Steve Jobs: cause to reflect

I am the same age as Steve Jobs.

So when Phil Windley sent me the link to the 1985 Playboy Magazine interview of Steve Jobs (just before he was forced to leave Apple) I had to laugh at some of the questions made by the interviewer and remember all of the things that where going on in the industry then.

During the 80’s I worked for Ray Noorda at Novell. My job was to create and drive Novell’s strategy. The plan was simple, give real freedom of choice to the customer and be interoperable with as many networks and computers as possible.

By 1985 Noorda was finally coming around to the freedom of choice thing. But I had a hard time convincing Ray that the Macintosh was an imperative to support with NetWare. And he had good reasons to balk at my insistence.

Apple was notoriously difficult then—as now—to work with.  Especially when Jobs was at the helm. At times it seemed that Apple’s strategy was just the opposite of Novell’s. Don’t give any choice to the customer except to buy Apple. Interoperability? Never heard of it. Freedom of choice was something Jobs then—and still lives on at Apple now—resisted at every opportunity.

The operating system, the mother board, the bus, the network, the transport, you name it. Apple built their own and was slow to adopt anything that any other vendor supported or invented.

It seems that the only time Apple breaks down and supports any standard is when it is forced to do so. That’s how it was then at Apple, and that’s how it continues to be at Apple. All designed and driven by Jobs.

I doubt Novell would have had Apple attend the rollout of Macintosh support in NetWare if Jobs had been CEO when it happened. Of course having John Scully at the event made it less than stellar, but at least it happened. And the world business community loved it.

When I read the sections of the interview that talk about Apple’s struggle to get a foothold in corporate computing environments it reminds me just how big of a role Novell played in making that happen. Both Apple and Microsoft seemed to revel in the fact that their systems were not interoperable. Novell solved the namespace and interoperability issues between the Macintosh and DOS (and later Windows) in spades in spite of proactive resistance from both vendors.

It would have taken Apple another 10 years before gaining a foothold in the business community without Novell. With the bottom up approach and huge Novell channel and support network, Apple was able to slip in the back door of enterprise departments along with NetWare and the PC before corporate IT knew it or could try to stop it.

With the way things worked out—Apple being the most profitable company in the world and Novell being dead—you might conclude that the Steve Jobs approach to standards and interoperability are the way to go.

It isn’t that simple, things are much more complicated than that.

While no one can deny that Jobs was a great visionary and did incredible things for the world and computing, I can’t stop and wonder what really could have happened if Apple/Jobs had taken the approach of building sexy interoperability along with sexy computers and phones.



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