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STEVE JOBS IS YOUR BIG BROTHER AND HE IS WATCHING
It's one thing to run your own forums like a totalitarian but it's quite another to try to run everyone else's forums too.
One thing a lot of people don't get about Steve Jobs: he likes to play ball but when he does it has to be with his balls and it has to be on his terms and he won't discuss those terms with you. You don't fuck with Steve Jobs' balls.
All through his career Jobs has been obsessing about keeping a firm grip on his balls. Whether it be a Woz concoction called the 'blue box' or a wooden computer or a beige box called the Macintosh or a black box called the NeXT or whatever - those are Steve Jobs' balls. You can play them if he lets you but you can't fuck with them.
The brouhaha over the iPhone price cut hardly died down before the brouhaha over the iBrick replaced it, growing into a hurricane storm. Pundits everywhere from Apple loyal TUAW to the more mainstream sources are calling for Steve Jobs' balls.
What's Steve Jobs up to now? He's having staff closely monitor IRC channels and discussion forums for rumours of more unlocking software. And they got wind of one hacker who was just about to upload a few snippets to a server with his ISP. And in a flash Apple legal eagles contacted the ISP to get the hacker shut down. TUAW went through the roof; Macworld went through the roof; and everyone went through the roof.
Datamation are reporting that 'once loyal and worshipful Apple fans are now calling for boycotts and class action lawsuits' and they cite headlines at TUAW, the Globe and Mail, CNET, the Huffington Post, Adweek, the Guardian, PC World, Gizmodo, and Macworld.
And old dirt is being dug up again. Dirt that doesn't exactly portray Steve Jobs as a mentally healthy corporate leader. This is the dirt they're digging up and they'll continue to dig up.
When the home brewers were gathering and freely exchanging information and technology Steve Jobs walked in towing a prefab device he was going to sell for money. And it was his device. When he got around to jumping into the personal computer mainstream he didn't do like IBM with off the shelf components and an essentially open architecture - he kept the software locked to the hardware and he kept the hardware locked.
When Apple took Jobs' balls away and booted him out of Cupertino for being a loose cannon with an RDF even Clark Kent couldn't see through he eventually founded NeXT in Redwood City. He tried again to set the rules of the game so no one could fuck with his new balls. He suspected he might not succeed and he was right. And for a short time he started playing with others' balls. And that must have made him very resentful.
Before he famously made this retreat he'd had the NeXT factory repainted three times so he got just the right colour of BEIGE on the walls. But people didn't like playing with Steve Jobs' balls so he had to back down and sell his beige walls and start playing with others' balls.
He had an iron clad agreement with Brad Cox so no one else could use his development environment. Right before he shook hands on the merger he bought the rights to the environment from Cox. And to this day that development environment is one of the few that wasn't patented in the public domain.
When he saw Jean-Marie Hullot's SOS Interface he went berserk, blurted the famous 'I WANT THAT ON MY COMPUTER', and bought up every loose copy of the program from every store stocking it. And locked Hullot away in an office in Redwood City.
Apple Stock Stink
When he returned to Cupertino in 1997 like the Feathered Serpent he couldn't resist: here he was at a company again - a company he'd founded - that practiced hardware lockin successfully. Or at least used to.
Apple's board were of a different mind however. A board member stepped down, started getting the lethargy and 'I don't give a fuck' attitude out of everyone, and eventually did a deal with Jobs' NeXT Software. And simultaneously laid the groundwork for open hardware and software for the first time in the company's roller coaster history.
This was evidently too much for Jobs to bear. So on the 4 July weekend 1997 and despite solemn contractual promises to never do anything of the kind Steve Jobs dumped all his hundreds of millions of Apple stock he'd acquired through the NeXT merger. And caused a panic on NASDAQ.
This of course sent the Apple board through the roof. Who immediately summoned Jobs to chastise him. The NASDAQ run on Apple stock made everyone scared Apple were going to tank after all.
But Jobs is hardly a dummy - at least not in this respect. He went to his board meeting and instead of getting his knuckles rapped and his balls crushed walked out with the CEO title.
How did he do it? Simple: he spoke of the one thing he believed in - keeping a firm grip on one's own balls. And was convincing enough the Apple board voted to let him work with their own balls for one dollar.
The rest is of course history. Now Apple - the only halfway serious company in the personal computer era to seriously practice hardware lockin - have limericks in their kernel code begging people to not run the code on anyone else's hardware.
No Grand Plan
It's like this: Steve Jobs isn't a technological genius. He doesn't have a 'grand plan'. All he knows is 'THIS BOX IS MINE' and 'YOU WILL PLAY WITH MY BALLS ONLY IN A WAY I ALLOW' - so there are loose ends from time to time. Such as when you get caught with your foot in your mouth and lose your temper and you end up ruining a profitable relationship with a superlative CPU supplier so that suddenly all the hackers on 'that other platform' get free entrance to your gated community game.
And then because you're so embarrassed about losing face and getting called a liar you rush through the new production plans to the extent you cause the biggest quality scandal in computer manufacturing history. And do you care what happens to your customers? Of course not - certainly not when your world is threatening to implode at any moment.
And woe be the exec who points out that there are 'certain hardware issues' - if something turns up on the message boards (why oh why have these boards) then just remove it. The boards ostensibly support free speech and treat a company to free customer feedback. But no feedback is solicited or welcome and free speech never got a chance in Steve Jobs' ball game.
So yes - you do get embarrassing situations like this. And when the chips are down and you're essentially defenceless what else can you do? You beg. YOU ORDER YOUR ENGINEERS TO PUT LIMERICKS IN THE KERNEL CODE.
But you don't always have to beg. Consider the iPhone and the associated gadgets: there's no open source there. There's no development environment. You can't even officially put on or take anything off them. You can make web pages they can read but that's about it.
So along come a few DVD Jons who decide they're going to play with the balls anyhow. Note you can't fault the engineers for not making a tighter device: what you'd in such case be asking is probably impossible and certainly ridiculous. It's tantamount to selling a PC where you can't put any new software on it. Even Big Blue couldn't stop people from putting third party software on their mainframes; how is little Steve Jobs going to stop people from putting software on his little phone?
The New Game
It's actually a whole new ball game. Something no one's ever tried before. Where you essentially have an open device that's actually closed. A kind of Open/Closed Device™. It's very much a computer - a hand held computer - and in that sense as it is YOUR computer and as you know the technical definition of 'computer' you assume it HAS to be OK to put your own programs on it? RIGHT?
For otherwise why not do it all in PROM? Why have the device software based at all?
And it's really ironic because the engineering environment they're using - NeXTSTEP - is the ultimate bar none non pareil development environment if you solicit strong third party support; and yet ever since Steve Jobs walked through the door with his $429 million baby that already played ball with everyone all he's done tries to block third party software houses from using and profiting by it.
And as such it's got to be the biggest most obscene waste in software history. All the work people like Jean-Marie Hullot and Avie Tevanian did: all for naught as Steve Jobs today owns the ball and he and only he can call the ball.
And even if Apple hardware were adequately reliable; even if iPods originally came with a battery replacement programme and Steve Jobs didn't have to be shamed into providing one; even if Apple support and 'AppleCare' provided 'good guy' services so Apple won back their previous status with consumer rights organisations - could Steve Jobs provide computers to the entire world? Would you want him to?
NASA's used Linus' operating systems on missions to Mars; do you think they're going to play with Steve Jobs' balls? When he won't even let them look inside and orders his engineers to embed limericks in kernel code?
No Party for Third Party
Dan Wood; Arlo Rose: first Watson; then Konfabulator. Very successful third party products for OS X. What happened? Steve Jobs once said 'if third party don't write for your platform you're dead' but he must have been bluffing the way he was around Bill Gates' suggestion about video downloads - he could not really have believed it.
Rixstep's ACP Web Services: they beat anything Jobs can throw at them because they take advantage of a discovery of an API NeXT never properly utilised. So what to do? Break the links at the Apple site - and every time they're reconnected just break them again.
Steve Jobs controls his forums. He's come under considerable criticism and so formally sacked the forum nannies but they're still out there and they're still deleting threads left and right. Anything that warns prospective customers about hardware or software issues is removed almost before it's posted. Any post that points out how other posts are deleted disappears just as fast.
Is it because Steve Jobs wants to keep customers in the dark? It might be but it's more likely he simply can't stand the criticism - that he's the personality type that shoots the messenger. Certainly his middle echelon execs know better than to bring bad news; why should forum posts be any different?
Steve Jobs occasionally meets customers in his Apple stores. He doesn't really want to talk to them but PR requires a certain modicum of propriety: he at least must act polite and greet them. But Steve Jobs is not a 'man of the people': he doesn't want to meet his 'fans' if there should be any fans per se out there. And if these people he meets happen to say they don't like one or another Apple product and even give their reasons Steve Jobs doesn't stop and listen to them and get their valuable feedback - he dismisses them, tells them blankly they're wrong, and walks away.
Best Buy — Again?
Steve Jobs only sells his products in his own stores. HP have 23,000 outlets in the US alone; Apple have fewer than 200. And Steve Jobs still has nothing against putting ma and pa Apple resellers out of business.
Steve Jobs used to deal with Best Buy - this before the current contract. Best Buy canceled that earlier contract. Steve Jobs would alter Best Buy's purchase orders and send them not what they'd ordered but what Steve Jobs wanted them to have.
The Jobs biography iCon, essentially a copy of earlier works by other authors, can't be sold in Apple stores. In fact the book so inflamed Jobs he banned all books by the same publisher (Wiley) from Apple stores. Canceled the contracts.
And so on. Play with my ball by my rules and only I let you. And no you may never borrow my ball and play on your own.
Apple staff infrequently get memos about upcoming product releases. These are printed on paper. And each copy has its own watermark uniquely identifying the person to whom the copy is sent - if Steve Jobs finds a copy in the wrong hands someone's sacked on the spot.
Those Steve Jobs Clones
A considerable contingent of upper management at Apple have long ago decided the best way to survive is to become Steve Jobs clones - get the same buzz cut, sport the same two day designer beard, wear the same black polos and white sneakers and blue jeans - and try to talk like Jobs.
And one thing everyone in Cupertino knows is you never wax contrarian. It doesn't really matter if you have a good idea or if you know an impending decision is disastrous for the company. You keep your mouth shut. If you don't you're gone.
And now it's the iPhone. The pundits are divided on the issues behind the current controversy. Did Apple intentionally brick unlocked devices? Some say yes. Others say no. The ones that say no claim Apple's iPhone update was probably ready weeks ago and therefore can have nothing to do with unlocked phones.
But they're all missing the point. The point is on the day of the update Apple did in fact know of the unlocking issues and if they'd been allowed to take better care of their customers they would have. They would have held off on the update until they found a way to run it without bricking anyone. They knew they could have done this but they were not allowed to do it. No one fucks with Steve Jobs' balls.
The Big Difference
Only once recently has Steve Jobs ever had to back off and let others play with his balls. And that's the $100 he gave everyone who bought an iPhone before the price cut. Only the day before he'd adamantly told a different story.
There's a big difference between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - a difference the Apple board, Apple stockholders, and Apple customers should take notice of.
Bill Gates may be a hard core criminal but no one's concerned about his mental health.
The company that rarely falters finally did.
- Andrew McMains, Adweek
To offer up an update that destroys hacked iPhones - and provide no provision for undoing the damage - is a despicable act.
- Christopher Breen, Macworld
When DVD Jon hacked the DVD encoding scheme or the Blue-ray encoding scheme or any of the half dozen other things he's hacked and released into the wild everyone cheered because he's fighting The Man and information wants to be free etc etc. But when The Man happens to be Steve Jobs all of a sudden people seem to start singing a different tune.
- Mathew Ingram
The number of people watching all this with alarm and disappointment at Apple is huge. Every major newspaper, magazine, online publication, and mobile computing blog is covering it. Heavily.
- Mike Elgan, Datamation
While most computer companies love hackers and geeks, consumer electronics companies hate them. They want absolute control of their products. They don't want people messing them around. In fact this has always been Steve Jobs' aim.
- Jack Schofield, The Guardian
Macworld: Is Apple on the wrong path?
Datamation: Apple Arrogance Unleashed!
The Technological: The Dark Side of Steve Jobs
CNET: Is Apple in danger of losing its following?
The Guardian: Gizmodo says Don't buy an iPhone
Adweek: Will Apple's Misstep Give Loyalists Pause?
The Globe and Mail: Why does Apple get a free ride?
TUAW: Apple sends takedown notice to iPod hacker's ISP
The Tech Observer: Apple Hoses Its Own Best Customers
Engadget: The eye of Apple is watching, issuing takedowns
Gizmodo: Apple Stores Voiding Warranty on Hacked iPhones?
The Huffington Post: iPhoney? What Is An Apple If It Loses Its Core?
CrunchGear: ISP Shuts Down Hacker's Site After Apple's Lawyers Make A Fuss
The Register: Apple reminds customers who's boss (All your iPhone are belong to us)