January 17, 2011 3:35 PM ET
The story of Apple CEO Steve Jobs is one of the most familiar in American business – shaggy Bob-Dylan-loving kid starts a computer company in a Silicon Valley garage and changes the world. But like any compelling story, it has its dark moments, and they’re not limited to the recent announcement that Jobs will be taking leave from Apple for health reasons. Before the iPad or the iPhone, Jobs, then the head of the short-lived NeXT Computer, sat down with Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell. It was 1994, Jobs had long ago been booted from Apple, the internet was still the province of geeks and academics, and the personal computer revolution looked like it might be over. But even at one of the low points in his career, Jobs still had confidence in the limitless potential of personal computing. Read on to get Jobs’ prescient take on PDAs and object-oriented software, as well as his relationship with Bill Gates
and why he wanted the internet in his den, but not living room.
Like other Phenomena of the ’80s, Steve Jobs was supposed to be long gone by now. After the spectacular rise of Apple, which went from a garage start-up to a $1.4 billion company in just eight years, the Entrepreneur of the Decade (as one magazine anointed him in 1989) tried to do it all again with a new company called NeXT. He was going to build the next generation of the personal computer, a machine so beautiful, so powerful, so insanely great, it would put Apple to shame. It didn’t happen. After eight long years of struggle and after running through some $250 million, NeXT closed down its hardware division last year and laid off more than 200 employees. It seemed only a matter of time until the whole thing collapsed and Jobs disappeared into hyperspace.
But it turns out that Jobs isn’t as far gone as some techno-pundits thought. There are big changes coming in software development – and Jobs, of all people, is trying to lead the way. This time the Holy Grail is object-oriented programming; some have compared the effect it will have on the production of software to the effect the industrial revolution had on manufactured goods. “In my 20 years in this industry, I have never seen a revolution as profound as this,” says Jobs, with characteristic understatement. “You can build software literally five to 10 times faster, and that software is much more reliable, much easier to maintain and much more powerful.”
This article appeared in the June 16, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.
Of course, this being Silicon Valley, there is always a new revolution to hype. And to hear it coming from Jobs – Mr. Revolution himself – is bound to raise some eyebrows. “Steve is a little like the boy who cried wolf,” says Robert Cringely, a columnist at Info World, a PC industry newsweekly. “He has cried revolution one too many times. People still listen to him, but now they’re more skeptical.” And even if object-oriented software does take off, Jobs may very well end up a minor figure rather than the flag-waving leader of the pack he clearly sees himself as.
Whatever role Jobs ends up playing, there is no question evolutionary forces will soon reshape the software industry. Since the Macintosh changed the world 10 years ago with its brilliant point-and-click interface, all the big leaps in computer evolution have been on the hardware side. Machines have gotten smaller, faster and cheaper.