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Author(s):    Josh Hyatt, Globe Staff Date: February 11, 1994 Page: 61 Section: BUSINESS

All Bob Doyle wanted, he says, was to get everybody in one room last summer so they could hash out their differences and return the Boston Computer Society to its former glory. It was, after all, the place where Apple Computer Inc. introduced its revolutionary Macintosh computer about a decade ago. Just last year it hosted John Sculley, then-chairman of Apple Computer Inc. and Bill Gates, founder of mighty Microsoft Corp. But membership was down to 24,000 -- from 31,000 four years ago -- and internally ''the dissension had just gotten to be too much,'' said Doyle, a veteran member. ''I just wanted it to be aired.'' He certainly got his wish. And then some.

Some of the activists whom Doyle invited blamed BCS president Bob Grenoble. On a videotape of the gripe sessions several called for Grenoble's removal. This week that sentiment spread to the group's board of directors, which said it would not renew Grenoble's contract in May.

"I really don't understand it," Grenoble said. "I guess it just wasn't a good fit."

Indeed the man who was supposed to save the Boston Computer Society from becoming irrelevant in a swiftly changing high-technology climate has fallen victim to an even more pervasive enemy: the group itself.

"There are a core of long-time members who are computer people, and Bob is not a computer person," said board member Louise Sacco, who counts herself a Grenoble supporter but voted against renewing his contract. "There is a conflict there that needs to be resolved."

During Grenoble's tenure members describe an organization where rival factions have created a debilitating paralysis. One example: The 17-year-old group had nowhere to go when the lease on its Cambridge headquarters expired last October.

Grenoble "listened to activists and took their advice, when they did not represent the group as a whole," said Ilene Hoffman, a Needham consultant who quit her job of helping run a BCS bulletin board in February 1993. "He never should have been hired."

Grenoble said criticism "goes with the territory. I'm not dealing with politics. That is not what I'm here for."

Such thinking could only have contributed to his demise.

Grenoble got a hint of what he was up against last August when he admitted he mostly used his computer for writing and found a pen and calculator more suitable for balancing his checkbook. Harsh messages about Grenoble appeared on computerized bulletin boards.

In a telephone interview, Gale, who was elected chairman last month, explained that he did not criticize Grenoble because "I know what newspaper reporters do." When pressed for his opinion of Grenoble's comments, he warned that if the topic was not changed, "I am finished with this conversation." He later said the group needed better public relations. "We used to get many members who joined after reading about us in newspapers and magazines."

Sacco, who was one of nine members elected to the board in December, observed that "the people who are most active in BCS are the real computer people whose main interest in life is computers. Their voices are the loudest."

Grenoble has been unable to quiet them or broker any kind of peace -- between computer lovers and computer users, IBM fans and Apple adherents -- technology has created led to more options for persons seeking computer advice.

"When we were started in 1977 we rode the growth of the computer industry, and we had relatively little competition in terms of user's groups," said Gale. "But now we don't know what business we're in."

To be sure, the group's problems were already abundantly evident when it recruited Grenoble -- a surprise choice because of his background as a professional administrator, rather than a technoweenie -- to take charge in 1992. "There are many many constituencies, and it gets very time-consuming dealing with them," said Tracy Licklider, Grenoble's predecessor.

Since its founding in 1977 by adolescent computer jock Jonathan Rotenberg, the BCS has spawned countless groups, which are organized around users of certain computers, software or technologies. Those organizations sometimes develop their own sources of income -- the Macintosh group, for instance, offered software -- and publish their own magazines and newsletters. Some, such as the IBM group, even have their own offices.; Macintosh aficianados hold forth in the Porter Square section of Cambridge.

About a year ago the BCS found it would have to vacate its central office in Kendall Square. A real estate committee was formed to find a spot where the entire organization could be brought together. By September there was still no agreement. Grenoble said he wanted a cheaper site in Waltham, but the committee ultimately recommended a Newton location. During negotiations, that office fell through "because the landlord didn't realize we had as many meetings as we did," said Grenoble.

As a result, the group did not actually move until this month, incurring penalities. Furthermore Gale said that because "we need a site that is accessible by public transportation" -- a requirement mandated by the board, members say -- it has also retained its Porter Square locale. Members say the group is also locked into an expensive lease, which has two years to run.

Even Grenoble's detractors credit him with having added several much-needed membership services, such as insurance. He also cut publications from 14 to 5, infuriating some members, and reinvigorated the group's annual trade show.

Gale, a 12-year BCS member, most recently led the committee that nominated candidates to fill nine openings on the board. But, according to Sacco, most of those candidates were rejected. "The slate offended the activists," she said.

According to Gale, it may take a year for the BCS to restructure and begin to identify new leadership. Meanwhile, members have already become quick to note that his Marshfield-based company, MBO Services, makes money selling ad space in two BCS publications. "I don't know how much of a problem that is," Sacco admitted.

Gale insisted that it poses no difficulty. "Everyone has a conflict of interest," he said. "Sometimes you know about it, and sometimes you don't."

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