What's Up Doc?
Sunday, September 7, 1997 by Dave Winer.
In the rush of events of last week my friend Doc Searls wrote an eye-opening piece on Steve Jobs and Apple. A lot of people read this piece on the Scripting News website, but it never went out to DaveNet mailboxes. I wanted to get it on the record and let this story influence other news writers and analysts who read DaveNet.
Doc's piece is an extrapolation based on experience. He's been an Apple user and observer for many years. He has a sense of art and literature, which is important when understanding how Steve Jobs approaches the world.
It's a tea-leaves read. Doc tells us things about Apple and Jobs that they have not directly told us. But for people who have invested careers and money alongside Apple, such as cloners, developers and users, all we have is tea leaves to read. The press releases, white papers and websites haven't been coming from Apple. They haven't told us how to parse their plan. So we do the best we can.
Also, it's very unusual that we make an issue of a single personality in DaveNet, but it's justified here because Jobs's personality is a big issue. It's right in the middle of Apple's strategy. Maybe Doc has it all wrong -- but I read it the same way he does.
Where is Apple going? Here's what Doc Searls says...
So Steve Jobs just shot the cloners in the head, indirectly doing the same to the growing percentage of Mac users who preferred cloned Mac systems to Apple's own. So his message to everybody was no different than it was at Day One: all I want from the rest of you is your money and your appreciation for my Art.
It was a nasty move, but bless his ass. Steve's art has always been first class, and priced accordingly. There was nothing ordinary about it. The Mac "ecosystem" Steve talks about is one that rises from that Art, not from market demand or other more obvious forces. And that art has no more to do with developers, customers and users than Van Gogh's has to do with Sotheby's, Christie's and art collectors.
See, Steve is an elitist and an innovator, and damn good at both. His greatest achievements are novel works of beauty and style. The Apple I and II were Works of Woz; but Lisa, Macintosh, NeXT and Pixar were all Works of Jobs. Regardless of their market impact (which in the cases of Lisa and NeXT were disappointing), all four were remarkable artistic achievements. They were also inventions intended to mother necessity -- and reasonably so. That's how all radical innovations work.
Less forward marketers, including Bill Gates, wait for necessity to mother invention, and the best of those invent and implement beautifully, even though that beauty is rarely appreciated.
To Steve, clones are the drag of the ordinary on the innovative. All that crap about cloners not sharing the cost of R&D is just rationalization. Steve puts enormous value on the engines of innovation. Killing off the cloners just eliminates a drag on his own R&D, as well as a way to reposition Apple as something closer to what he would have made the company if he had been in charge through the intervening years.
The simple fact is that Apple always was Steve's company, even when he wasn't there. The force that allowed Apple to survive more than a decade of bad leadership, cluelessness and constant mistakes was the legacy of Steve's original Art. That legacy was not just an OS that was 10 years ahead of the rest of the world, but a Cause that induced a righteousness of purpose centered around a will to innovate -- to perpetuate the original artistic achievements. And in Steve's absence Apple did some righeous innovation too. Eventually, though, the flywheels lost mass and the engine wore out.
In the end, by when too many of the innovative spirts first animated by Steve had moved on to WebTV and Microsoft, all that remained was that righteousness, and Apple looked and worked like what it was: a church wracked by petty politics and a pointless yet deeply felt spirituality.
Now Steve is back, and gradually renovating his old company. He'll do it his way, and it will once again express his Art.
These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:
1. It will be original.
2. It will be innovative.
3. It will be exclusive.
4. It will be expensive.
5. It's aesthetics will be impeccable.
6. The influence of developers, even influential developers, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.
7. The influence of fellow business artisans such as Larry Ellison (and even Larry's nemesis, Bill Gates) will be significant, though secondary at best to Steve's own muse.
But will it succeed? Depends on how much Steve's own energies are divided, and the speed at which the infrastructures for componentized computing emerge.
Steve must be coming to terms with the first. I don't see anybody coming to terms with the second, including the Java community, which is still more an anti-Microsoft cartel than a real force in the marketplace.
Should be interesting.
PS: Here's Doc's personal page, but it links to all his essays and his business site. I like it when people put pictures of their families on their site. It's really beautiful how Doc's 10-month old son Jeffrey makes him shine!