Know Your Tech History – Steve Jobs Biography


Been working my way through the Steve Jobs biography the past week and I’ve been a bit surprised at what some have found to be “new” revelations from the book. Chief TWiT, Leo Laporte, was surprised at how much crying seems to have taken place around and including Steve Jobs. And while crying hasn’t been too common in my work experience, I have read about this phenomenon at Apple in other books before. So, it concerns me that tech pundits like Laporte, who actually met Jobs and Woz, might not have as strong a grasp on our tech heritage and history as we might assume.

I cringe when I hear that the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” is listed by some tech-personalities as their favorite geek movie about tech history (I’m talking about you, Cali Lewis). “Pirates” is as close to a historical depiction of the events depicted like “A Hard Day’s Night” was an accurate depiction of the Beatles’ experiences touring in the early years. Not so much. So, having spent far too much time reading and researching the subject it falls upon me to share these not so hidden sources of tech history.

Let’s start with “Pirates,” the movie was loosely based on the book, Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. I found the original 1984 version when I was writing and researching for an article on IBM’s OS/2 initiative in 1987. I was happy when they issued a 2000-collectors edition, because it meant that I could buy my own copy, but the 1984 version was a better, “less hip” version.

For those of you who prefer to get your history in video form, one of the best is the three-part “Triumph of the Nerds” by Robert X. Cringley. The PBS produced mini-series was based on Cringely’s book Accidental Empires, which followed the PC evolution from it’s semi-conductor pre-history to IBM’s OS/2 debacle, the rise of the PC clones and fading of Apple in the early 1990s.

A follow-up mini-series “Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet,” also hosted by Cringley, was based on the Stephen Segaller book of the same name. This three-part series followed the 1960s DARPA beginning of what would become the Internet to the commercial emergence in the late 1990s. Oddly the video version has never been made available in DVD (or Bluray) and can only be purchased in VHS. Weird.

Most recently, the much promoted Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, making it’s way across the country as a theater-only release, was culled from the Triumph of the Nerds interviews of Steve Jobs, unedited and 70-minutes long.

I read the following three books just after Jobs returned to Apple while I was building a Mac-centric network for my magnet school grant elementary school in Southern California. They filled in information on the lost years at Apple after Steve Job’s departure and before his return, how close Apple came to oblivion with bone-head decisions from the top and more revelations about all of the tears shed at Apple:

  1. Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders by Jim Carlton
  2. Apple Confidential by Owen Linzmayer (out of print)
  3. Apple Confidential 2.0: The Definitive History of the World’s Most Colorful Company by  Owen Linzmayer
In 2005 Macintosh co-creator, Andy Hertzfeld, gave us an insider view with the book, Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made. The book had it’s origins in the website that Hertzfeld setup in order to gather anecdotes going back to the beginning of the creation of the mac. Hertzfeld and friends supply illustrations and notes from the planning stages of the macintosh and, of course, a few more tales that involved crying.


Back on the video side of the story, two mac-centric documentaries were released around the time of the 2008 macworld expo that looked at the macintosh-phenomena from different angles. The first one, Macheads focused mostly on the mac community, a few fringe mac-personalities (call “mac-macs” by Your Mac Life‘s Shawn King), questioned the need for user-groups in the age of the Internet and the future of the mac community.
The second documentary, Welcome to Macintosh went back to the Apple I and Apple ][ with interviews of the third Apple Co-Founder, Ron Wayne, previously mentioned mac co-creator and folklorist, Andy Hertzfeld, mac-evangelist, Guy Kawasaki and a host of others. Steve Jobs did not grace either documentary with any on-camera comments or participation, something that comes up several times with Hertzfeld teasing the filmmakers saying, yeah, Steve was just here the other day.

This is list is neither definitive nor exhaustive (The Soul of A New Machine comes to mind), but before one wants to weigh in on the Issacson tome it might be good to be a bit more versed in our geek heritage and history. Don’t limit your geek-history knowledge to a made-for-TV movie that compressed the participants down to caricatures and decides that the whole story needed to rest on the competition between Jobs and Gates. Please. No.