Books on greed and madness
“Every age gets the icon it deserves” states Rivlin of Gates. Imagine our age, then, if Steve Jobs was our icon? While Gates binges on burgers, Steve is a vegan. While Gates can’t stop making billions, Steve earns just $1 a year as Apple boss and owns just one share – though, he gets 50 times that amount from his other company, Pixar. It’s certainly not the case that Steve was no match for Bill. In fact, the two are probably closer than either would like to admit. The parallels run deep. Bill’s hissy fits at incompetent engineers easily match Steve’s when it comes to bawling out employees – “motivation through fear-based bullying”. It even seems likely that Bill dropped acid around the same time that Steve is alleged to have done so. The reason our age’s icon is Bill, and not Steve, has as much to do with Apple throwing away its advantage as with Microsoft’s allegedly illegal business practices. There’s been a spate of well-researched books on exactly how Apple lost the plot. And the latest, Infinite Loop by Michael S Malone, is a worthy addition to the canon. Malone sets out to show: “How Apple, the world’s most insanely great computer company, went insane”. And while most of the madness happened after Steve was fired in 1985, the seeds were certainly sown in his first tempestuous tenure. The central addition to our learning is Malone’s debunking of the great Xerox PARC myth. Legend has it that Steve walked into Xerox’s research centre, and – after seeing cool computing innovations, such as the mouse and windows-based graphical user interface – started Apple on the road to the Mac. Truth is, Malone argues, that it was Apple employee Jeff Raskin – author of a 1967 thesis on computer displays based on graphics rather than characters – who took the Lisa development team to PARC before Jobs’ visit. Before seeing the light, Jobs even described Raskin’s Mac project as “the dumbest idea” he’d ever heard of. After Jobs, there’s plenty for Malone to get his teeth into: the Newton, efforts to sell Apple to the highest bidder, PowerPC negotiations, OS flops, financial disasters, three more CEOs to get the boot… Did you know that Apple had the chance to buy Compaq for just $100 million in 1984? That Jobs and Wozniak invented the seminal computer game Breakout at Atari? Unlike the earlier books, Malone manages to squeeze in the story’s happy ending, with the successful launch of the iMac and first quarterly profit – making this book the definitive history of Apple to date (even if that date’s October 1998). Infinite Loop is highly entertaining reading. The titular Loop is Apple’s Cupertino HQ’s address, but it might just as well be Steve’s corporate return to save his creation from a fairly certain death.