Apple's software chief quits as iOS eats Lion

By Jonny Evans

Major Apple [AAPL] news this morning is the departure of Apple's OS X chief, Bertrand Serlet, who is leaving the company. His departure comes as Apple prepares to introduce Mac OS X Lion and as it continues to develop its giant US data center, also expected to unleash a new era of connected computing. Serlet's departure reflects a wider change at the company.

As senior vice president of Software Engineering, Serlet has led Apple's Software Engineering group for years, reporting directly to CEO, Steve Jobs. Serlet is a key player in the Apple ecosystem -- he came to the company with Jobs in 1997 and has been deeply involved in the development of Mac OS X. He even has a connection to the famed Xerox PARC, where he spent four years before joining Jobs' NeXT in 1989.


[ABOVE: Bertrand Serlet]

Succession planning

Apple has planned the change, I think. Serlet will be replaced by Craig Federighi, Apple's vice president of Mac Software Engineering, who will assume Serlet's responsibilities and will also report directly to Jobs. An expert in Internet services, Federighi has been managing the Mac OS software engineering group for the past two years.

"I've worked with Steve for 22 years and have had an incredible time developing products at both NeXT and Apple, but at this point, I want to focus less on products and more on science," said Serlet in a statement. "Craig has done a great job managing the Mac OS team for the past two years, Lion is a great release and the transition should be seamless."

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Federighi also has a NeXT connection. He worked at NeXT before taking a short stint at Apple. He then spent a decade at Ariba where he held several roles including vice president of Internet services and chief technology officer. In 2009 he was bought back to Apple to lead the company's Mac OS X engineering team.

Joining the dots

This is extremely interesting. Mac OS X Lion is arguably the most connected Apple OS yet, and the fact that the future leader for the company's software development effort has wide experience in Internet services and software as service packages hints at future developments for Apple.

[Updated:] It is also worth noting the proximity of Serlet's departure with the 35th anniversary of Apple on April 1 this year. This is worth reflecting on as some may recall just five years ago, in 2006, when Apple lost two key executives, Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein. Both men quit on the same day, April 1, the thirtieth anniversary of Apple. And this was seen by some as a protest vote of some kind by some developers.

[Above: Serlet introduces Federighi to demonstrate Snow Leopard. He's a good public speaker, right? He also says "cool" a lot.]

While at Ariba, Federighi created one  of the world's first commercial grade Web services, the Ariba Supplier Network. This suggests Federighi has a good insight into enterprise and business class solutions. He was included in Supply & Demand Chain Executive's prestigious annual Practitioner Pros to Know list of pioneering industry professionals in 2004.

Serlet's departure comes as Apple's software teams continue development of Mac OS X Lion, the latest version of the company's operating system. This will be festooned with features and some of the philosophies found inside Apple's mobile operating system, iOS. Both share the same NeXT/OS X roots developed by Serlet and his teams.

Speculation as to the reasons for Serlet's departure is inevitable. Serlet may have felt there was nowhere left to rise within the company he helped turn around; equally, his departure may mark a changing of the guard as Apple focuses its efforts on the development of solutions for the 'Post PC' age, though I'm not convinced that's the case.

Some will also wonder if Apple made any attempt to woo Fotopedia President and CEO, Jean Marie Hullot, across to help fill Serlet's shoes.

Hullot is also a respected former NeXT developer who for many years led Apple's influential French software development team. He worked as CTO of Apple's Application Division between 2001 and 2005, where he led iCal development. (That French connection, incidentally, is why Apple's Jobs announced iCal at France's AppleExpo, Paris).

There's another interesting twist to the Serlet story: Apple's data center.

Pervasive or invasive? Apple takes to the cloud

Originally scheduled to open for business late last year, this is now expected to launch in spring. According to Bernstein Research's Toni Sacconaghi, when complete this will be among the "largest such facilities in the world."

We still don't know for sure what Apple's massive investment in the data center is precisely for. Many consider it part of the company's attempt to launch iTunes streaming, music locker and advanced MobileMe services. It is part of a massive investment on behalf of Apple, which spent an astonishing $1.7 billion on IT assets in 2010. The company clearly has a big plan, with Internet services an integral part of this plan.

Sacconaghi says Apple intends offering a range of differentiated services, including much-improved eBooks, video and online ads services; cloud-based sync and file storage; music and video streaming services and -- possibly -- voice interface and navigation services, leveraging Siri and PlaceBase to take on Google's own navigation services for Android devices.

That last part -- a move to development of infrastructure to support voice-based services -- makes me ask if such an implementation also supports a future Apple move to introduce a stripped-down, voice-activated iPhone nano?

Perhaps Serlet knows, but as Apple prepares to ground for a post-PC age, it seems of some interest that its software teams will now be led by a gentleman who has wide experience of Internet services development.

This may well suggest the future of Apple will increasingly lie in the cloud, with its product range increasingly abandoning PC hardware in favor of a growing range of thin client devices from which users can access their software, services and data from wherever they happen to be.

What are your thoughts on Serlet's departure and the future of Apple in a post-PC age? Let me know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.

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