Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Steve and Steve: The visionary and the tech-wizard

Apple Computer was founded by two young engineers, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Since Jobs died in 2011, the media has spent a great deal of time publishing stories about his life, his brilliance, and, most of all, his money. The primary characteristic of Jobs was, according to the main stream media, that he had a lot of money. When he died, Jobs had a net worth of more than $10 billion.

When a person is very wealthy--especially when he happens to die--he automatically becomes a genius as well, as is shown by this passage from http://www.bornrich.com/steve-jobs.html, typical of encomiums paid to Jobs recently:
Steve Jobs was a tech-wizard and visionary who revolutionized every industry he touched in his lifetime. Starting from personal computers with Apple, to user interface with Macintosh and I Pod/Pad, Animation with Pixar, and the music industry with I Pod and I Tunes, he set new benchmarks to be followed.
This description, which contains what most people believe about Jobs, is not factual. To begin with, it describes Jobs as a tech-wizard and a visionary. These are terms commonly applied to Steve Jobs, but they are not accurate. The word "tech-wizard" describes someone who uses technology in a new and brilliant way, in fact in a seemingly magical way.


John von Neumann was a brilliant mathematician who applied mathematics to physics, economics, and computer technology. He was a tech-wizard. Alan Turing was a mathematician who made valuable contributions to computer theory. He was a tech-wizard. Nicola Tesla was a physicist and engineer who made valuable contributions in the field of electricity and wrote numerous patents for electrical devices. Tesla was a tech-wizard.

Steve Wozniak is a tech-wizard. Wozniak put together the first Apple computer from parts that he assembled himself. Not only did he create the first practical personal computer, he made it so inexpensively that ordinary people, who never before thought of owning a computer, could afford to buy it.


Steve Jobs sold the computer that Wozniak built. That does not qualify him as a tech-wizard, but it might make him a visionary. In business, a visionary is a person who has an idea that becomes reality. Henry Ford was a visionary--as well as an engineer. Ford envisioned an automobile that could be owned by the average man. He created that automobile and mass-produced it.

Steve Jobs resembled Henry Ford in that way. He was a salesman and an industrialist. He made inexpensive computers and mass-produced them. He built a large company based on classic principles of profit and loss. Jobs succeeded in making a product that was more valuable than the sum of its parts.

Jobs sold 100 Apple 1 computers for $50,000 before the first one was built. There were a lot of false starts. Hewlett-Packard and Commodore both had the chance to make the Apple 2, but neither company wanted it. The Apple was too small, too cheap for Hewlett-Packard. It was too complex for Commodore--it had color!

Jobs also made the deal with Mike Markkula that set up Apple Computer with $250,000. Wozniak did not want to run a company. He just wanted to be an engineer. The other thing that Wozniak wanted to do was enjoy life. He was married and passed up a chance to move to Corvallis, Oregon, with Hewlett-Packard because his wife didn't want to move. If he had moved, Apple Computer would never have been born because he was the soul of Apple Computer during its first few years.

But Wozniak left Apple Computer when he became convinced that the company was going in the wrong direction, as he put it. He obviously disliked the Macintosh. I think what he disliked most about the company's direction was its turning away from making a game-playing machine toward making a business machine in competition with IBM.

For game designers, the decision to give Macintosh a black and white monitor--and a small one at that--was a deal-breaker. Wozniak did not want to run the company but he had definite ideas about how it should be run. Gamers deserted the Macintosh en masse and started writing for IBM, which still had a color monitor. Some Apple employees left the company to start Electronic Arts, where they could concentrate on making games. They eventually founded 3DO and produced a game console to compete with Sony and Microsoft.

Macintosh Windows

What about those other inventions that bornrich.com mentioned in conjunction with Steve Jobs? Jobs did make the decision to use a graphic interface for the Macintosh, but he "borrowed" the idea from Xerox Parc, a research and development center set up by Xerox in silicon valley. The engineers there developed a graphic interface, but Xerox did not want to use it. Jobs asked them if he could use it for the Macintosh, and they agreed, but Jobs never formalized the acquisition with Xerox, which actually owned the patents, if any. Jobs was a visionary in the sense that he promoted the inventions of others.

The decision to copy the Xerox interface, without permission, on the Macintosh was a serious blunder. Years later, a patent court refused to rule that Microsoft had infringed on the Macintosh interface, even though they copied it, feature for feature, detail by detail, because Apple did not actually own the rights to the Macintosh graphic interface. Jobs' decision to do things on the cheap wound up costing the company billions in lost patent revenues.

Jobs had the persuasive capabilities of a great salesman, but lacked the understanding of engineering that Wozniak possessed. Some claimed that Jobs created a reality distortion field by talking to you until you believed that whatever he was telling you about was actually possible, even if it wasn't. Jobs abandoned the Lisa project to build the Macintosh. This trait of unreliability and questions about his business judgment led to his firing from the company he founded. The Apple Board of Directors asked Jobs to hire a successor, John Scully, then fired Jobs and promoted Scully to CEO.

Wozniak Leaves Apple

Wozniak claimed that many of Apple's problems, including the failure of the Lisa and the lukewarm reception of the Macintosh, were due to Jobs' youthful enthusiasm. Wozniak pointed out that Jobs built the Apple Macintosh too cheaply. Jobs decided to make a small-screen version with very little computing power. The memory the Mac shipped with was so small that a user had to buy more memory before he could actually use the machine. Wozniak considered the Jobs version of the Mac "lousy".

Jobs intended the Macintosh to compete with the PCs that ran with operating systems licensed by Microsoft. He felt he could dispense with the large screen. In actuality, the small screen was a handicap for nearly every use to which the Macintosh could be put. In particular, game developers stopped designing games for the Macintosh due to its lack of color. Jobs thus abandoned many of the faithful developers who had made Apple successful.

Jobs invested $10 million in the animation division of LucasArts in 1985. George Lucas had a cash flow problem and had to sell the division at a bargain price. The new company was called Pixar. Jobs was interested in the company as a computer hardware company and possible successor to Apple, not as an entertainment company that would produce blockbuster movies. As such, Jobs's vision was a failure. He considered selling the company, of which he had become the majority stockholder, to Microsoft.

Pixar struggled as a hardware company until Disney released Toy Story in 2005. The movie was an instant hit. Jobs then began negotiations with Disney to sell Pixar, eventually getting a price of more than $7 billion. If there was ever a case of a person being hit by a money truck--becoming rich almost by accident--this was one.

At the same time, Jobs was managing another company, NeXT Computer. He intended this company also to be a successor to Apple Computer. NeXT, too, failed as a hardware company, but proved successful for Jobs. The problem with NeXT was its entry into an already crowded field. By 1985, BeOS, Taligent, IBM and Apple were developing new operating systems and vying for market share that just wasn't there. But NeXT had a big advantage. It had Steve Jobs. Eventually, Apple acquired NeXT and used its operating system for its new Macintosh platform, OS X. Jobs came with the deal and became once again CEO of Apple.

Two Steves

Two Steves founded Apple. One of them enjoyed putting electronic gadgets together. The other seemed to enjoy nothing more than making money. Like many people who catch this bug, there was never enough money. Steve Jobs died as one of the world's wealthiest men. Steve Wozniak is still around, enjoying life, playing games.

Which one would you rather be?

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