I just listened to an excellent interview with Walt Mossberg, who since 1991 wrote a weekly computer industry column for the Wall Street Journal. Walt’s now retired. Leo Laporte, an industry podcaster, coaxes some great stories from Mr. Mossberg.
Walt’s perspective was always that of a user — not a tech freak. Most industry reporters are techies who don’t appreciate that most of us don’t care about the inner workings and secret mechanisms of computers.
Walt speaks a bit about his long relationships with both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. (Walt sat in the passenger seat as Gates, frustrated by traffic, drove his Lexus for miles on the road’s shoulder.)
It’s a pleasant and informative hour-long conversation.
[Triangulation (MP3)] Triangulation 310: Walt Mossberg
Fadell, who before founding Nest led the development of the iPod and iPhone at Apple, says Page and Jobs approached innovation in radically different ways. “Steve was a marketer who really loved product and got the user-experience details right,” Fadell says. “Larry is a serious technologist and someone who is really steeped in science and in theory, and he has a real love of product.”
I relate to Page’s approach, but Jobs’ obsession with user interface certainly also led to revolutionary products. Note that neither leader was an MBA or lawyer. Jeff Bezos, an ace programmer (not an MBA), is taking Amazon where no retailer has gone before.
In contrast, Microsoft was led into near irrelevance by Steve Ballmer, a sales manager with an MBA. The entity that calls itself AT&T is busy making enemies of its customerseveryone under the leadership of MBA Randall Stephenson. (This genius caused his employer to lose six billion dollars, yet took home 21 million dollars that year.) General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith (MBA) drove GM to produce millions of lemons which nobody wanted, leading to their chapter 11 bankruptcy.
For the moment, Google is in good hands. The jury’s still out (see Apple’s Software Quality Problems) on Apple’s Tim Cook (MBA). Even Microsoft may be headed in the right direction, now that Satya Nadella is CEO. True, he has an MBA degree, but he’s reputed to be a product guy — not a numbers guy.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. — Steve Jobs
I’m the one that’s gonna have to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to. — Jimi Hendrix
What do these two ads have in common? Each ad claims that their gadget allows its owners to break free of a dumb society. Each paints an unflattering picture of the herd. Each appeals to vanity and a desire to break away from that herd.
The Mac ad was directed by Ridley Scott (Bladerunner, Alien). When previewed, Apple’s board of directors hated it and wanted to axe its airing during the Super Bowl. Steves Woz and Jobs loved it and together with John Sculley they managed to get it aired during the Super Bowl.
When Nortel (née Northern Telecom) went belly up, its assets went up for auction. Microsoft bought a block of more than 600,000 IP addresses from Nortel for $7.5 million. A consortium comprising Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Sony, and Ericsson was high bidder at $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio. Google bid, but lost to the consortium.
That consortium has named itself Rockstar and become a NPE (non-practicing entity – a polite term for “patent troll”). On its website www.ip-rockstar.com, it calls itself “an intellectual property (IP) licensing company”. It has sued Google, Samsung, et al for patent infringement by Google’s Android operating system. The suit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas — the favorite venue for patent trolls.
Android really bugged Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Steve swore,
I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.
The majority of the industry press disagrees with Steve:
Apparently Rockstar consists of a handful of ex-Nortel software people, who’ve spent the last 18 months diligently looking for patent infringements. Rockstar itself has few assets aside from its patents, and is clearly acting as an agent for its principals. The existence of Rockstar seems to allow Microsoft, Apple, et al to disavow knowledge of the dubious dirty work done by patent trolls . . . while still doing the dirty work of patent trolls.
In my opinion, a well-designed product is one of which I grow fonder with each use. I believe in Mies’ credo, “Form follows function”.
Recently I’ve been caught in heavy rains while cycling and have appreciated having well-designed rain gear that works. My Giordana rain jacket does exactly what it’s supposed to do while not intruding. How? Every detail — the Velcro closure, elasticized cuffs, breathable mesh side panels, long-cut rear — is exactly what’s needed when cycling in rain. I have no idea how smart it looks on me, nor do I care. It functions beautifully.
Steve Jobs usually got design right. Most of his products are a pleasure to use. Sometimes, though, his aesthetics ran off the rails. His Next computer, for example, failed primarily because Steve insisted that it must be exactly one cubic foot in size: twelve inches on a side. No more, no less. There was no need for this shape and size; Steve just thought that it was a cool idea. The dimensions imposed design and manufacturing constraints that compromised performance and raised cost. It was a flop. Remember the iPhone 4’s antenna problem? It was caused by another dumb design when Steve allowed appearance to triumph over function.
Steve’s iPod, by contrast, felt and worked wonderfully. Its simple controls “fell to hand” and were intuitive. It also looked neat. It was a huge success. Form follows function.
Note that Apple designer Jony Ive must be credited with keeping Steve’s aesthetics on the rails.
It’s hard to believe now, but some pundits in 2006/2007 predicted failure for Apple’s rumored new phone. They felt that Apple should stick to making computers and iPods, not phones. (Of course, the iPhone is a computer.) The pundits argued that the smartphone market was already overcrowded: the Palm Treo, RIM Blackberry, and Nokia E61 controlled the market, leaving no room for Apple.
“Today, we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first is a wide-screen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary new mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” <insert patter here>
“Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone!”
The pundits were wrong, of course. A major reason is that Apple made it easy for third-party developers to create and distribute iPhone applications. The hardware was very nice, but I think it was the software — the friendly user interface and the proliferation of useful apps — that powered the iPhone’s runaway success.
In five years, neither RIM nor Palm responded with a viable competitor, and they’re now footnotes. Microsoft responded with an operating system that nobody liked. Only Google and partners provided viable competition.
Well done, Steve!
One indicator of success is that the wireless carriers are reporting less voice traffic per subscriber, and more data traffic. They’re responding by making more attractive voice offers and capping their data plans.
Richard Stallman has always been outspoken, but this is unseemly. He added, “I didn’t say that I’m glad that he’s dead. I’m glad that he’s gone.”
Who’s Richard Stallman?
He’s a brilliant programmer who loudly advocates open-source software. He might describe himself as a libertarian or an anarchist. We owe a lot to him. He created the concept of Free software, and coined the term “copyleft” to describe its licensing terms.
Anyone who uses Linux is using software that was written by Mr. Stallman. Annoyed by A.T.&T.’s license for UNIX, in 1984 he undertook the creation of his own UNIX-like operating system, which he named “GNU”. He created all of the UNIX-like utilities, but before he completed the kernel, Linus Torvald’s Linux appeared. Stallman’s open-source GNU was merged with Torvald’s open-source Linux. We call it Linux, but its proper name is GNU/Linux.
Over the years Mr. Stallman has decried most commercial software, not just Apple’s. He has a major point: if it weren’t for Stallman’s GNU Project, Linus Torvalds’ Linux, and the thousands and thousands of other open-source developers, we’d be paying a “Microsoft tax” on our GPSs, Android phones, controllers of all sorts, most of the Internet’s web servers, etc. In a very real sense, the open-source concept and Mr. Stallman’s Free Software Foundation have kept money in our pockets, rather than giving it to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other software magnates. For this, I’m grateful.
I support the open-source idea, and benefit by using open-source software, but I think that Mr. Stallman could be more considerate of Steve’s friends and family.
I just ran across the Ron Wayne story from last year that appeared in the Mercury News. We just marked the 35th birthdate of Apple Computer, so let’s examine the founding of the company. I had read about the creation of Apple years ago, but don’t recall Ronald Wayne’s name. The gist is: he wrote the Apple I manual and was asked to help mediate between the two Steves (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak). In exchange, he was given 10% of Apple Computer. Two weeks later, Mr. Wayne returned the shares, in exchange for $800, because he feared that the liability might strip him of his car and other assets.
If Mr. Wayne had kept that 10%, today it would be worth about $22 billion.