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Jobs Opens Some Gates

Apple, wags say, is disobeying Newton and falling upward. Last week Apple Computer cofounder Steve Jobs made a surprising (to some Apple loyalists, shocking) announcement, that bitter rival Bill Gates of Microsoft will invest $150 million in struggling Apple, and the two firms will share some technologies. Apple also will install and promote Microsoft's Internet browser.

The move is good for investors, helps Apple, helps Microsoft, and should benefit Macintosh users.

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* Good for investors, initially, because Apple's stock rose sharply.

* Helpful to Apple because a much-needed infusion of cash assures the firm's short-term future. And it changes the public's perception of Apple as a lost cause.

Will the move reverse the computermaker's serious decline - $1.6 billion in losses over the past 18 months? Some analysts, wary after several "turnarounds" went sour, say no. Savvier heads are more hopeful. They say Steve Jobs's recruiting of major leaders in the computer industry to serve on Apple's board will enlist a lot of high-powered support.

* Helpful for Microsoft because it keeps alive a major customer. And Microsoft gains ground on rival Netscape Communications by winning the right to install its Web browser on all new Apple Macintoshes. And, if Microsoft helps save Apple, it can better argue to federal regulators that it's not a monopoly ripe for breakup.

That doesn't mean the Federal Trade Commission should stop watching the software giant carefully. Aside from Apple and a few other competitors, Microsoft provides the operating system and a majority of software applications for most computers. It's legally obligated not to snuff out competitors' software, and the FTC should make sure it doesn't.

* Finally - and most important - the consumer. Why should the casual computer user care that bitter rivals have formed an alliance? Why worry about whose name is on the machine and on its screen? The hopeful answer is that by pooling some resources, the companies will create superior products and services.

When it was first developed, the Mac operating system (OS), the basic software that controls all the other programs that run on a computer, was heralded for its simplicity and its graphics - and imitated by Microsoft's "Windows." Apple's OS made computers accessible to children and adults, even those who didn't think they could master a computer. Such mastery can open whole worlds of information and fast communication. That's why so many people wish Apple well.

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