In the mid Ď90s, Steve Jobs agreed to be interviewed for a PBS special titled The Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. Only a small portion of the interview was ultimately used, and it was believed the rest had been lost. Turns out it had only been misplaced, and the interviewed is presented here in its entirety.
Considering that heís pretty much synonymous with Apple (even after his death), itís easy to forget there was a time Steve Jobs was working elsewhere, having left the company he co-founded following a dust-up with former Apple CEO John Sculley.
This interview was conducted during the time Jobs was working at NeXT (which found him paired financially with Ross Perot, which is probably a story in itself), which was around for a decade but never made much of a dent. NeXT was purchased by Apple roughly a year after this interview was conducted, and six months after that Jobs had finagled his way back into the role of Apple CEO (more or less). The timing here provides something of a unique perspective, as Jobs was obviously still smarting from his ouster and was more than happy to take shots at his once and future home.
Thatís not to say the entire interview is nothing but Jobs railing against those whoíd forced him out. Very little of the hour-long talk focuses on the post-1985 years, but what does is very pointed and very telling. Jobs was a self-described hippy, while others claimed he was a petty tyrant. As is evidenced here, he was both.
The chat begins with him discussing how he first came to love computers, and hearing him talk about punching equations into one of those old room-size machines that did little more than perform calculations and spit the results out on yard-wide sheets of printer paper is like hearing a naÔve kid whoís just fallen in love moon over his girlfriend. But when it comes to what he views as Appleís mistakes during the Ď80s, heís a completely different person.
And thatís where the appeal comes. Jobs was obviously a brilliant man, and he twice turned Apple into a global powerhouse (and did largely by selling boutique products to the masses, as anyone who remembers the list price of an Apple II [like many of my generation, the Apple II was the first computer I ever touched] can attest), but he was complex in ways that seem contradictory. He was also notoriously private, and itís a little surprising that Robert X.
Cringely, who conducted the interview and wrote both the original PBS special and the book that inspired it, was able to get Jobs to drop his guard. Itís often fascinating to hear Jobs talk about ideas and craft as fuel for a technology company, and just as fascinating to hear him slide in digs (and the occasional backhanded compliment) at IBM, Xerox, and Microsoft while doing so. There was a definite ďmean girlĒ side to Jobs, which is both surprising and not.
As fascinating as it can be, though, the interview feels incomplete. Itís obvious this was always intended to be cut down, bits and pieces used here and there in the context of a much larger piece. Although he was still firmly anchored at NeXT, Jobsís comments regarding that company often come off as afterthoughts, and at one point he actually asks why Cringely is even interested in hearing about it. Yes, the special for which this interview was originally conducted focused on the early days of the personal-computer industry, that initial boom back in the Ď80s, but presenting it in this longer form, and as a piece unto itself, further calls attention to its slightness.
The intent was to allow Jobs to do all of the talking, and therefore provide all of the content and context, but with nothing to augment and expand it, the interview ultimately plays like a glorified extended scene, a supplement that was granted feature status. Cringely does pause the interview every once in a while to provide a comment that serves as a transition, but itís not enough. Whatís here certainly isnít bad, mind you, but itís really only one course of a meal.
The short introduction that precedes the interview is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio, while the interview itself is framed at 1.33:1. Whatíll you see here was sourced from a fifteen-year-old analog tape, looking at times like something that was recorded from a cable-based broadcast. Tracking errors and scrolling lines of snow mar the image, and thereís also some serious blocking and noise.
The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Like the video, the no-frills audio shows its age and the limitations of the source. Itís nothing but Jobsís voice, Cringelyís voice, and some brief spurts of music, each of which is intelligible, but thereís no getting around the fact it all sounds like its being channeled by speakers on a thirty-year-old TV. Spanish subtitles are available.
A commentary by director Paul Sen and writer Robert X. Cringely details how both the original project and this one came together, but it quickly loses steam (which isnít much of a surprise).
An audio interview with Cringely also sheds some light on the projectís origins.
You also get an interview with original Macintosh programmer Andy Hertzfeld (69 minutes). Conducted by Cringely for a 2005 episode of the PBS series Nerd TV, the talk allows Hertzfeld to discuss the five years he spent at Apple and his subsequent time working in the world of open-source software development. Hertzfeld isnít as interesting an interviewee as Jobs, but itís nice to have another perspective on Apple in the Ď80s.
The movieís theatrical trailer brings up the rear.
Itís pretty interesting, but seeing it once should do the job.