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Jobs and Woz (2011) (filfre.net)
54 points by pmoriarty 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

Woz is an absolutely stunningly good hardware designer and programmer, but I agree with this article's characterization that Jobs, had Woz not been around, would have found another Woz. Maybe not as good, and maybe with less success, but Apple would have been built in some fashion.

The impression I got from Founders At Work was that Woz was a big big reason for Apple's short term success, but also didn't really understand Apple past a certain point. After all, a product like the iPhone, with its fused body and minimal hackability is utterly opposite to the values of an old school hardware hacker like Woz.

Based on the data points of “iWoz”, “Steve Jobs”, “Becoming Steve Jobs”, NeXT, and Pixar my guess is Jobs without Woz does something different, but doesn’t create Apple.

The Mac was mostly created without Woz, but the Apple ][ is what paid for the Mac & access to Xerox’s tech. Pixar shows Jobs’ ability to find & develop a team, but the Pixar team is unlikely to have created Apple. NeXT was Job’s attempt to do Apple without Woz and it didn’t work because he missed affordability & efficiency elements Woz excelled at.

If iWoz is accurate, Woz created floppy drives, monitors, and a number of other technical firsts. Based on iWoz, a Woz without Jobs keeps working at HP for life and becomes a Jason Kridner (founder of BeagleBone.org) type influencer, which is still exceptionally cool.

The other critical factor, that really was clarified in iWoz, is how lucky they were to grow up where & when they did. By a roll of the dice they had access to electronics components that most people in the world never knew existed. They also grew up in an intellectual property environment unencumbered by the 30 years of rules based on companies like HP and Atari not wanting new hires like Woz and Jobs to fork a startup. Modern law and information availability will prevent anyone from ever repeating their successes in the “computer industry”. But people will repeat their success in other industries.

Woz didn't crest floppy drives or monitors, he figured out how to implement them more cheaply.

Specifically, floppy drive controllers and machine language monitor programs.

Also exploited NTSC to do artifact color.

All great hacks.

> Maybe not as good, and maybe with less success, but Apple would have been built in some fashion.

I think different: not saying that I am right but I think in an alternative reality without Woz the time window for building a company like Apple would not exist. Apple exists because of all the rare events happening early on that where capitalized later. We can apply the same thinking to unique companies like Microsoft or Google where even the amazing capabilities of their founders and employees need a rare seed and specific time to be seeded.

> I think different


> Apple exists because of all the rare events happening early on that where capitalized later.

That's definitely true. I'm not sure if the same early Apple stuff would have happened. But I could see post 90's Apple still happening in some fashion, especially if Jobs was truly able to con(vince) people into giving him funding via the reality distortion field. Jobs would probably have had to work his way up a little slower, but I could see him by the 90's as a kinda cult tech figure, respected enough that he could really work the VC funding circuit.

if we are throwing theory around, maybe not having Woz would have caused Jobs to work even harder to make "the thing". maybe apple would have never cut Jobs. maybe OSX would never have been born. maybe Apple was then sold to Oracle after Microsoft released "mPhone Home Edition"...

...why not?

Haha completely fair. This is completely speculative fiction :D

It's also possible, without Woz, that Steve would have ended up on a farm somewhere being a hippie. What Woz gave him was an experience into a world he otherwise would not have known. Like all great successes. Steve was at the right place, at the right time.

Perhaps. This article makes a good point about Jobs’ underlying intensity and competitiveness. Somehow I’m not so sure the guy who stole 4K from his friend would have been satisfied living on a commune. The hippy stuff makes for a great mythos but dude was as hard core capitalist as they come underneath.

Well, yes, Jobs was a businessman, his aim was to make a ton of money. So he did.

Woz was and is a brilliant technologist, likely he enjoys making machines work.

Building a walled garden of high security and low hackability, which started with the original Macintosh, is where their roads must have started to diverge.

(For the record, as a person, I would very much prefer to be like Woz than like Jobs, all the billions notwithstanding.)

>> Jobs was a businessman

People say this like Jobs didn't also have technical skills. I am not sure where this myth comes from, but Jobs was plenty sharp around technology. Compared to Wozniak, no, but almost no one was. Jobs was every bit of a toolsy hacker that worked from a young age for a computer corporation.

Definitely so!

I'm speaking about the main motivation.

That is, e.g. RMS was and maybe is an avid hacker, but most people associate him with his political stance first, and Emacs and GCC a distant second.

He didn't make the transition to executive management like most big tech founder did.

Also the first iPhone was released 30 years after the Apple 1, that's several generations in terms of technological advancement. Bill and Paul were no longer at Microsoft 30 years after the first Windows release. Google is barely 20 years old.

'Most'? Woz is actually pretty lucky, he's appreciated, people know what he did, and he's fairly wealthy. When it comes to successful Hands and Faces, the Hands more often end up like Kildall or one of an even more anonymous faceless team that did all the work but will never be known.

Yes, Woz is one of my all times favourites.

> but also didn't really understand Apple past a certain point

From what I've read over the years, I get the strong impression that Woz, while still genius, was never the same after his plane crash and severe head injuries.

> “Ironically, [Woz’s] design was so minimized that normal mere mortals couldn’t figure it out. To go to production, we had to have technicians testing the things so they could make sense of it. If any one part failed, the whole thing would come to its knees. And since Jobs didn’t really understand it and didn’t want us to know that he hadn’t done it, we ended up having to redesign it before it could be shipped.”

I encountered this kind of thing at an Autodesk event a couple years back. AI was generating bridge designs the civil engineers didn’t understand. So, Autodesk had to dial down the AI until the designs could be evaluated by enough people to get a building permit.

Edit: quote is from the article & about Woz’s design

It's always nice to see Woz' recognition within the tech community as compare to popular culture where everyone talks about Steve.

I feel the exact opposite - that Woz is elevated by programmers and engineers to a much higher status than he deserves.

Jobs was a once in a generation visionary. Woz was extremely talented, but not singularly unique.

Jobs, one-in-a-billion; Woz, one-in-a-hundred-thousand or so.

Yeah, Woz came to speak at my university about 6 years ago and it was pretty underwhelming as a Computer Science undergraduate. He may have been a brilliant engineer at one point, but now he seems primarily interested in investing his wealth and talking about business. Hardly the nerdy hero of Apple the internet often props him up as.

If we're using hyperbole arguments like that, then the actual magic gold here is Jobs+Woz: one in a bazillion.

Would highly recommend reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

It goes way in depth about the journey surrounding Steve Jobs.

I feel like a lot of importance / a lot is assumed in this article based on a few contrasting quotes and events.

I never hear much about Paul Allen. Bill was a bit of a business shark, I wondered if Allen was his ‘Woz’

As far as I know Gates was a very good developer himself.

Paul Allen was known as a much better programmer than Bill Gates. But comparing them to Steve/Steve doesn't make sense.

Bill Gates didn't write DOS he purchased it after selling it to IBM. More of a business guy than pure programmer.

Steve was in a class himself creating the hardware/software for the orginal apple.

> Paul Allen was known as a much better programmer than Bill Gates.

In his book, Idea Man, Paul Allen openly proclaims that Bill Gates was a superior programmer to him. Allen says that he was, however, better than Gates in other ways, including when it came to assembly or anything working very close to hardware (Allen's most important Microsoft product after the very early days, was for example the SoftCard).

Further, Allen illuminates in his book that Gates was in fact an extraordinary programmer. He notes that Gates had a particular gift for raw output, endurance and figuring out ways to make their code as efficient in size as it could possibly be.

This article lends further support:

"Could Bill Gates write code? Yes. And then some, Altair BASIC dis-assemblers reckon"


> Reuben Harris has been disassembling a binary with some help from Monte Davidoff, the third author of Altair BASIC (along with Gates and Paul Allen) and who we interviewed here last week. He has the same question in mind:

> "'Could Bill Gates Write Code?' Or was he merely the luckiest man alive," before concluding... "Yes He Bloody Could!"

> Although Reuben's analysis is not quite complete, he tells us that Gates, Allen and Davidoff threw every trick at the book to squeeze the interpreter into 4 kilobytes. They succeeded and left some headroom for the programs themselves - without which it would have been pretty useless, of course.

> "It was pretty incredible - they were pretty good at what they were doing," he tells us.

> More of a business guy than pure programmer.

Bill Gates actually was a very strong programmer in the early days, so this characterization is misguided. He was very passionate about writing code for other developers, not about catering to end users. It wasn’t until later in Microsoft’s history that he was more business focused.

Happy to dig up articles to back this up, but seriously it should be trivial to find tons via a simple google search if you really care.

Edit: re-DOS, sure they bought it. Do you know anyone who can write an operating system in under a month (the timeline MicroSoft had with IBM)?

See the Model 100. Gates wrote that system ROM. 8085 assembly language.

It is a nice system for the time.

If we're comparing jobs to gates, I think it's also fair to say that gates doesn't compare as well on the 'business' aspect since his family connections helped him get that meeting with IBM. Jobs on the other hand was a hippy and hustled all the way

There's some warranted skepticism with that premise.

Microsoft was one of the largest software companies on the planet already by 1980 and among the few software companies in existence of any market relevance or development capability that could appeal to a company the size of IBM.

They did $8 million in sales in 1980, $26 million adjusted to 2019. That was a massive software business at the time, and only five years old.

Bill Gates was far richer than his family by 1980, at the age of 25. Microsoft's margins were extreme back then, 40% to 50% on that $8m. Gates was worth $100+ million inflation adjusted by the end of 1980.

That success was accomplished without using family connections to get deals. It's questionable whether Microsoft required help connecting with IBM. Microsoft was already well on its way to being a billion dollar valuation business in today's dollar.

Well, family connections are true, here's excerpt from Bill's mother bio: "Her tenure on the national board's executive committee is believed to have helped Microsoft, based in Seattle, at a crucial time. In 1980, she discussed her son's company with John Opel, a fellow committee member and the chairman of International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Opel, by some accounts, mentioned Mrs. Gates to other IBM executives. A few weeks later, IBM took a chance by hiring Microsoft, then a small software firm, to develop an operating system for its first personal computer." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Maxwell_Gates

> Bill Gates didn't write DOS he purchased it after selling it to IBM

As I recall the purchased DOS was extensively modified and redone for IBM.

But sold it before he had a copy.

filfre does have a history of the IBM PC that tells the story of how it came to be and the dealings between IBM and MicroSoft and (with Kildall of Digital).

It is worth a read.


I've always gotten the impression that Microsoft was from the beginning more of a business enterprise than an engineering one. Gates and Allen wrote BASIC for the Altair, and then made it big by buying QDOS after Gary Kildall was out of the office when IBM came by for a meeting. Doesn't really compare with the revolutions of the Apple II and Macintosh.

> I've always gotten the impression that Microsoft was from the beginning more of a business enterprise than an engineering one.

At the risk of being rude, if that’s the impression you had, then you’ve been entirely misled. Microsoft in the early days was quiet literally the exact opposite.

I recommend reading virtually any book (there’s a lot) on the early history of MicroSoft.

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