I recently finished reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Given my day job in software development, I found the history about Steve Jobs’ co-founding of Apple, ejection from Apple, and triumphant return to Apple very telling. I identified with the world and culture of the book quite well. He was a tough boss and hard to work for; he especially drove the first Macintosh team nearly crazy. I kept asking myself whether I would be one of the developers Steve liked or hated. He had no time for who he considered morons, but you have to respect his results. His constant, nonstop passion for creating simple electronic devices created some pretty revolutionary tools. I’m listening to a Pandora station on my iPhone right now.
The book is a terrific examination of the main debate over computer technology. Should it be open source or closed source? Open source is the approach championed by Bill Gates of Microsoft, creating an operating system that can run on multiple computer brands. The software and the hardware components of the system are developed by separate companies. However Steve Jobs advocated a closed source strategy where Apple developed both the operating system and the computer hardware. That strategy gave Jobs control over all aspects of the final product, but made Apple devices more expensive and sometimes under powered. But by being a closed system, Apple could ensure customers had a consistent experience with the device.
So which works better, open source or closed source? Walter Isaacson concludes that both actually work well – it really depends on what kind of computer user you are. If you like to fiddle with your computer, a Windows system is better for you. If you just want it to run, better get a Mac.
I’ve talked to other people who have read this book, and an inevitable reaction to Steve Jobs is just how difficult he was to his co-workers and his family. He was uncompromising and difficult. Even when he became very ill, he really didn’t change all that much. Many of the people interviewed for the book talked about his “reality distortion field” which Steve pushed his view of reality on everything around him. It was quite a skill, because it allowed him to have a razor sharp focus on developing a great computer device. It ultimately killed him as well, as he thought he could cure his cancer through diet and exercise. A great read about a driven, tormented genius.