Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

Summary: The world is a lesser place without Steve Jobs. Here are a few recollections from a bygone summer in 1997 when he played the key role in shaping the Mac and Apple's history and perhaps the course of technology innovation.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
20

Like so many others, I am so sorry to hear of the death of Steve Jobs. He was a very great man and technologist. I extend my condolences to his family and friends and colleagues. Every computer user in the world owes a great debt to Steve Jobs, even if they don't realize that they should thank him: for the very beginnings of personal computing with the Apple II; for bringing into mass markets the Mac with its graphical user interface and the mouse; and more recently, for the groundbreaking iPhone/iPad/iOS platform.

As a longtime Mac user and Apple industry observer — I built VisiCalc spreadsheets on the Apple II, have owned Macs from every generation since 1984, and in the 1990s worked my way to be Editor at MacWEEK, the Mac industry's trade publication — I would offer a few recollections from a bygone summer in 1997 when Steve Jobs played the key role in shaping Mac and Apple history.

One tough one was the decision to kill Apple's Mac OS licensing program.

In 1994, Apple decided to join a number of other OS vendors to support a common hardware platform based on the PowerPC RISC processor. (You can read more about this history in a piece I wrote a number of years ago at eWEEK.com.)

Apple signed up a number of licensees to make Mac clones and the introduction of early units were successful in the market. But the cloners and the Mac installed base were really looking forward to machines with the next generation of RISC goodness, the PowerPC G3 and G4 processor. I saw the demonstrations of the high-performance clones in the summer of 1997. Their prospects were excellent. And since the smaller cloner companies were fine with shipping way smaller volumes of machines than Apple, they could cannibalize the top of the market with the richest margins.

The common wisdom of the time was that licensing was the correct strategy for software companies. It was the accepted model. Not to Steve Jobs. He understood that for Apple to stay afloat and be able to afford its OS software transition, it would need to keep the G3 processor to itself. He drove the decision to kill the licensing strategy, despite the legal action and outrage by software developers and Mac VARs.

Over the rest of the year, Apple unraveled the licensing agreements. In November 1997, Apple released the PowerMac G3, followed in mid-1998 with the iMac G3 and PowerMac G3 (both of which were developed before Jobs returned to Apple). The machines were hits with the installed base. Apple survived thanks to a loyal installed base and good machines from Cupertino.

Check out: Stop the lies! The day that Microsoft 'saved' Apple

Another remarkable performance I witnessed was Jobs' "fireside chat" with angry Apple developers at the 1997 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). This was a critical moment in Apple history. Microsoft was wooing away hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of longtime developers inside and outside the company. The trope running in the technology press for several years was that the Apple was a zombie company, walking dead.

At WWDC, developers were pitched that the future of the Mac OS would be found in Rhapsody, a set of APIs based on NeXT OpenStep that would run on PowerPC and Intel processors. Many familiar frameworks, some of which had been viewed as the future of the Mac for years, were to be scrapped. Developers and companies had spent hundreds of millions writing to these now-orphaned technologies.

I recall speaking around that time with a division head of a major Mac market software company, who said that an engineering vice president had screamed in a meeting that this company would never write to an Apple API again. Yikes!

How would Apple keep its developers in the fold?

Perhaps, it would start with some honest talk from the Apple founder who at the time was just a "adviser" with the company? Jobs walked out and took on the questions in a town-hall format. He was amazing, handling hecklers and fans alike, and there were more of the former than the latter in attendance.

His talk was blunt and tough and unapologetic about "putting down" APIs and software teams. He told one developer that he was sorry for being "one of the people who put a bullet in your technology."

Of course, he wasn't sorry at all. Jobs said that Apple needed to focus, and "focusing is about saying no."

He told the crowd that Apple had to get away from expensive, proprietary technologies. If most of the market — meaning the hated PC market — wasn't going to use a technology, "so why should Apple do it?" he asked at the time.

Developers stayed with the Mac and the shift to a Unix foundation, while painful and long, revived the Mac as a platform. At the iPhone 4S roll-out this week, Apple said the installed base is more than 60 million.

At the same 1997 fireside chat, Jobs revealed perhaps his most significant contributions to Apple: the focus towards customer-centric solutions.

One heckler yelled out that Jobs didn't have a clue to fixing Apple's problems, to which Jobs said that the heckler was probably right. No doubt, this was a lie, since Jobs had plenty of ideas that he was already cooking: getting rid of the current Apple executive team, killing the licensing program and more restructuring, aka "putting down" entire divisions.

But Jobs hammered back with a call for increased customer values.

"You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around. I've probably made this mistake more than anybody, and I've got the scar tissue to prove it," Jobs said.

Some 14 years later, this is still something that most technology companies don't get.

Amazing.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

20 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Job's greatest legacy?

    <b>Jobs</b>: <i>" ... You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology not the other way around. Ive probably made this mistake more than anybody, and Ive got the scar tissue to prove it ... "</i><br><br>Understanding the end-user (in the majority) <i>is not a "techie"</i> ... in business circles that really does require pure genius.<br><br>The legacy for most everyone else? ...<br><br><i>" ... Some 14 years later, this is still something that most technology companies dont get. "</i><br><br>'Not getting' the <i>user</i> .. needless to say, they're dime-a-dozen type legacies ... worthy of failure, and ultimately, of being forgotten.</b>
    thx-1138_
    • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

      @thx-1138_@... Understanding the customer. Psychology and marketing 101.

      And, quite frankly, we need a person who is a techie AND a marker. Customers are important, and so is an operating system. After all, if customers were techies, I doubt they'd like Apple very much. (No Crossfire, running FreeBSD with a proprietary API lumped in, few accelerated graphics choices on top of no parallel processing with Crossfire or SLI, etc. ) And OS X, as good as it actually is, could still benefit from a few tweaks... (I'm a Mac user but need a real reason to hold a level of loyalty... if the company values the customer beyond the scope of a "walking wallet", then I will reciprocate.)
      HypnoToad72
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    One can only think how awesome Google could be if they took a page out of Mr. Jobs' customer-centric solutions book.
    Gr8Music
    • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

      @Gr8Music I'm 100% in agreement on that point (and it wouldn't hurt Facebook to pick up a few pointers either)!
      hectorj102
    • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

      @Gr8Music
      The best example where techie propeller heads drive end user experience is Microsoft. Steve used to say that Microsoft has no taste... It is so true. Especially with mobile devices which are very personal, user experience is everything...
      prof123
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    Question really will be what happens when Steve's 5 year plan runs out. Are there any other visionaries in Apple to capture the genius of Jobs?
    tpaskitti
    • Johnathan Ives

      nt
      baggins_z
  • He was smart to say no, as he understood that Apple is

    a hardware company, not a software company.

    Did he envision back then that they would be where they are now? Never in a million years, but understanding that they would do better finacially in hardware vs software was a smart move.
    William Farrell
  • Printer Market and Apple as a Hardware Company

    I remember back in the late 1980s hearing that apple had sold more printers than any other company. It was surprising until I starting paying attention to how many different brands were available. There was an Apple OS as early as system 7 that would run on Intel machines, but it was experimental and EXTREMELY tightly controlled.
    bobp@...
    • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

      @bobp@... which is amusing, as Apple (essentially) licensed HP's own line of printers and given a different-shaped casing... those were the days... but, back then, Apple was more serious with typography and graphic design as well... with the glut of 3D apps in today's market, it's cheaper to - ugh - buy a Windows box and use SLI or Crossfire for parallel processing and save lots on rendering time... Macs don't have that edge and WILL be relegated once Apple's niche becomes too small... Especially if Premiere Pro gets discontinued on the Mac (Final Cut Pro X being a bit of a UX devolution and all...) and, as with After Effects, will make use of the video card's GPU and RAM... so not just 3D rendering apps can benefit, but Apple chooses to continue to sell overpriced, outdated hardware (the 5870 w/1GB for $450?!)
      HypnoToad72
  • The Mac Clones: Ouch!

    What a pile of junk they were.
    Laraine Anne Barker
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    Darn and I thought it was Bill Gates and Microsoft who saved Apple's but from obscurity because of the investment that came from the boys of Redmond at the time.
    kg4icg
    • Don't feel too bad. A lot of people have drunk

      the kool-aid on that one. The reality is, MS's "investment" was the result of a settlement when they got their @$$ handed to them after they were caught stealing Apple's quicktime technology.
      baggins_z
      • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

        @baggins_z The funny thing is, the people who try to play the "Microsoft saved Apple" card always use the investment (which probably would have covered Apple's losses for one quarter* at the time, although they still had a decent amount of cash on hand) and never even note the renewed commitment to making Office for the Mac, which (if one were so inclined) could probably be spun as a renewed vote of confidence for Apple.

        To clarify, I don't buy into the "MS saved Apple" argument any more than you do. I'm just saying that there's other stuff from that time which would make for at least a more feasible foundation for their argument.

        * In Q4, fiscal year 1997 (ending in September 1997), Apple had a net loss of $161 million.
        Third of Five
      • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

        @baggins_z I think kg4lcg's head just imploded!
        thetwonkey
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    Look, I have no problem giving accolades to Steve Jobs, pre or posthumously. I do have issue with the overlooking the backs that Apple walked upon to gain its success. You talk about building VisiCalc spredsheets but you fail to mention that VisiCalc was a CPM based app that was not compatible to Apple DOS or ProDOS and that it in fact ran on a CPM card running a Z80 processor with its own memory so that the Apple ][ could boot to CPM and run VisiCalc. The net effect was that the Apple ][ was merely an I/O host to the Z80 and CPM which did all of the processing for VisiCalc. It is VisiCalc that brought the "Personal Computer" to the mid management masses not the Apple ][. Therefore it was not Steve Jobs that made the small desktop personal but VisiCalc and CPM. If there is any Apple credit to be recognized it is Steve Wozniak for creating the Apple ][ mother board with the accessory slot that the CPM/Z80 card plugged into not Jobs.
    Zildjian71
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    Look I don't mind giving Steve Jobs accolades pre or posthumously, but I think you are forgetting the backs that Apple walked across to gain their success. You say that you built VisiCalc spreadsheets on an Apple ][. VisiCalc ran on a Z80 based card with its own memory to allow the Apple][ to boot to CPM to run VisiCalc (http://www.z80.eu/apple2.html). The Apple ][ was merely an I/O host the Z80 and CPM did all the processing. It was VisiCalc that brought the "Personal Computer" to the masses of mid level managment not the Apple ][ itself. If there is any Apple credit due here it is to Steve Wozniak for creating the Apple ][ motherboard with the accessory slot for the Z80 card to plug into.
    Zildjian71
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    I don't mind giving Steve Jobs accolades pre or posthumously, but I think you are forgetting the backs that Apple walked across to gain its success. You say that you built VisiCalc spreadsheets on an Apple ][. VisiCalc was a CPM app that ran on a Z80 "softcard" plugged into an accessory slot on the Apple ][ motherboard this card did the work not the Apple ][. The result was that the Apple ][ was merely a memory and I/O host to CPM. It was VisiCalc that brought mainstream computer use to the mid level management masses and made computing personal not Apple. If there is any Apple credit to recognize here it is Steve Wozniak for designing the Apple ][ mother board with the accessory slot that made VisiCalc possible on the Apple ][.
    Zildjian71
  • RE: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

    You say that you built VisiCalc spreadsheets on an Apple. VisiCalc was a CPM app that ran on a Z80 "softcard" plugged into an accessory slot on the Apple motherboard. The Apple was an I/O host to CPM. It was VisiCalc that brought mainstream computer use and made computing personal not Apple. It is Steve Wozniak for designing the Apple ][ mother board with the accessory slot that made VisiCalc possible on the Apple ][.
    Zildjian71
  • Reneging on licensing was a scumbag move.

    Reneging on licensing was a scumbag move - but as a small-market tin-pot dictator, he got away with it.

    Now if Microsoft announced Windows would henceforth be licensed to only one hardware company (that just happens to be an in-house crony), can you imagine the reaction?
    cquirke