He Was Beautiful
Friday, August 1, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Oh what's to become of Apple? So much hand-wringing! The reporters go into a frenzy. Will Jobs come back? Won't he? Why not? The reality distortion field flickers on, then off, then on again. Bzzzz. It gets you high!
Steve Jobs was big news in the 1980s with the original Macintosh. It was an incredible accomplishment. I remember when I saw the first Mac, in 1983. It really spoke to me. What an unusual thing it was. And what an unusual young man Steve Jobs was.
I sat in the audience on the 1/24/84 rollout of the Mac. Jobs beams at the crowd and the TV cameras. Pretend you're him. Applause. Take a deep breath. Bring the tips of your fingers together. Nod your head slightly. Cheers! Turn up the beams! Smile from ear to ear. The audience rises to its feet. They love you! Soak it in. What a rush!
What a beautiful young man Steve Jobs was! How beautiful and young he made us feel reflecting off his brilliance.
I drank the Kool Aid. Jobs's Apple provided the air cover, we made software. Deals and ads and new markets. The money rolled in. It was a great time to be a young man for me too.
Eventually the magic was over, Jobs left Apple fuming and Apple grew to become a huge incompetent American computer company with a bad attitude. Amazingly the roads intertwined; at the end of 1996 Jobs came back.
But the magic time is long gone. It can't come back. The world changed.
Next Wednesday in Boston Steve Jobs will speak, presumably with John Warnock and Larry Ellison supporting him. With his old adversaries Sculley, Gassee, Amelio and the old board out of the way, the cloners left in the dust, Jobs can tell us what he wants to do; and no one can say no.
But it's not the mid-80s anymore, it's the late 90s. Personal computers are commonplace. There's a lot more work to do, but the excitement isn't about new computer hardware, it's about connections between people.
Toshiba, IBM, Gateway, Compaq and Dell make great computers. Apple makes great computers too. So do Motorola, Power Computing and UMAX. When Jobs left Apple they were still doing something unusual at Apple. Not any more.
Jobs and Ellison talk about Network Computers. This is OK with me if it means that the low-end of the Apple product line will get Ethernet ports. Today only expensive Macs can easily hook up to a fast LAN.
Apple can be a profitable if unglamorous business because there are so many Mac users who would love to buy a faster, bigger and easier computer next year and the year after that.
The clone vendors are eating Apple's lunch. According to sources at the clone vendors, Apple has responded by discontinuing licensing the Mac OS, withdrawing their committment to CHRP, and deciding not to license a laptop or their new desktop designs. According to Apple, kiss the clones goodbye. You hear a different story from the cloners.
Jobs appears to be running Apple, but with what authority? He's not a board member or a large shareholder or an officer of the company. What is going on there?
Out of all the confusion, some of which seems deliberately created by Jobs, comes a simple strategy -- focus on what the customers want.
Customer loyalty is precious. Make faster Mac-compatible computers and charge a little more for it. Make sure it runs our software. And then get out of the way and let some software companies merge and grow to serve these customers.
Further, the cloners are part of the structure of the Mac market. They're selling lots of computers, therefore they have lots of customers. This is not a good time for another jerk of the customer chain.
Clearly, Apple needs a CEO who's immersed in the software business of the late 90s, because that's where Apple has to make sense.
This strategy won't try to overtake Bill Gates. That's good news, because that means that Microsoft can support Apple. It also has a chance of allowing the Apple brand and its basic software to continue thru end of the decade.
Something big like the web might come along in the interim, and what remains of Apple could latch onto that and start growing again.
What is his plan? We'll have to wait to hear from him.
In the meantime, Apple's stock price remains low enough to make it an attractive acquisition for IBM, Compaq or Sun. Why would they want to buy Apple? Think of all those confused users.
Next week will surely be an interesting one.
PS: A QuickTime movie of the young Steve Jobs saying "let's show them why 1984 won't be like 1984."