Al Gore: Asset or liability?

The former vice president joins Apple Computer's board. Will he help the company, or serve as a lightning rod for criticism?

Few additions to a company's board cause even the barest ripple of reaction from shareholders, never mind customers.

But few companies are the lightning rod that is Apple Computer Inc., and few board additions list "vice president of the United States" on their resume.

When Apple said March 19 that former Vice President Albert Gore Jr. had been elected to its board, the initial reaction was that of surprise, with some mild approval and criticism.

Famous arch-conservative and longtime Mac user Rush Limbaugh promptly posted his dismay on his Web site, characterizing it as "devastating."

"I have to see if one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch," Limbaugh wrote. "Gosh, I hope not, and I hope he doesn't have anything to do, other than ceremonial duties, with this outfit."

Reaction in forums on the Mac Web was considerably more fierce.

"What an embarrassment and a joke!" wrote one poster at The Mac Observer site. "Apple -- get real! Or do you want failure??"

Wrote another: "Now tech pundits can write about the death of Apple and I will believe it! Could they have chosen a more dislikable individual?"

A few were so distraught they said they were ready to abandon Mac altogether.

"I am definitely going to re-evaluate the use of Apple products," someone wrote. "I suspect I will start reviewing WINDOWS and DELL!"

Not all were unhappy, though. Plenty of posters cheered the move: "Adding a former vice president of the United States is smart, regardless of political affiliation. Adding a former vice president of the United States who is supportive of and savvy about high technology [and Apple] is brilliant."

Many of those who favored Gore on the board expressed hope that his many years of service with the federal government could help Apple: "If the move helps Apple swim the shark-infested waters of Washington concerning upcoming legislation in all areas of technology, then I cannot see any harm," one poster wrote.

More startling than the content of comments was their number. By last Sunday evening, The Mac Observer site had recorded 163 comments on the Gore article it posted Thursday. Few Mac Observer articles exceed 20 reader comments.

A Gore thread in the Macintosh News Network forum had 236 posts, while a thread at had an astonishing 940.

Few of the comments, however, focused on Gore's qualifications to serve or whether those qualifications could help Apple.

For example, most of the posts on Slashdot's site debated Gore's well-known but misinterpreted comment about inventing the Internet.

Gore's actual quote was, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet," referring to his efforts to procure financing for the nascent network that later evolved into the Internet.

Political opponents and late-night comedians transformed Gore's statement into the joke that continues to endure.

Not surprisingly, partisan politics dominated the comments on Gore, both pro and con. Discussions often veered off into vitriolic debates over the disputed 2000 election that Gore lost to George W. Bush, and the consequences of the president's victory.

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