deserves a solid 10 as a reminder of why management gets a bad name.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By on April 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
There is often a great chasm between truth and honesty. Amelio may well provide what he sees as an "honest" perspective of events at Apple, but the only truth in this book is Amelio's self-admitted portrayal that he was out-of-touch with the majority of Apple employees and did not have the leadership or a command of authority to execute change. Amelio uses this book to publicly claim responsibility for everything good at Apple the last couple years, and readily falls on a sword for the bad. Unfortunately, he is always quick to point out precisely on whose sword he has fallen in a less-than-subtle attempt to blame others for his fundamental failure to lead. There are numerous inconsistencies and half-truths to stories he recounts; and it's more interesting what he "forgets" to tell: costly executive Christmas parties; a million-dollars-a-year personal "Image Trainer;" the Apple-paid price of the Tahoe vacation retreat; and on and on and on ... Amelio goes into lengthy details of managers and employees disregarding his direct commands. These lambastings do not read as the critisisms they are intended, rather as further examples of what a leader is not. This story, while titillating as an inside peepshow of Apple, is really nothing more than a public display of modern day spin control by executive who failed to cut the mustard. While reading the excuses, half-truths, and outright errors, I couldn't help but think of the many times I've read the old bathroom wall saying: "Here I sit all broken hearted, tried to ..." I can only recommend this book to those who enjoy fiction.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joaquin Menchaca on April 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I know he seems rather naive and in a serious mode of self pity, but Jobs is infamously known for getting under people's skin and turning them inside out. He can make you a true believer, a zealot, or fill you with such dour disposition that you'd even contemplate suicide. He's that powerful. And it looks like Gil is caught up in that distortion field to his determent, so cut him a break please.

Now I was there before and after Amelio was there, when things were in dire straits. My manager in a team meeting would ask "Common sense, and why is there none at Apple?" When in a rare moment, all of the QA divisions would say thumbs down to shipping the buggy OS, the infamous Dave Nagel would say ship it anyways. The local community college in Cupertino (who dearly love Macs) had actually put a purchase freeze on Macs. I recall Amelio relaying a story about him trying out the new Macs at his desk, and had it crash all the time; he understood there was a serious problem and tried to do something about it, but unfortunately there was Nagel and others. Some engineers' attitudes was the workaround for the bug was to "buy a new computer". Now Nagel is off to Palm to destroy drive that into the ground.

Other infamous people were Ike Nassi (a.k.a. Ike Nasty) who was known for gauging funding from the TCP/IP stack (OpenTransport) and spending on pet projects he was dazzled with. OpenTransport later became affectionately called BrokenTransport internally.

Gil has account for dealing with these two infamous characters and others, and it is rather enlightening. I only wish he had the minerals to fire their butts.
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