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Three ways of looking at Steve Jobs (Best of Kottke)

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 10, 2010

This Best of Kottke post was easy, because I wanted to write something about Steve Jobs over the years anyways. The kickoff is Jason’s link to a 1995 interview with Jobs for Smithsonian Magazine. It’s mostly reflective, talking about his childhood, his history with Apple and early history with NEXT and Pixar. Toy Story hadn’t come out yet, and it’s fascinating to read what could be his bluster about what the movie and company were going to do, which of course turned out to be totally true. He’s also absolutely thrilled with what NEXT was doing with graphical user interface and networked computers. Windows 95 came out four months later.

It’s a sharp contrast with his interview the next year for Wired, which is mostly about the future of computing. He’s devastated and angry about Windows, but incredibly enthusiastic about the open web.

The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That’s over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it’s going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade.

It’s like when IBM drove a lot of innovation out of the computer industry before the microprocessor came along. Eventually, Microsoft will crumble because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that happens, until there’s some fundamental technology shift, it’s just over.

The most exciting things happening today are objects and the Web. The Web is exciting for two reasons. One, it’s ubiquitous. There will be Web dial tone everywhere. And anything that’s ubiquitous gets interesting. Two, I don’t think Microsoft will figure out a way to own it. There’s going to be a lot more innovation, and that will create a place where there isn’t this dark cloud of dominance.

He also has this crystal clear vision about how the web was going to move beyond simple publishing and would be used to do commerce and create marketplaces for physical and virtual goods — a vision, which, again, turned out to be exactly right.

Two common threads in both interviews: he hates teachers’ unions, and doesn’t think technology can do anything for education. You generally see a much more libertarian, pessimistic Jobs in both of these interviews than you do today. He talks about death a lot, even though he’s still young and healthy.

Finally, I’ll link to what’s still one of my favorite looks at the future of consumer technology, Jobs and Bill Gates’s 2007 joint interview at D5 with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. (Prologue - Full Video - Transcript) It’s long to watch, but so worth it. They joke and reminisce with each other, tell stories about the early days of the computer industry, and share ideas about where things are going. (Bill Gates’s first line: “First, I just want to say: I am not Fake Steve Jobs.”)

The iPhone (announced but not released) is hot as hell, but Apple is still a much smaller company than Microsoft. Vista’s just been released and is stumbling out of the gate. Gates, unlike Jobs, is incredibly invested in trying to do something in tech to help education, and Jobs (whose Apple now has a huge education market) is mostly silent.

It’s also painfully obvious in retrospect that Jobs is talking about the expansion of the iOS into the iPod Touch, iPad (and maybe beyond) while Gates is talking about the experiments in input recognition that played into Windows 7 and the new XBox Kinect. Neither of them have any real idea what to do with TVs, but Gates actually seems to be more visionary, in part because he can afford to be less coy. It’s great. I’ve probably rewatched it four times, and you’ve never seen it, and care about this stuff at all, you should catch it.

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