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Steve Jobs "never had any designs. He has not designed a single project" (reprog.wordpress.com)
173 points by MikeTaylor on Sept 6, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

Steve may not design the product, but he is the hard-grain sandpaper that gets a design from prototype to best in market.

Ars says it best:

"On his own, Jobs could not create much of anything. But that's not his superpower . .. He is Apple's übercritic: one man to pare a torrent of creativity and expertise down to a handful of truly great products by picking apart every prototype, challenging every idea, and finding the flaws that no one else can see."


Further reading on this process in action - Steve's take on the Segway design:


I actually had dinner with a well-known hedge fund manager a few months ago and while talking about Blackberries and iPhones, he mentioned "that nobody has ever got rich betting against Steve Jobs"

Sums it up for me pretty well.

Bill Gates rather puts the lie to that.

He does? How?

Microsoft was happy to place bets on every system they could. Bill Gates didn't bet against anyone. He placed lots of bets on lots of systems, knowing that one would work out. The IBM PC is what made their fortune. But the bets they placed on other systems were already doing very well for them. Including on Apple.

The Microsoft-Apple relationship began in 1977 with Microsoft introducing Applesoft BASIC and later licensing it to Apple. Microsoft SoftCard followed in 1980, enabling Apple machines to run to programs designed for the CP/M. Sure, there was the infamous MS-DOS deal with IBM. But in the same time period Steve Jobs visited Microsoft to demo early prototypes of the Macintosh, and Microsoft was the first major company to develop programs for the Mac. In the end Microsoft BASIC and Microsoft Multiplan were shipped simultaneously with the introduction of the Macintosh, and Microsoft announced at the launch that Word, Chart, and File would ship soon.

When I look back at the history, I see no sign that Bill Gates was betting against Steve Jobs. His most successful bet was not on Steve Jobs. But he had lots of bets on Jobs as well.

For more on the history, see http://www.thocp.net/companies/microsoft/microsoft_company.h...

Early on, before a leader in the PC market was established, investors had the choice of betting which horse would win--Bill Gates at Microsoft or Steve Jobs at Apple.

Many people did get rich betting on Gates, so indirectly, yes, Bill Gates does show that people have gotten rich betting against Jobs. The hyperbole is nice, but only that--hyperbole.

Isn't that choice a false dichotomy? A bet on Gates is not a bet against Jobs.

An investor who could only envisage one winner may be a little naive. It's not a horse race.

A bet on Gates is not a bet against Jobs.

Yes it was.


"The first Macintosh was introduced on January 24, 1984; it was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface rather than a command-line interface. The company continued to have success through the second half of the 1980s, only to see it dissipate in the 1990s as the personal computer market shifted towards IBM PC compatible machines running MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows."

Check your timeline. By 1990 betting on Microsoft was not betting against Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. Windows 1.0 was released in the same year. However Windows struggled at that point. According to Microsoft (see http://www.microsoft.com/windows/winhistorydesktop.mspx for confirmation) the first successful version of Windows was Windows 3.0. That was released in 1990, and its main competitor was a severely mismanaged Apple. At that point Bill Gates was emphatically not competing against Steve Jobs.

So, when Gates bought 150M of Apple stock in 97, was he betting against himself? Worked out to be a winning bet for Gates.

As Jobs said at the time: "We have to let go of a few notions here. We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose.”

So, when Gates bought 150M of Apple stock in 97, was he betting against himself?

Pretty much, yes. It made him seem like less of a monopolist.

Worked out to be a winning bet for Gates.

That's what happens when you bet on every horse in the race. It's something that Microsoft does a lot.

When you're investing in Microsoft and not in Apple, that's a bet against Apple. And it wasn't just investors that had to make that bet ... software developers and customers had to pick.

In the early '90 support for Apple's hardware / OS was a second class citizen and it still is in many areas.

Actually it pretty much was a horse race. How many PC manufacturers were there in the 80s? How many in the 90s?

Surely (not betting on) != (betting against)

The original quote was 'nobody has ever got rich betting against Steve Jobs'. The fact that at times Microsoft had close dealings with Apple does not stop the fact that their biggest bet of all - on the IBM-PC, commoditized hardware and the Windows OS itself - was quite clearly in competition with the Macintosh and Apple.

This was 'a bet against Steve Jobs', and it made Bill Gates (and many others) quite, quite rich.

Nonsense. When you are "betting" on every platform in the market, it's not betting. Try going to the track and betting on every horse in a race. You'll lose money.

Microsoft is a software company, Apple is a hardware company. They overlap but if you look at it through that fundamental lens you'll understand. Gates bet on software, Jobs on hardware.

Well, it's a little more subtle than that. Microsoft produced some of the earliest and most important applications for Macintosh (and still does). Bill sent a famous letter advising Jobs to license the Mac OS widely (which was honest advice, based on Bill's later actions). A lot of Microsoft's success relative to Apple is where Apple refused to participate in a market (e.g., OSes for commodity hardware) rather than a pure competitive "bet against".

> which was honest advice

Not really.

Gates already had a "Microsoft tax" in place for generic x86 computers, so, any sale of an x86 box running a generic Apple OS would also imply in a sale of an OEM license of DOS. At that time, Gates was developing Windows (perhaps doubting they could pull it off, thus, misleading Apple into spending money on something they regarded as very difficult or impossible) to compete with Apple's proprietary hardware/software stack.

Without hardware differentiation, Apple would quickly fail.

So, no, I don't think that was honest advice and, much to his credit, neither did Jobs.

If you read the letter (http://www.vectronicsappleworld.com/macintosh/memo.html), Gates's advice was to license Mac hardware technology to OEMs, enabling a "Mac-compatible" hardware market in which licensing the Mac OS would be feasible.

It is easy to forget that in 1985, the modern assumption that all computers are identical Intel-specified x86 boxes was not yet in place.

Gates mostly bet against John Sculley, Mike Spindler, etc.

Wait a minute... Bill Gates was on top when he retried. Jobs hasn't retired yet. This game ain't over...

...but of course Gates is an ubercritic too and only "appropriated" from the best (Zerox PARC), just like Jobs.

I dislike these kinds of statements because, although they might have a kernel of truth, they tend to deflect useful criticism and inspection of a company's operation. The kernel of truth in this case is that Steve Jobs has a very good intuition of what people want and what they find to be aesthetically pleasing. However, I'm sure that the closed, proprietary nature of the various iOS platforms and their general hostility towards free software aren't exactly benefits that other companies should emulate.

Besides that, I will say that even if Jobs wasn't involved in the actual designing of Apple products, he's a very charismatic director and has a good intuition on what really excites people. Such qualities are generally rare to find in the human population.

The fact is, the Macintosh was nowhere near completion when Jobs took it over and shepherded it there himself. The whole Raskin/Jobs controversy smells like 30 year old corporate politics, nothing deeper than that.

Some potentially relevant folklore.org bits: http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&s...


Note that Jef Raskin actually disputes both those accounts himself in the comments sections.

Which just reinforces the "it's 30-year old corporate politics full of 'he-said, she-said'" perception.

Wozniak's all-planet engineering skill and user empathy is the cornerstone of everything that came afterward. To this day I cannot understand why the prototypical managerial leech that is Jobs, however good his taste, is venerated over Woz. By technical folk, of all people.

The figurehead gets the glory. As a RULE.

Lance Armstrong is the Man Who Went to the Moon. We remember him, Buzz Aldrin, and the Presidents who got us there. Nobody else- not a one of the architects and engineers or anybody else.

I don't know how to tell you this, but...I think you meant Neil Armstrong.

Wow, I feel stupid.

It happens to us all, just laugh, smile and move on :)

Lance Armstrong rode his bike to the moon?

It looked a lot like that scene from E.T.

Another example: everyone knows the name of the lead singer of a band - rarely do they know who the rhythm guitarist, bassist, or drummer were.

I think this is a difference of the generations.

I don't think so, I think it's a difference of "fans" versus "everyone."

I know Eddie Vedder is the lead singer of Pearl Jam, but I was never a huge fan. I like their music, but was exposed to it mostly through friends, who could almost certainly tell you the other important names in the band.

I think it's more probable that once a generation passes, more of the people who are even aware of the band are the fans who know more of the details.

And more pointedly, who remembers the name of the astronaught who stayed up in the command module?

I think his name was Collins, but I was a science/history buff as a kid. I can't even remember his first name.

Michael Collins. One of the loneliest humans in history. Apparently some other command module astronaut was a bit farther away from any other human than Collins, but I can't find a good source for that.

He wrote an excellent book Carrying The Fire that's widely considered to be the best written by any astronaut. It gives a broader overview than just the Apollo missions and covers the Gemini and Mercury programs that prepared for the moon shot.

" and the Presidents who got us there."

Not even. Kennedy gets the credit for getting us to the moon, even though it was Johnson and Nixon who were there for most of the process.

There may be hundreds of wozniaks in garages today. But they will stay in garages because they don have their jobses.

It saddens me deeply to agreew ith you (Woz has been a hero of mine for nearly 30 years) but I suspect that is true - plenty companies succeed with great marketing and shitty technology (and no I don't mean Microsoft) whereas great technology and poor marketing is a pretty common route to disaster.

Amen brother.

FWIW, Paul Lutus is calling this accurate over on reddit:


Woz' interview in Founders At Work seems to confirm that Jobs played a major part in many design decisions on the initial Macintosh, especially the removal of extension slots:

We had a real argument over slots. (...) Steve said, "All people really need is a printer and a modem." And that was just false because he'd come from a different world than I. (...) He wanted just one slot for a printer and one for a modem(...), so I said, "If you want 2 slots, get another computer." That was the only time we had a real argument.


It would seem his opinion only got worse with time:


His mid-90s annotations retract things he thought politic to say in the 80s.

“[..] The next afternoon, instead of a new iteration of the calculator, Chris unveiled his new approach, which he called "the Steve Jobs Roll Your Own Calculator Construction Set". Every decision regarding graphical attributes of the calculator were parameterized by pull-down menus. You could select line thicknesses, button sizes, background patterns, etc.

Steve took a look at the new program, and immediately started fiddling with the parameters. After trying out alternatives for ten minutes or so, he settled on something that he liked. When I implemented the calculator UI (Donn Denman did the math semantics) for real a few months later, I used Steve's design, and it remained the standard calculator on the Macintosh for many years, all the way up through OS 9.”

via: http://folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story...

Title is hardly a surprise. What did you expect? Will we next learn he never implemented a single NS_* class?


He also wrote the entirety of the NeXTSTEP developer docs on scrolls in his kitchen.

Despite the abstract level where Jobs usually lives, it's interesting to note just what a hardon he had for OOP back in the day:

"With our technology, with objects, literally three people in a garage can blow away what 200 people at Microsoft can do. Literally can blow it away. Corporate America has a need that is so huge and can save them so much money, or make them so much money, or cost them so much money if they miss it, that they are going to fuel the object revolution."


With his usual flair, he almost implies in the quote that NeXT invented OOP altogether.

Jobs seems to have a nose for the things that matter. Especially meaningful stuff that would escape most traditional business guys.

According to Wikipedia[1] Inteface Builder was invented and developed by Jean-Marie Hullot, originally in Lisp.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interface_Builder#History

Hell, it was probably originally in French, too.

Only the functional specifications.

"He has not designed a single project" is a bit of a strawman argument. What Jobs does is focus a team of designers and engineers on creating a product that is really satisfying to use. It doesn't sound like much, but if it's easy, how come no company but Apple seems to be able to do it?

Anyway here is a Mac application that applies some of Jef Raskin's ideas to a finder alternative: http://www.raskinformac.com/

Raskin said that as a response to Jobs' claim that (quoting from memory) "I feel I still have a couple good designs in me." It's unfortunate that the article omits this bit of context from the original interview in Programmers at Work.

He's not saying that Jobs is without merit, just that he steals credit from those to whom it rightfully belongs.

folklore.org paints a pretty interesting picture of Jef Raskin, and one which indicates his words should be carefully weighted and not taken at any more face value than those of Jobs.

For instance:

> Whatever idea that you came up with, Jef Raskin had a tendency to claim that he invented it at some earlier point.

folklore also shows Jobs's contribution very differently than Raskin's own take:

> The plan of record for the Macintosh industrial design was still the one conceived by Jef Raskin, which chose a horizontally oriented, lunch-box type shape, with the keyboard folding up into the lid of the computer for easy transportability, kind of like the Osborne I, which we weren't aware of at the time. But Steve had a real passion for industrial design, and he never seriously considered following Jef's recommendations.

As well as complete and utter disagreement with what was apparently written by Raskin, behold from ZeroGravitas's link:

> The elimination of slots had been dictated by Jobs, however I thought this would hamstring the product. Thus I invented the all-important bus diagnostic port discussed below

Whereas on folklore.org:

> But Jef Raskin had a very different point of view. He thought that slots were inherently complex, and were one of the obstacles holding back personal computers from reaching a wider audience. He thought that hardware expandability made it more difficult for third party software writers since they couldn't rely on the consistency of the underlying hardware. His Macintosh vision had Apple cranking out millions of identical, easy to use, low cost appliance computers and since hardware expandability would add significant cost and complexity it was therefore avoided.

> Apple's other co-founder, Steve Jobs, didn't agree with Jef about many things, but they both felt the same way about hardware expandability: it was a bug instead of a feature. Steve was reportedly against having slots in the Apple II back in the days of yore, and felt even stronger about slots for the Mac. He decreed that the Macintosh would remain perpetually bereft of slots, enclosed in a tightly sealed case, with only the limited expandability of the two serial ports.

> Mac hardware designer Burrell Smith and his assistant Brian Howard understood Steve's rationale, but they felt differently about the proper course of action. Burrell had already watched the Macintosh's hopelessly optimistic schedule start to slip indefinitely, and he was unable to predict when the Mac's pioneering software would be finished, if ever. He was afraid that Moore's Law would make his delayed hardware obsolete before it ever came to market. He thought it was prudent to build in as much flexibility as possible, as long as it didn't cost too much.

> Burrell decided to add a single, simple slot to his Macintosh design, which made the processor's bus accessible to peripherals, that wouldn't cost very much, especially if it wasn't used. He worked out the details and proposed it at the weekly staff meeting, but Steve immediately nixed his proposal, stating that there was no way that the Mac would even have a single slot.

Also good to note is Andy Hertzfeld's account of "Black Wednesday" in February 1981 when Raskin was fired and Hertzfeld given his desk.

The book was published in 1986, which would probably mean that the interview was done after he was fired by Jobs. Certainly reinforces the warning to take Raskin's word, too, with a grain of salt.


You've found a few inconsistencies there, but on the other hand most accounts of Steve Jobs, including very positive ones on folklore.org portray him as a sociopathic liar. That is basically what the famous Reality Distortion Field means:


Note that one of the examples of the original definition was taking credit for your ideas, even back to you personally.

I'm not saying that means everything he has ever said, or is said about him is therefore wrong or exaggerated, but on the other I feel it's a stretch to say that Jef Raskin has been demonstrated to have the same level of well documented flexibility when it comes to the concept of truth and reality as Steve Jobs.

It seems that this is one of those stories where everyone can have it their way. Not much in the way of evidence but much talk. It’s probably best to ignore things like that when trying to from accurate beliefs about Jobs.

Steve Jobs having nothing to do with the original Macintosh doesn't imply that Steve Jobs' aesthetic sense didn't result in Apple's resurgence.

It might imply that Jobs is not a nice guy but I think even a lot of Apple fans are OK with Jobs being a not-nice-guy-who-gives-them the coolest stuff.

I am personally distributed by the cult-like-climate that Apple is described as having but I am also appreciate that Apple is seen as where the best UIs appear.

I think having single persons aesthetic control is very important to and we should think about why.

My suspicion is that one wouldn't necessarily have to have genius to do this, just a willingness not to accept the usual croft that infects just any large engineering project. Any average user off the street can walk and say "I don't want to do that in five steps, I want to do it in one". The only genius it take here is a willingness to keep attitude even though a team of twenty spent a year deciding that five steps made sense (and their terrible decision happen because the logic of engineering process crept slowly and insidiously into their aesthetic, their idea of what is "OK").

The Mac was an improved version of the Lisa, which was a copy of the Xerox Alto, which was inspired by Englebart's NLS.

You can see what it would have been had Raskin carried out his plans, because he did, to something called the Canon Cat: http://tinyurl.com/47hj7m

Raskin has a better claim to the iOS design, in that it is an "incredible morphing computer".

Ah, yes, the Canon Cat. A real world-changer, that.

Yes, too bad. It looks far superior to what I'm typing in now.

You know, if you wanted to implement a Canon Cat, you could probably do it pretty easily and on a reasonable budget with a modern 16-bit or 32-bit microcontroller, an SRAM chip, an SD card, an LCD, the keyboard of your choice, and Lua instead of Forth. Or you could hack up Emacs or something to support LEAP keys and whatnot (maybe you can relabel the Windows key on your keyboard), although that wouldn't give you the instant-turn-on ability. Most of the detailed specs were available on the web for a while under the name "The Humane Environment".

Steve is the 'brave general' that sparked Apple, destroyed it, and rebuilt it again. He may have been a sociopath artist in his 20's but he grew up to be the world's greatest CEO in his 40's and 50's. Just look at the Apple 10 years ago and look at them now.

> Steve is the 'brave general' that sparked Apple, destroyed it

When? How? I've always been under the impression that Apple's destruction had followed jobs's ousting. Unless you mean that Jobs destroyed Apple by hiring Sculley?

> He may have been a sociopath artist in his 20's but he grew up to be the world's greatest CEO in his 40's and 50's. Just look at the Apple 10 years ago and look at them now.

But it's not like the successes of his 40s were built on nothing. Pixar and NeXT didn't spring up from some kind of void in the mid-90s as Jobs reached 40.

His ego destroyed Apple and got him ousted. When reality humbled him, he returned and rebuilt it for the 21st century.

NeXT was part of rebuilding Apple. That's how he got back to Apple...

Steve was only a benevolent patron to Pixar. He didn't micromanage them or take credit for any of the movies being 'his visions'.

> His ego destroyed Apple and got him ousted. When reality humbled him, he returned and rebuilt it for the 21st century.

I still don't see that.

> NeXT was part of rebuilding Apple. That's how he got back to Apple...

You do realize that he founded NeXT as he was being thrown out of Apple don't you?

> Steve was only a benevolent patron to Pixar. He didn't micromanage them or take credit for any of the movies being 'his visions'.

No, but he did understand what it could become and he did become it's patron. That's pretty significant. He's also the one who decided to refocus Pixar from its original business, hardware, to what it is today, a studio, CGI and animation company. And he managed most of the relations with Disney (including the Eisner fallout).

Credit for Pixar's work goes to Lasseter and his team, but credit for Pixar existing at all, let alone going from a $5m Lucas Arts team to a $8b Disney subsidiary in 20 years can hardly go to anybody but Jobs.

Dude. I am not trying to fight you with words.

NeXT became Steve's parachute. He had a feeling, the board was getting fed up with his ego.

Pixar needed a leader, Lucas got divorced. Steve saved the ship...

Steve pulled a Buddha. Had everything in his 20's. Lost it all before 30. Rebuilt his life and his work to be a part of human history when he humbled himself.

When people look back centuries from now, Steve will be remembered as a hero, not a villain.

To be fair, he didn't lose it all--he was still rich and famous, rich enough to buy Pixar and famous enough to get millions of dollars invested into NeXT.

If you want to make wild claims, you need to have some way to back them up beyond repeating the original claim. All of this "His ego destroyed Apple," "He humbled himself," "He had a feeling" is entirely your invention as far as I can tell. You appear to have made up some kind of hero-myth around Jobs. And, I mean, it's OK if you enjoy thinking that, but recounting it as though it's based in fact is (probably unintentionally) dishonest.

It's not a myth or legend. I look up to great people that moved our species forward. Here is where I learned some of this 'crap':


And, the rest is from Steve Wozinack's autobiography...

Steve is a polarizing figure with a vision that unites spirituality with technology. That's why Apple keeps attracting more and more attention...

Interesting comment.


Does building Apple to the level it is now prove he stopped being a sociopath or prove that he was the right sociopath for the right job?

Once a sociopath, always a sociopath. However, the Steve running the show today is not the same as the Steve that got kicked out.

He certainly would not have been able to execute grand plans like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad without having hundreds of brilliant people working with him and being proud of their work.

> However, the Steve running the show today is not the same as the Steve that got kicked out.

I really don't think that's true.

> He certainly would not have been able to execute grand plans like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad without having hundreds of brilliant people working with him and being proud of their work.

Most of the Macintosh team did seem proud enough under him (so much so that some followed him to NeXT). He probably learned a lots of stuff inbetween, but the biggest difference is the people he found to work around him. He doesn't seem to have significantly changed himself,

What is your problem with the guy? What evil has he done to you or to Earth?

Steve jobs need not do it. He provides the vision, his engineers design his vision into a product and he sells it . period.

regardless of the truth it appears it's never too late to change and get better at what we do.

Well, guess what. He finally had success, regardless of what happened decades ago. ;)

At the end of the article it was revealed that that Raskin quote was made 24 years ago. Whether it was true then or not, it's certainly possible that Jobs has designed, or contributed to the design, of something at Apple in the 24 years since. Just a wee bit of a possibility there.

Actually, that was revealed at the beginning of the article: "It was published in 1986".

As I pointed out here (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1635161), Jobs indeed designed some of the architectural features of Apple Stores.

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