Former Apple CEO reveals his biggest mistake

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Apple should have adopted the Intel architecture when it had the chance, former chief John Sculley said Tuesday.

Apple should have adopted the Intel architecture when it had the chance, former Apple leader John Sculley said Tuesday.

In the late-1980s, when Apple was using the Motorola 68000 series chips and considering its next step, Intel co-founder Andy Grove tried to convince the company to migrate to Intel chips, Sculley told a standing-room-only crowd at the Silicon Valley 4.0 conference, held at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif.

An experienced team from Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple studied the idea but turned it down. Apple concluded that Intel's CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) architecture ultimately would not be able to compete against RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processors, which had a more advanced instruction set, he said. Apple later adopted RISC.

"That's probably one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made, not going to the Intel platform," said Sculley, Apple's former chairman and CEO, now a partner in New York investment firm Sculley Brothers.

As it turned out, Intel was able to keep its CISC architecture and bring the RISC instruction set into it. What Apple had underestimated was the power of Intel's overall system as a manufacturer, bringing billions of dollars to bear on the problem and solving it through evolution, Sculley said.

"They never had to do a heart transplant," he said.

Had it gone to the Intel platform, Apple would have had more options, he said. For one thing, not embracing the endless commoditization of Intel-architecture chips meant Apple couldn't compete on price against "the Dells of the world," he said. The die was cast. Apple took another path and ended up a different kind of company, Sculley said.

A smaller one, perhaps.

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