Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I have seen it referenced a couple of times in the What’cha Reading threads, but it seems like it warrants a bit more attention…anyone else read it?

I got it as a gift. Typical, excellently-rendered bio by Isaacson - say what you will about the protagonist, Isaacson makes the book supremely readable and those of us who lived through it - I grew up in Silicon Valley, worked at HP as my first job out of school, etc. - will find it very familiar. So, simply as a book about a person who made a big impact, it delivers and can be recommended as such.

Now - about Steve Jobs. He is portrayed as the answer to the question “what if you could prove that being a self-absorbed, asshole narcissist douchebag created great value?”

There is a statement by another poster in one of the What’cha Reading threads that basically says “it shows that Jobs was an asshole and Woz was the creative force” - that entirely misses the point of the book. Woz was a tactical computer genius who could design extremely efficient, versatile circuits. Woz had NO idea how to package and sell them - Woz wasn’t even sure he wanted to package, let alone sell them. Jobs’ vision of a consumer (not geek hobbyist) computer tool that was part of a closed system that made it easy to use - that is the difference we see to this day. The “eco-systems” created for iPods, iPhones and iPads are the real, lasting innovations - along with the fact that, if you are trying to design a product to exist within the context of an eco-system, you can simple it down to it’s most essential functions. And again, Jobs is the force behind all of that - the focus on the eco-system and the tool within that context, and the design editing excellence that rendered the tools to be the revolutionary devices they have become.

But there is very little redeeming about Jobs as an individual. It is clear that his “reality distortion field” - his legendary ability to inspire people to accomplish more than they ever thought possible in far less time - was powerful indeed, on a work and personal front. Oh, and by the way, he is portrayed as, ultimately, a solid businessman. He spent a lot more time going over financials, trimming budgets and ensuring products where on time than you might realize.

The book makes a compelling case that he was as important to our world as the hype has painted him to be. But, like Picasso, his image seems to boil down to The Big Trade-Off - would you totally focus on yourself and treat those around you abusively, cruelly, steal ideas from them (to use them more effectively that they perhaps would’ve), etc, if you could be “that revolutionary guy”? Jobs is portrayed as thinking of himself that way from early on - he was as abusive to his doting parents as he was to others later in his life - and in his particular case, turned out to be right. But that’s a helluva a life to lead and it is so damaging at the same time it yields amazing creativity.

Definitely worth the read.



Thing is, he was wrong, at least his first time around. People didn’t want closed systems that were easy to use, they wanted a system similar to the one they had at work. And where they worked had a large IT budget to deal with complexity, and so wanted a flexible system. The result was that Microsoft ended up with 90+% market share and Jobs ended up getting dropped from his own company.

That’s one possible interpretation. Another is that the ubiquity of IBM clones and the open specs meant that developers mostly chose to code for them. And it also likely drove the cost down. Still to this day business computer buying decisions are often based on price. Macs don’t do well (in the marketing sense) in most business environments.

The part about computers being so complicated that people wanted to use the same machine they learned at work is probably right, though. I do argue that that is not necessarily anything to do with Microsoft, but other software companies as well. If the exact same programs were available on Macs, but also got a neat GUI interface for the OS, I don’t think it would have been so big an upset.

I agree, thats actually part of what I meant by ‘flexibilty’. Windows didn’t lock you down to a single vendors hardware, which is sort of annoying if your an individual consumers who doesn’t know RAM from a CPU, but good if you have a dedicated IT guy who does and knows how to shop around to get the best bang for your buck.

You’d think, as Jobs did, that individual consumers would still want pre-selected compatible hardware for their home lives, even if their workplace would chose otherwise. But it turned out people actually found it easier to just figure out one OS with one suite of programs, even if that meant they had to use a less user-friendly OS and less reliable (though cheaper) hardware.

I guess I find it interesting that people backdate Jobs recent success with consumer electronics to his initial development of Apple. But really, had he died ten years ago, he’d be remembered as the guy that could’ve been Bill Gates, but misunderstood the early PC market, and so ended up a distant second place. And his ‘vision’ as something that ended up costing him and his investors a larger share of the fastest growing industry of that period.

As someone who was ‘there’, I can tell you that it wasn’t just the closed system architecture that made the early Mac a failure in the business world. It was the fact that the keyboard was too dang small and the screen was (while higher resolution) too small as well. It looked like a toy compared to standard keyboards and monitors. Nobody got fired by buying IBM.

It wasn’t until later that the ‘fit and feel’ of Apple’s devices became the cool things that they are now.

I would assert that Jobs had to wait for technology to catch up with the functionality, power and cost/value equation required to implement it, and for consumers to be accustomed to working with online transactions and other online business models for Jobs’ vision of a closed system to be do-able. Add the observations **Gagundathar **made about Macs, and it is clear more stuff had to fall into place before the vision could be realized.

Well, something that doesn’t work now but will in thirty years still doesn’t work.

But I guess my main point is that while a lot of current writing on Jobs seem to frame his ideas the way you do, that he had an vision, and while it didn’t work out at first it eventually made him a lot of money and so he was right all along. I think the more interesting story is how he went wrong initially. While his vision seems innovative now, it was actually the traditional model of computer manufacturers, they would make an OS specifically for their machines, and use it primarily as a tool to sell their hardware. Jobs stuck with this model during the transition to PCs.

At the same time Gates realized that the whole point of an OS is to abstract away from hardware, and that the real money to be made in the PC world was by just selling an OS to whoever wanted to put it on their computers. The result was that Windows was everywhere, and once it hit a certain saturation point, even the word ‘PC’ started to mean “a computer running Windows”.

This innovation (which I realize other people had as well, like the poor schmuck that turned IBM down before they went to Gates) seems to me to be the big business-model “vision” of the early PC era. Jobs model only looks innovative if you watch history in reverse. It was unlike the things that came after it because Windows took over, but similar to the things that went previously.

All fair points; there was no way of knowing whether the Jobs Vision would get more traction as the internet expanded the role of computer-based gadgets and businesses in our lives.

Extremely readable bio but, I’d say only due to extremely interesting character that Steve Jobs was. I got it as gift too so I’m only half-way through but so far – @ chapter on NeXT computer - it is simply fascinating. Even though I lived far away I do remember local computer magazine fascination with NeXT computer (at the time I was in high-school with C64 at home and Apple IIIc at school).

The book does elaborate on two philosophies – Apple vs. Microsoft – and does a very good job at explaining that difference. However, I don’t think it is a fair comparison because Steve was simply a genius visionary while Gates was genius at pragmatic sales (just recall that Gates himself admitted that they got late into whole Internet thing). So, one can say today Gates did better overall but being a visionary allowed Jobs to look into products as both hardware and software which, in my opinion, led to his visions and actual products such as iPod, iPhone and iPad.

One of the most fascinating notes was when Jobs showed what he wanted in near future - he took regular note book and had keyboard drawn on one page and one the other, he had drawn a screen and then opened it up… the future notebook computer prototype. Another thing was implementation of Dictionary in Macintosh and use of HTML linking to jump from one word to another from within word definition – that must felt amazing to see more than 25 years ago.

Also, Jobs having a thing for Braun products brings memories of coffee grinder my family had in 1980’s.

i haven’t read the book.

Apple was two really different things/companies.

Woz created a low cost (eventually) computer in the Apple II, it was innovative. Companies developed hardware and software to work with it; lots of plug in cards. Software was inexpensive and productive, there were full office packages as well as well integrated ones. It was a low cost platform that other companies added a lot of value to. It wouldn’t have become a strong company without being open.

the Mac was closed with hardware and software. what you had control of in using the machine was limited to nonexistent. Jobs convinced people that being his captive was better because he made it so easy. that continued.

I just finished it over the holidays. A few observations:

-I always thought Woz was integral to Apple, but his active tenure was actually quite short-lived. The book implied his key work was essentially finished after the Apple II shipped.

-Working for Steve Jobs appears to be a shitty job. He obviously inspired people to do great work, but it also seems like you had to live with him yelling at you, calling your work shit and demanding long hours. He also appeared to concentrate on miniscule issues over larger ones. The key insight for me was that ALL of Pantone’s beiges (something like 50) were unacceptable and Jobs wanted to create a new tone. Seriously? Or his need to paint the robots the right colour, causing them to malfunction due to the extra paint put on. What a pain in the ass

-I wished there was more detail on the evolution of the iPod, but that’s nitpicking.

-In the end, my opinion of Jobs has diminished, due to the personality traits outlined in the book. He realized some amazing products, but was kind of a dick, even to his family.

Just saw a 60 minutes piece on Jobs and he comes across as a grade A asshole. Gates gives away billions to charity and Jobs seemingly gave none. So why the dislike of Gates and the worship of Jobs?

This buys into exactly the sort of onward-and-upward teleology that Simplicio was talking about earlier in the thread.

It’s the product of a distorted view of history, because it starts at the end—at a time when we have the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad and all the stuff that has made Apple such a force over the past decade—and projects that success backwards too far to be historically or intellectually tenable.

In this model, any bad decisions or wrong turns that Jobs made in the early years suddenly lose their negative connotations, and become part of a post-hoc narrative about how those decisions were just a part of his long-term visionary character, and therefore he really knew what he was doing all along and his success was inevitable.

It’s the Whig history of Apple and Steve Jobs.

the point was made how he wanted to remain simple in his home and possessions. Jobs said this was because he saw people change and become worse because of money. so he was only a grade A asshole what he was because he showed restraint.

employees who were his friends and involved from the beginning didn’t get stock if he thought they didn’t deserve it. Woz, the smart Steve, being a generous guy gave some his stock to those people showing his gratitude.

If Jobs had not struck gold in the latter part of his career with the iPod - iPhone - iPad triumvirate it’s unlikely he would be considered nearly so visionary. A part of this was luck in that technology finally enabled his vision.

But even with this in mind credit where credit is due. The iPhone and it’s associated OS is, in it’s way, a work of art compared to most competing technology that existed when it appeared on the scene.

I used this phonerunning windows mobile for 2 years. It had 2 inch screen and a stylus. It was hot stuff at the time, but in retrospect it was an insane kludge.

He saw past all that nonsense. Did he have to be an SOB to get his visions implemented? I’m 54 and I’ve seen enough of life and what happens to people who compromise their vision to think that these products may well never have happened if he was a nicer, more amiable guy.

Jobs was a man ahead of his time. eventually time caught up and Apple has been growing ever since. He basically emphasized user experience over pragmatism. The thing is, once the 2 theories aligned, Apple leaped to the head of the pack.