Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Steve Jobs Book

While I was in San Miguel I read the Walter Isaascon biography of Steve Jobs.   As biographies go it is interesting in many ways.   But here are three thoughts about the book.

#1 - I have not read the other biographies by Isaascon but if this one is any indication he could have used a good editor.  I got it in the first hundred pages that Jobs was prone to treat people badly.  But how many ways can you tell a reader that he was temperamental?  

#2 - There is a lot of good detail in the book even with the redundancies.  My history with computers, in many ways, parallels a lot of the story that Isaascon tries to tell.  I bought my first computer (an Osborne) at the Byte Shop in Palo Alto.   I was involved with an Osborne users group but soon found out I was more of a user than a geek.   As technologies grew and elaborated, I moved from one to another.  I bought the first 128 K Macintosh and have remained a loyal Mac user since then.   His discussions of the development of the various products of Apple and Jobs' role in those developments; the period between Sculley and Amelio; his explanation of Jobs' control of infinite detail on product launches - and a lot more - were fascinating.   I learned a lot.   

About a two weeks before Adam Osborne went bankrupt, I had the opportunity with a small group from the Osborne users group to have dinner with him.  Isaascon has a great quote from Osborne - Adequate is sufficient, the rest is superfluous - which sets up a division between people like him and Steve Jobs.   Isaascon's description of Bill Gates also seems to ring true.   

#3 - The author comes back to a dichotomy in the book between open (Microsoft) and closed (Apple) computer architectures in computers.  From that perspective, it is not clear to me how much Isaascon knows about computers.   Indeed, Gates was willing to allow his operating system to be run on many kinds of computers and Jobs was not.   But that does not make Microsoft any more open than Apple.   Their legendary ponderous nature of many Microsoft products is not an example of open versus closed.   Many of the mis-steps by Microsoft in both hardware and software are not the result of being open but if not demanding the same kind of attention to detail that Jobs obsessed on.

The differences between the two companies is not open or closed but one of integration of hardware and software.    Jobs saw the problems for a computer company as figuring out how to make the best experience for the user - Microsoft seems to be solving to create software only.

I enjoyed the book, even with the repetition and with the metaphor (closed versus open) which I thought was inapt. What worked best for me, is that Isaascon was able to gather a lot of information about one of the most interesting people in our lifetimes and present it in an organized fashion.

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