"The Steve Jobs 'hero/sh*thead' roller coaster was real"
May 14, 2018 7:01 PM   Subscribe

John Carmack shares his memories of Steve Jobs. John Carmack co-founded id Software and was the lead programmer of several video games you've probably played even if you're not a gamer (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, and more). Shortly after Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1996, he invited Carmack for conversations about supporting games on the Mac. And thus a roller coaster relationship was born.

Several news outlets have picked up the story, but one of the more interesting threads comes from Hacker News. Over 250 comments long (as of this posting), many from the developer community have stepped forward with their own memories as well.

Spoiler alert: Jobs was both a genius and an asshat. But you probably knew that.
posted by zooropa (73 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
And we get yet more demonstration of the rot at the heart of the tech industry. The problem isn't that Jobs was "both a genius and an asshat", but that people accepted and enabled his rank assholeness because he was a genius.

This was a man who cheated his supposed friend out of money he legitimately earned. This was a man who disavowed his own child. And yet he continues to be lauded, because this industry will write off any sort of abusive behavior if someone is a "genius". And then we wonder why the industry struggles with issues of discrimination.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:33 PM on May 14 [57 favorites]


I will never get the hero worship or the attribution of genius.
posted by Zed at 7:37 PM on May 14 [19 favorites]


“I never really get to see, except second hand, how abrupt he is with people. I couldn't be that way with people. But maybe that's what you need to run a business, to find things that are worthless and get rid of them.”
~ Steve Wozniak, quoted in Fire in the Valley (2000) by Freiberger and Swaine
posted by Fizz at 7:44 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]



"...And that's what your holy men discuss, is it?" [asked Granny Weatherwax.]
"Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment on the nature of sin. for example." [answered Mightily Oats.]
"And what do they think? Against it, are they?"
"It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray."
"Nope."
"Pardon?"
"There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
"It's a lot more complicated than that--"
"No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."
"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes--"
"But they starts with thinking about people as things..."
--from Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett.
posted by lalochezia at 7:50 PM on May 14 [64 favorites]


this industry will write off any sort of abusive behavior if someone is a "genius"

It's... weirder than that. And I think we should address it. Jobs was not very technically astute. Woz was and is. Leaders in tech are almost universally awful. Linus? Theo de Radt? Larry Ellison?

Bill Gates is only cool now that he's retired, he was the literal antichrist when heading Microsoft. I mean, really, crush and kill everything good about '90s tech. You seen an SGI workstation around lately? No? Thank Billy G for that.

I will note here that there is no charismatic head of the PostGRES database project, and I take grim satisfaction in that it gives Larry the screaming fantods. NetBSD runs on both toasters and the pop-tarts, can you name the Benevolent Despot in charge of that? No. By design.

When do we need a despotic leader, even if hidden GOOGLE LOOKING AT YOU, and just let democratic tech roam and be cool?

I figure, once spam is conquered on usenet with crowd-sources solutions, we'll all be free. So, well, never.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:51 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]


I've never known a genius/asshole who stopped being a genius when people made them stop being an asshole.
posted by tclark at 7:52 PM on May 14 [45 favorites]


I've never known a genius/asshole who stopped being a genius when people made them stop being an asshole.

There is an extremely interesting part of "Derailroaded," the documentary about Wild Man Fischer, that addresses exactly that. Though not directly comparable. some things are part and parcel to each other.
posted by rhizome at 8:03 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


But maybe that's what you need to run a business, to find things that are worthless and get rid of them.”

Right, but Jobs was empirically capricious — the original post illustrates it a couple of times, not least when engineers who worked with him developed a fear of even standing next to someone he was mad at because he lacked the ability to distinguish his own legitimate frustration from his own illigitimate frustration.

What that Woz quote actually illustrates quite nicely is how people buy into and reward the overconfidence of male CEOs.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:41 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


"One time, my wife, then fiancé, and I were meeting with Steve at Apple, and he wanted me to do a keynote that happened to be scheduled on the same day as our wedding. With a big smile and full of charm, he suggested that we postpone it. We declined, but he kept pressing. Eventually my wife countered with a suggestion that if he really wanted “her” John so much, he should loan John Lassiter [sic] to her media company for a day of consulting. Steve went from full charm to ice cold really damn quick. I didn’t do that keynote."

Dodged a bullet there.
posted by unliteral at 9:02 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


"he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about"

God, I hate people like that.
posted by DowBits at 9:03 PM on May 14 [36 favorites]


Wait, where are the articles saying Tim Cook is an asshole? He seemed more aggreeable in the keynotes and those occasional Apple "open letter" messages.
posted by polymodus at 9:09 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I wish that Steve Jobs was alive today so that I could go up to him and tell him that he should be ashamed of some of those those shitty-designed (on purpose) products that his joint produces. He had many personal flaws, but he took pride in his work.
posted by ovvl at 9:25 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Linus? Theo de Radt?

I've said a bunch of times here I think the way guys like Linus talk to contributors sometimes is really un-called-for. But I think one reason people accept having Linuses and Theos running things is they feel like they need them to deal with the Bills and Larrys. As you say about Postgres - maybe they don't really but I think there's sort of an arms race aspect to it.
posted by atoxyl at 11:06 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
Also, ripping off Kant is a sin.

When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth.
What a dishonest move. Reminds me of arguing with 12-steppers. "Oh, you must suffer from terminal uniqueness."
posted by thelonius at 2:10 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


I'm not even sure if some of that was the Dunning–Kruger effect on full force, or just the "I got rich with work from other people, so I'm an expert on that field as well" effect.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:34 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


> Wait, where are the articles saying Tim Cook is an asshole?

It's not hard to find anecdotes about Tim Cook if you need 'em. He's not the topic du jour though.
posted by ardgedee at 4:37 AM on May 15


Where have Mefi's staunch Jobs defenders gone? It used to be that you couldn't say a bad word about him without having commenters jumping in to tell you how wrong you were.
posted by octothorpe at 4:59 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes--"
"But they starts with thinking about people as things..."
--from Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett.


This is why I object to companies (or at least the ones I’ve worked in) referring to people as “resources”.
E.g. “Do we need another resource on this project?”

Apologies for the derail. As you were.
posted by faceplantingcheetah at 5:02 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I will never get[...]the attribution of genius.

His life is well documented enough that the reason for this is plain, if you care to look it up. A lot of the tech we take for granted today would not exist in a recognizable form, if not for his involvement.

I've never known a genius/asshole who stopped being a genius when people made them stop being an asshole.

Thing is, once an asshole genius has power, wealth and a successful track record, then in our current system they have practically zero reason to stop being assholes. Other people generally don't have enough influence on them in this regard, either, up to and including friends and family members. The assholes are typically in positions where a lot of people feel that they have a lot to gain by being in their good graces, and will tolerate a hell of a lot to maintain that.
posted by jklaiho at 5:46 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


@lalochezia: "...thinking about people as things..."

Interesting. What's the canonical example used in every programming 101 course on structured data? Employee records. What's the current social media boom but systems that record and present people via software objects (things) to be interacted with? Why would anyone want a google AI to make appointments with their hairdresser rather than call yourself? It lets you abstract the person on the other end of the phone as a thing that google can deal with, rather than yourself....
posted by thefool at 6:04 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Jobs was a complicated and flawed human being, but he was indeed a genius and the world is poorer for his passing.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:04 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I will never get the hero worship or the attribution of genius.

I'll try to 'splain it.

So, when I was growing up, Apple represented David to Microsoft's Goliath. They typically hovered around a 3% market share, just enough to keep them going, despite making a product that was demonstrably superior. The Macintosh was revolutionary in its day (bitmapped screen, beautiful fonts instead of screen fonts, real 'windows' instead of tiling, beautiful icons, freeform filenames, desktop publishing) and was the result of the uncompromising vision of Steve Jobs. Did he code the OS himself? Did he design the fonts and icons himself? No, but he brought the team together that did and kept them focused. It would not have happened without him.

Microsoft at the time had a virtual monopoly on the PC market due to some well-documented unfair business practices. Jobs kept saying, "If only there were an even playing field, Apple could thrive." Eventually he was kicked out of Apple and started Next. The Next computer was also revolutionary. It had a UNIX core with a beautiful object oriented OS running on top. The Nextstep OS was secure, powerful and elegant. The programming tools on Next were unbelievably good. The first web browser was created on a Next computer.

Then Apple bought Next and Jobs came back. The Next OS became OS X, Apple's new OS mean to last "the next 10 years." 19 years later, that OS still runs all Macs, iphones, etc. Jobs brought some stunning industrial design into Apple's products. Think the first iMac, and the Sunflower iMac. This was in the age of beige boxes, mind you. During Job's tenure, Apple developed the iPod, which in its success became the modern "walkman." Then came the iPhone, which up-ended the mobile phone world, and the iPad, the first tablet computer that people fell in love with.

The thing is, the iPhone brought Apple into the popular consciousness and in effect leveled the playing field, allowing Apple to thrive despite Microsoft's powerful grip. In college, I remember being berated for using an Apple computer. "Why would you use anything but the industry standard?" Now, all you see in coffee shops are students using Apple notebooks.

So, the hero bit is the triumph of someone who created a better product, believed in it, and succeeded by thinking outside the box. No one would have bet on Apple being where it was today back then (except maybe me).

Had there been no Apple, I'm guessing the world would be a far worse place for anyone using a computer or mobile phone, which these days includes most everyone. Could Jobs be a jerk sometimes? Sure, but guess what: great people typically have great flaws. It comes with the territory. You can't dismiss someone who has done as much as this guy has because he has flaws.

I did not even touch on Pixar, the iTunes store, the 1984 commercial, the fact that keynotes are now a thing.
posted by jabah at 6:15 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


His genius was in marketing more than tech. Apple managed to equate a brand with a cultural identity and create an "in" group of fans and then invited anyone who wanted to be part of the group to just display the right logo. How many other companies have a logo that's displayed as a cultural identifier on car bumper or window decals? Harley Davidson, maybe...but that grew more organically. Apple sold an "us versus them", narrative, and Microsoft's own evils made them extremely useful as a "them".

As far as tech goes, Apple is anathema to everything I believe in as a product design engineer*. It was industry standardization and interoperability that allowed consumer electronics (and much of industrial tech) to become affordable and usable, and Apple rejected both vehemently.No genius points there.

*Tech design, obviously. Industrial designers still worship them.
posted by rocket88 at 6:41 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


Folklore.org is an interesting read. Most of the "Steve Jobs being an asshole" stories I've seen elsewhere are in there, but that isn't all there was to it. You get a real sense of why people stuck with him and Apple, even when they were aware of his flaws.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:42 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I strongly recommend spending time on folklore.org if you're curious about Jobs the design-or-tech-or-corporate guru. There are a lot of first-hand stories posted there which provide substance to some legends but also some gleanable insights on what working with Jobs was like. (My hot take: Certain of the rockstar devs and designers at Apple were just as committed as Jobs was to the Apple II and McIntosh being a purpose as well as a technology. And they could match him toe-to-toe for being prickly, driven, and argumentative, so in-house battles were far less one-sided than popular opinion has it.)
posted by ardgedee at 6:52 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Microsoft at the time had a virtual monopoly on the PC market due to some well-documented unfair business practices. Jobs kept saying, "If only there were an even playing field, Apple could thrive."

The thing about Apple is they made (and make) tightly integrated products that aren't as flexible as their competitors. The PC succeded in large part, well, because everyone was as scared of IBM as they now are of Amazon, but outside that because it was a standard with a rich benefactor that had lost control of it. DOS was bad, Windows wasn't a patch on the Macintosh OS, but the Macintosh OS was not available on a PC-compatible platform.

Apple also has a bad habit of breaking their OS every few years to make system improvements, and expecting developers to keep up. Code rotted fast on the Macintosh (and still does on Apple's products: something like 3 of the top 50 games from the first few years of the iPhone's life still work). That works for Apple's market, but Microsoft went for consumers who wanted something as cheap as possible to still work, and once they were locked in, leveraged them to shove everyone else out of the market. Apple was right to complain about monopolistic market practices, but they got outplayed first - and let's not pretend Apple would have behaved any better had the shoe been on the other foot. They sued Microsoft over the existence of a bin on the desktop for deleted files.

It's only the iPod and iPhone where Apple came back, where that tight integration and disposable nature aren't the same barriers. It's clearly their main focus; there have been reports Apple don't even have a dedicated computer hardware team any more.
posted by Merus at 6:56 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I have worked for Steve (at Pixar, where I was generally in the sub-group that was rocking the technology, so I only saw his good side), also worked for a real asshole for whom I did some of the best work of my career, and worked for a good friend of mine who (self-acknowledged) comes across as really brusque and with whom I've been in a shouting match.

I've also been through a number of failed startups with nice people in key roles.

I've done a lot of introspection, but I've discovered that to some extent I kinda want to work for an asshole. Some of this is the arms race aspect listed above (as we said about Steve, he's an asshole, but he's our asshole). Some of it is that I want someone to say "no" where I'd be tempted to be diplomatic, or try to protect people's feelings; cutting people off, saying "no, that's a bad idea" is a way to shortcut all of the emotional labor that I'm not good at but would spend an outsized amount of my time on.

People complain about some of Linus Torvald's rants about bad proposals and bad patch requests, but holy crap, have you seen some of the stuff he deals with? Maybe it's part of a too flat organization, where dumb ideas can filter up to him too quickly, but at some point decisions need to get made and when we ask that the senior people spend all of their time mentoring and teaching, we're distributing labor wrong. Sure, we should have structures for mentoring, but we also need a feedback mechanism which tells people when they need to do their own damned work and not just push the labor on to the decision-makers.

So, yeah: When I'm looking for people to work for, I'm not necessarily looking for assholes, but I am looking for people who will call out bad ideas, who will protect their time and, perhaps more importantly, mine. The overlap between these people and "asshole" is high.
posted by straw at 7:24 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I've done a lot of introspection, but I've discovered that to some extent I kinda want to work for an asshole.

That's fine and well, but I'd venture there are were/are a lot of people working at Apple who want no such thing. I personally would run screaming to the hills if forced to work with someone like that on the regular. A bunch of people are inexorably caught up in the cult of personality that still surrounds Jobs, and I do not envy them their experiences working with a man who sounds from all accounts like a malignant narcissist.
posted by Mayor West at 7:31 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


So, yeah: When I'm looking for people to work for, I'm not necessarily looking for assholes, but I am looking for people who will call out bad ideas, who will protect their time and, perhaps more importantly, mine. The overlap between these people and "asshole" is high.

That overlap exists purely because we allow it to. You can be an effective manager without being an asshole. As you pointed out, it takes emotional labor to do so, and guess what we're taught repeatedly to disvalue?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:33 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]


I can not think about Steve Jobs without also thinking about Dennis Ritchie.

Ritchie invented the C programming language. He co-invented Unix. I don't know the exact figures, but the vast majority of the Internet runs on those two technologies, or descendants of them. iOS, the operating system of the iPhone, is derived from Unix. You can probably guess what Objective-C, the primary development language for the iPhone is derived from. Android phone also have their roots in C and Unix. So does the Mac.

Steve Jobs' "genius" was in making money. He knew how to run companies, and he knew how to market things people wanted to buy. At the inter-personal level, he is widely considered to have been a horrible human being. As noted above, stories abound about him being an absolutely asshole to friends, co-workers, employees, and family.

Dennis Ritchie's genius was inventing technology so unbelievable good it's still used every single day by nearly every person on the planet, some 40 years after he invented it. Not much was ever written Ritchie's personal life. He never married, and had no kids. But he was certainly widely respected, and there is no evidence Ritchie was a jerk of any magnitude.

Jobs died Oct 5th, 2011. His passing was international news, the lead story at every major outlet. Since then there have been books, TV Shows and Major Motion Pictures about his life. 7 years later we still get Front Page Posts about Jobs on MetaFilter & Hacker News.

Dennis Ritchie died 7 days later. There were a few stories outside Tech Media that made note of the event at the time but not many. There's nothing I can find about Ritchie written after 2011.

The fact that we so worship one while all but ignoring the other tells me everything I need to know about the state of our culture & our values.
posted by Frayed Knot at 7:47 AM on May 15 [56 favorites]


You seen an SGI workstation around lately? No? Thank Billy G for that.

How so? I used to work at a place with about 30 SGI O2's, a couple of Octanes and some servers and in the 3D graphics sphere at the time, with the release of Maya for Windows as well as IRIX and the increasing role of Linux machines as render farms, SGI boxes became outrageously expensive in comparison to Windows and Linux options. The NT boxes at the time outperformed SGI boxes that were 2 to 3 times the price.

Even SGI's own NT machine was overpriced. I'm not sure if Gates persuaded Maya to be developed for Windows as well as IRIX but outside of that, I'm not sure how Gates is at all responsible for the price and performance ratio of Intel based boxes running Windows or Linux at the time.

It simply no longer made sense to invest in SGI hardware any longer and I believe Linux was a big factor in that outside of the 3D sphere and of course Windows on Intel in the 3D sphere.
posted by juiceCake at 7:48 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


You seen an SGI workstation around lately? No? Thank Billy G for that.

Bill really did one thing that ended up massively accelerating the death of SGI and that's buying Softimage at their height of it's success and have the whole company port it to Windows. That enabled the an whole industry to be rerouted to PCs and made SGIs non mandatory for VFX work.

Everything else, PC games & SGI did to themselves. They lost tons of engineers to nVidia who saw there were mass market opportunities for GPUs. And eventually ended producing GPUs that were faster and so much cheaper that what SGI had and that + availability of software turned SGI machines into something you just didn't want to acquire because they cost too much vs a PC. nVidia didn't address specific corners of the market for a while (anything with broadcast quality NTSC outputs + genlock) but that didn't matter since they were there where the volume was.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:32 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


It might be that you need to be old enough and have been nerdy enough as a young person to see the difference that the guy made.

In the nascent days of modern personal computers, those being the ones that display graphics, that have an OS that includes a visual representation of files, with windows, etc, there were a few ways that things seemed like they may go. Absolutely none of them were any good. For instance, for a few years pixels were not square. I invite you to consider this.

Then someone came in and said: all of this is awful. It is not about doing something because you can do it and for no other reason. Things need to be good. We need to push the needs and wants of the users and make the engineers innovate in the ways that will actually make computers better, not in ways that are easy.

It turns out that this is very hard to do. You have to find rarified people. You have to push them very hard. That's what he did. Read about the history of the original Mac and then contemplate that it really didn't need to go that way.

Was he a terror as a person? Probably. And indefensibly. But Apple made the computer experience that most of us use today for so many things: Windows, Linux desktop and OS X are all clones of clones of the original Mac UX (which was derivative of Xerox, but having actually used an Alto, let me tell you that the difference is the thing that is valuable) and Steve made that happen and what he made happen was much, much better than what was going to happen without him, of this I am very sure.

When Steve left Apple, Apple immediately began to suck just as bad as their competitors. When Steve came back to Apple, Apple began to be much better.

I had some limited direct experience with him and he seemed like a dick, yes. But the facts were there: he had every reason to be disappointed in most people... but he was also looking for the type of people that he needed.

I heard him say this once in a room full of new hires (more or less, from memory:) "All of you are good. All of you can hit home runs. But what I want you to know is that it is almost certain that none of you are truly great. Great isn't a home run. Great isn't a home run every time you're at bat. Steve Wozniak is truly great. Steve Wozniak could hit the ball from Candlestick TO Yankee Stadium every single time and often have it bounce of home plate when it got there. That is how great that guy was to work with, every day. I want you to know that that is what greatness really is and it exists. It is very rare, but it exists. Your job is to support and amplify that greatness."

I won't defend the guys humanity and I am not what I would call a fan of the man, but having lived through what was his revolution(s) I can't deny the magnitude of what he did. All that said, I would rather that we not live in this version of the future--phones stealing our lives and society away... and he is responsible for this as well. He thought tech would save us and on balance he was perhaps very, very wrong about that.
posted by n9 at 9:06 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


My complaint is that mediocre people have decided they will be more like him if they copy the asshole part.
posted by thelonius at 9:11 AM on May 15 [21 favorites]


Supporting rank asshats is in the founding DNA of Silicon Valley, starting with Nobel-Winning, Eugenics loving, William Shockley.

The above fact provided courtesy of my recent discovery Stephen Fry's Great Leap Years podcast. It's amazing - download it!
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:15 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I heard him say this once in a room full of new hires (more or less, from memory:) "All of you are good. All of you can hit home runs. But what I want you to know is that it is almost certain that none of you are truly great. Great isn't a home run. Great isn't a home run every time you're at bat. Steve Wozniak is truly great. Steve Wozniak could hit the ball from Candlestick TO Yankee Stadium every single time and often have it bounce of home plate when it got there. That is how great that guy was to work with, every day. I want you to know that that is what greatness really is and it exists. It is very rare, but it exists. Your job is to support and amplify that greatness."

Which is an absolute load of bullshit, given that Jobs actually stole money from Wozniak.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:29 AM on May 15 [12 favorites]


thelonius: "My complaint is that mediocre people have decided they will be more like him if they copy the asshole part."

Yes, this. His assholeness seems to be the model for how to run a silicon valley company.
posted by octothorpe at 9:39 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Bill really did one thing that ended up massively accelerating the death of SGI and that's buying Softimage at their height of it's success and have the whole company port it to Windows. That enabled the an whole industry to be rerouted to PCs and made SGIs non mandatory for VFX work.

But again, this is because the hardware was now able to outperform SGI boxes. Had this not been the case, I highly doubt there would be a migration if cost was low but speed was horrible. We were aware of the purchase of SoftImage (though if I remember correctly they didn't kill the IRIX version until Avid bought, at which point SGI was truly a non factor) but I was not aware it was a massive element in the death SGI. I had no idea it was the central pillar of that type of software at the time and had such a significant userbase. We were in the Maya/Houdini world and the cost/speed ratio for SGI no longer made sense. That it took SoftImage to push the industry over is news to me.
posted by juiceCake at 9:43 AM on May 15


I heard him say this once in a room full of new hires (more or less, from memory:)

That speech is pretty much what manipulative parents say to get two siblings to go at each other's throats.
posted by FJT at 9:59 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


But again, this is because the hardware was now able to outperform SGI boxes. Had this not been the case, I highly doubt there would be a migration if cost was low but speed was horrible. We were aware of the purchase of SoftImage (though if I remember correctly they didn't kill the IRIX version until Avid bought, at which point SGI was truly a non factor) but I was not aware it was a massive element in the death SGI. I had no idea it was the central pillar of that type of software at the time and had such a significant userbase. We were in the Maya/Houdini world and the cost/speed ratio for SGI no longer made sense. That it took SoftImage to push the industry over is news to me.

It was multifactorial, like I said nVidia out executed them for GPUs around 2001 (both perf & price) and the CPUs (MIPs) were never extraordinary aside from the fact there was more than one. So as years passed the value their hardware kept getting lower, but the price didn't. Also, until MS bought Softimage and ported it to windows, nobody in the VFX industry was even considering using Windows it was all SGI/Irix. That acquisition alone didn't kill SGI but it opened the door for the market to free itself from that one vendors OS (its somewhat ironic that MS ended up being responsible for that). Maybe linux would've been the escape path if MS hadn't cause the shift, or maybe it would haven happened anyway, but the acquisition certainly sped it.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 10:01 AM on May 15


Man, that new hire speech is so enticing, so attractive to believe, so manipulative and terrible because it implies one arbiter of greatness and a literally and figuratively unattainable definition thereof. I found myself beginning to nod until I really thought it through - it's hypnotic and reassuring the same way he created brand identity with a certain idealized lifestyle.

He wasn't wrong about how great things could be. He also wasn't the only one and everybody who asserts these things would never have happened without him did not live through the dozen other ideologies and interfaces developing at the time. Steve won, but GemOS, HPUX, even Microsoft's early work in phones, all of these technologies continue to power things in the world. The Great Man theory of history never holds much water since survivor bias makes it look unique when many innovations are inevitable - they go where they money and market take them.

It doesn't mean he wasn't a genius, but suggesting things wouldn't have happened without him - thus conflating that innovation required assholery - is just silly.
posted by abulafa at 10:03 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Intel killed SGI, not intentionally but the steady explosion of Intel CPU's power allowed demanding software to be run on commodity hardware. Softimage was amazing and used by hundreds of incredibly talented artists but a niche. SGI was a niche in many high performance science, tech, med industries that discovered they could compile and use software on windows. Linux was a bit shaky at the time and the other unix's had various other odd licensing, not great UI's, problematic companies and other wacky issues that left Windows as the only practical option for most software products for a period of time.

As for Apple they got some stuff just right. One example was early video players were optimized for audio and dropped frames, turns out that is the best approach for perceptual satisfaction. Talking very early players thumbnail sized, but for a period Apple was just better for video but the video was not better as it was tied to state of hardware but certain UI choices were just right. Don't know if that was Jobs personal input or his choice of engineers that had the right ideas but Apple at times was just better. But Excel sold a lot more units, sigh.
posted by sammyo at 10:04 AM on May 15


I only met Dennis Ritchie once, briefly, but he was remarkably generous about responding to email from random people like me and digging up old files from his archives to answer historical questions. I too wish I knew anything about his life outside of his work.
posted by enf at 10:56 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


Steve Jobs' "genius" was in making money. He knew how to run companies, and he knew how to market things people wanted to buy.

Why don't we talk about Phil Knight like we talk about Steve, then?

Steve connected technology with people who weren't nerds. He was a pivotal figure in the transition of computing from a business tool or a fun hobby, to something we take for granted and use thousands of times a day.

I definitely appreciate the deep and foundational work of folks like Dennis Ritchie. But people remember how you made them feel. Steve made people feel like new things were possible with tech. Made them feel like tech could work for them, that it wasn't a rarified

That's why he's interesting. That's why people care about him, still.

(Also: just because you don't understand why people love Apple products doesn't mean all those millions and millions of people have been duped by marketing, or only care about money/status instead of more noble values. It's a patronizing perspective imo.)
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:07 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


One of Apple's greatest strengths is its marketing. Apple is a uniquely formidable company when it comes to its historically successful advertising campaigns, its preternatural ability to shape and control their message in the press, and its extraordinary command of people's attention during their famous product launch events. Not to say their technology is bad by any means, but to minimize the importance of marketing when it comes to Apple is foolish.

Yes, Apple has had great success in making technology accessible to everyone, but a huge component of that success is making technology appealing and interesting to everyone, to sell people on the value of technology, and that's all marketing, and that's what Steve Jobs was a genius at. His brilliance was in transforming technology into an appealing product and then selling the hell out of it.

I don't find any fault in that, and think that Jobs is rightfully respected and honored for his role in the important work achieved under his direction, but I also agree that sometimes while venerating Steve Jobs, people diminish the equally important work of the inventors and progenitors of the technology that he productized.
posted by zixyer at 11:50 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Asking about Tim Cook is not off topic because the ongoing arguments have been that a) both are assholes, b) both ran the Apple keynotes, c) this is a general thing wth tech culture whether in Silicon Valley or not and whether it's Borgsoft or Church of GNU/Linux or not. Not all narratives are by people who are in industry as narrowly defined, and that policing of discourse is also an example of asshole behavior.

Second, I had already Googled "Tim Cook asshole" before asking my question which turns up nothing. That's a fair amount of effort in this context and maybe don't assume people ask questions they didn't try to answer themselves with some effort. We already had a whole thread on asshole, misogynistic behavior about StackExchange.
posted by polymodus at 12:00 PM on May 15


When I read the new hire speech I couldn't help but think of the Always Be Closing speech from GlennGary Glen Ross.

But yeah fuck Steve Jobs sometimes I would rather we were all still living in caves and didn't have people like him around. But then I would probably literally die without air conditioning so what are you gonna do?
posted by Justin Case at 12:00 PM on May 15


Why don't we talk about Phil Knight like we talk about Steve, then?

We do! There's a Knight book. There's a Knight 30 for 30 documentary. There are dozens if not hundreds of articles about Knight. It's exactly the same thing, just at a smaller scale. See also Richard Branson, Michael Eisner, Meg Whitman, the current occupant of the White House, and dozens and dozens more.

Steve made people feel like new things were possible with tech....Just because you don't understand why people love Apple products doesn't mean all those millions and millions of people have been duped by marketing

I never said 'duped.' I don't think anyone was duped. Apple products are great1, and I love them. Between personal and profession time, I spend about 10 hours a day on a MacBookPro. I owned just about every incarnation of the iPod, starting with the original Click Wheel and ending with a Touch. Everyone in my family has an iPhone, and has for years. Once upon a time I even owned a IIc. I'm way more Apple Fan Boy than Hater.

But making people feel things is what marketing is all about. It's the very definition of advertising, a huge component of Marketing, and one of those things that Jobs excelled at. I don't say any of that as an insult. What bothers me, what saddens me, is that our culture rewards and admires success at business and the accumulation of wealth more than that of invention and innovation. And not just a little bit more. Way, way WAY more. It's out of whack, and it's harmful.

1Not the current MacBookPro, however. The current MacBooksPro sucks.
posted by Frayed Knot at 12:57 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


But yeah fuck Steve Jobs sometimes I would rather we were all still living in caves and didn't have people like him around. But then I would probably literally die without air conditioning so what are you gonna do?

This is a false dichotomy. We don't need to choose between assholes and progress. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can make our communities less toxic.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:04 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


I wonder what the gender split is of people defending him.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:30 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Steve made people feel like new things were possible with tech....Just because you don't understand why people love Apple products doesn't mean all those millions and millions of people have been duped by marketing

I swear that there's some sort of cilantro gene thing to loving Apple products. I don't hate them, I just don't get the love. I'm typing this on a Macbook and it's fine but other than the very nice and bright screen, it doesn't seem any better (or worse) than a windows machine. No criticism of people who do love them, I just don't get it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:31 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Bill Gates ... was the literal antichrist

Nonsense. He fufills less than half of the prophesies in Revelation.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:58 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


And hardly any of the good ones.
posted by rhizome at 5:07 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


(Also: just because you don't understand why people love Apple products doesn't mean all those millions and millions of people have been duped by marketing, or only care about money/status instead of more noble values. It's a patronizing perspective imo.)

No doubt people have their reasons. Still, just yesterday I was dealing with an older laptop that wouldn't connect to WiFi and all it said was "See Administrator." No other indication of what was wrong available anywhere. Good thing my AP actually has logs that can be used to, you know, make things work.

Regardless of their success, it never excused Jobs being a thief and a total prick. Good thing for him he died when he did, tbh. Had he lasted a few more years, he would have likely had much abuse hurled his way as society has changed recently.
posted by wierdo at 5:41 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


How so? I used to work at a place with about 30 SGI O2's, a couple of Octanes...

Here is what happened to the Unix Workstation. Microsoft released NT 3.5, and explained in no uncertain terms that the hell and horror that was happening to Atari ST, Amiga, Acorn, Be and Apple itself was going to happen to them unless they got on board with Windows NT.

Good little lapdogs, NT ran on MIPS, SPARC (rumor has it the first viable builds of NT were on SPARC, and that combo was Bill's personal rig for a while) POWER-PC and Alpha. Then Compaq bought DEC, and everyone panicked.

What isn't explained, is that every one of these Unix workstation vendors had bad-ass GPUs backing up their RISC CPUs.

Then Itanium happened - what's after RISC? Itanium. VLIW CPUs. It scared SGI right onto the Wintel platform, HP bought Compaq and killed the Alpha in favor of the Itanium... even tho it only very recently gave up the PA-RISC ghost. Shortly before they gave up the Itanium ghost for plain wintel, or Linux/intel.

Spoiler alert, Itanium never happened. IBM's POWER and Fujitsu/Oracle's SPARC are still racing ahead... tho both IBM and Sun/Fujitsu/Oracle never bothered keeping pace with their GPUs, and are comfy in server-room racks rather than powering next-level graphical workstations.

All because Bill Gates scared an entire industry into obsolescence with bluster, illegal marketing and vaporware.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:03 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


(Follow up - Windows is no longer supported on SPARC, Alpha, MIPS or Power-PC. Oh, loooook... it's being supported on ARM! It's a trick, get an axe...)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:11 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Jobs didn't just cheat Wozniak. This cheap multi-billionaire cheated all of his employees when he illegally conspired with other tech CEOs to suppress wages. He should have done jail time. But we know that criminal bosses never do jail time no matter how badly they abuse their workers.
posted by JackFlash at 8:32 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


And there's a reason a lot of people put up with his abuse. It's because he conspired to make sure they never got a better offer from any other employer.
posted by JackFlash at 8:36 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Honestly? Jobs was in the right place at the right time when he founded Apple. That got him his initial money, and his cult. When you have money and power, people concede to you. He was in a place where people overlooked his faults and lauded his successes. Confirmation bias at work. There are a thousand other people in the world who could have been Steve Jobs. Who could have been a better Jobs, the genius without the asshat.

There are lots of people like that in charge of large corporations, but most of them don't have the name recognition, the visibility outside their companies, that Steve Jobs had. And while I don't have figures in front of me, I'd be willing to venture a strong guess that they're nearly all white men.
posted by JHarris at 10:08 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


There are lots of people like that in charge of large corporations, but most of them don't have the name recognition, the visibility outside their companies, that Steve Jobs had

Enterprise in STL has this weird cultlike reverence to Jack Taylor. It's def known around town but I don't know if it is outside of the midwest.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:34 AM on May 16


I've lived in Cincinnati for 20 years and I couldn't have told you that Enterprise was founded in St Louis let alone that they had a charismatic founder.

Then again if you aren't from Cincinnati you probably don't know about Carl Linder who built an empire of convenience stores cum ice cream parlors, a giant insurance company and owned the Cincinnati Reds.
posted by mmascolino at 6:46 AM on May 16


Heh, in Arkansas, the Waltons are admired only as a source of amusing anecdotes told in hushed tones. How entitled must one feel to fire your pilot enroute for failing to load up enough liquor and then get angry when they take you seriously and enter an immediate descent to land at the nearest suitable airport?
posted by wierdo at 8:35 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Gonna point out that Jobs was ethnically Arab. 100% American asshole, tho. Tuck Frump, for bad or for good, Jobs is OURS.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:17 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Good thing my AP actually has logs that can be used to, you know, make things work.

There are WiFi debug tools on OSX - Apple just likes hiding stuff.
posted by atoxyl at 12:30 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Also I think the actual secret of Steve Jobs is right in this thread which is that he was one-in-a-million good at persuading people to do things (whether that was exactly in their personal interest or not).
posted by atoxyl at 12:33 PM on May 16


No, Jobs was not one-in-a-million at convincing people, his power magnified what skills he had though, as well as his cachet from being the founder of Apple (which, in the link, Carmack identifies as part of what he admired about Jobs). In other contexts, Jobs' skills produce negotiators, con men, preachers and cult leaders.

His surety and self-confidence seem to be what led him to delay getting early treatment for his pancreatic cancer, first seeking out alternative treatments, a delay that probably caused his early death.

Lest it seem like I'm tearing into the man too harshly... he was one of the founders of Apple, and he did preside over the transformation of the company from a failing giant coasting on its early successes to the gigantic company we know today, by using his personal charisma to push through the cell phone companies' stupid reluctance to take advantage of the computers that provided the functionality of their devices. Without Apple, we'd probably still be playing Snake and being content with stupid little web browsers on monochrome screens.

The right man for the job, in the right place and with the right tools. That's what Steve Jobs was.
posted by JHarris at 10:26 AM on May 17


Saying that without Apple we'd be playing Snake on monochrome screens evinces a deep misunderstanding about what was actually new about the iPhone. I'm not going to get into an argument about it, but there is literally nothing a phone does today that phones didn't do (and some very well) before the Rokr, much less the iPhone. Well, except have batteries that barely last a day of heavy use. In that sense Apple set us back a decade.
posted by wierdo at 12:39 PM on May 18


No, I'm going to stand by my statement. Whatever previous phones did, Apple sure as hell popularized smartphones.

Here's the Wikipedia page on the Rokr.

There is one very important thing I don't see on that page, and it is App Store.
posted by JHarris at 9:45 PM on May 18


Saying phone technology wouldn't be where it is now without Steve Jobs is like saying we'd all be running slower today if it weren't for Roger Bannister.
posted by rocket88 at 5:59 AM on May 19


There is one very important thing I don't see on that page, and it is App Store.

The App Store happened despite Jobs, not because of him. Remember, when the iPhone originally launched, his plan was that people would write web based applications for it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:49 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]


like saying we'd all be running slower today if it weren't for Roger Bannister.

Roger Bannister didn't add to the language of running, say, like Steve Prefontaine did, without whom we very well may have been running slower today. Sure, there's an element of "If you hadn't done it some other loser would have," but we're stuck with the history that actually happened. Such is Jobs.
posted by rhizome at 11:34 AM on May 19


Someday people will be able to objectively evaluate the state of the phone market. It's not even accurate to say Apple popularized smartphones, given that there were many tens of millions of them in service before the iPhone project began, and I'm not talking about Blackberry and their Java shit.

Apple changed the form factor, though even that wasn't exactly new, just not yet popular. They also made people in the US give a shit, which is why the alternate history has such traction. Sadly, American Exceptionalism is still the default assumption, even among a lot of people who aren't American.

With the possible exception of reasonably modern 3D acceleration and the mostly screen form factor, there is nothing truly new (in the most generous sense requiring that devices with such features have sold in significant numbers to count as prior art) about what we are using now vs. pre-iPhone.

They totally outmarketed and out-businessed most everyone else, but the first part had always been Jobs' thing and the second he finally learned during the interregnum at Apple. Still, the man deserves much credit for that. As another MeFite once noted, it was undeniable genius to use the marketing to show people how to use the product so that by the time people had their hands on it they already knew not only what it could do, but how to work it.

It takes nothing away from his accomplishment (to me, it makes it all the more impressive) to acknowledge that it was by no means the first. If you really need a first to hang your hat on, the Apple Watch is a good place to look. It was the first fully functional mass market smart watch and was and still is an impressive piece of engineering, unlike the OG iPhone, which had no apps, no 3G, and RF performance on par with the $10 LG and Samsung flip phones of the era. Later iterations were far more impressive from an engineering standpoint, but few hit a home run the first time they step up to the plate.
posted by wierdo at 5:39 PM on May 19


I'm not going to get into an argument about it, but there is literally nothing a phone does today that phones didn't do (and some very well) before the Rokr, much less the iPhone.

The iPhone was the prototype of the iPad. An always connected device that was almost all display you could literally point at and it would just do useful work. This is what Jobs was going for, and all of the blackberry-alikes were missing. (And the Samsung semi-smart phones and Androids were actual blackberry-alikes.)

This is literally what he was after, and Apple not only achieved it, they made it better.

I will note now that the OnePlus 6 has a notch. Just like the iPhone X. It's half the price and has 3/4 of the features!

American consumers buy OnePlus to have a great phone at a budget price. Chinese consumers buy iPhones to show off they can afford the best.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:18 PM on May 19


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