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    • Part 1: It’s funny how some things that hardly seem significant in their day dramatically change our lives. Or, in Steve’s case, the world.

      For me, it was a phone call from a secretive little company of 22 people called General Magic. I was at NeXT, getting to do things with Steve Jobs that seemed crazier than the insane things I sometimes dream at night. 

      And yet, this little company with the world’s coolest name and logo, had the most compelling vision I had ever heard: a little battery-powered device that let you write electronic postcards that float up to what they called the cloud, and from there to a friend’s device. I have wondered 1,000 times how that call changed my world when I said yes.

      When Steve heard, he took me on a long walk around Redwood City.

    • Chris MacAskill

      Part 2: As we walked, the most persuasive man alive made me feel the full weight of this decision.  Pixar had landed a deal with Disney to make a full-length movie. We had a design for a dual-processor computer that would solve our speed problems.

      Despite our heated battles, I had grown fond of Steve. He gushed when he talked about his sister Mona, whom he hadn’t met until he was 27. It seemed like he was on the verge of crying as he talked about how she had become one of his very best friends. I thought he might burst into tears when he sat cross-legged on my office floor the morning his trusted VP of Engineering, Bud Tribble, left for our dreaded enemy Sun. They wrote a press release about Bud to rub salt in our wounds.

      When I told Steve that General Magic’s vision was so compelling that I had to be part of it, he told me how he admired the team. Four of them were core to the original Macintosh: Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, Joanna Hoffman and Susan Kare. It was true; he stayed in touch with all four until his death.

      Two years after that walk, he would visit General Magic to play with our touch-screen device that had no physical keyboard.

    • Part 3: Silicon Valley companies obsess over their cultures, but few of them have cultures so strong you know you’re at someplace unique when you work there. Apple, Google, Netflix, and Amazon have that.

      General Magic had it, and I think it came from Andy Hertzfeld, whom we called Yoda. In his booming voice and with his empathic way of speaking, he’d say “We poured…LOVE into the Mac and it…radiated it BACK from the screen.”

      I think that’s how we ended up with Tony Fadell. He went on to help Apple develop the iPod and iPhone, and then founded Nest. He didn’t know what General Magic was building when he applied. He only knew that Joanna, Andy and Bill were there and rumors were the product was super cool. He called every day and begged for a job. The Andy Hertzfeld culture of passion ruled the day and that’s how Tony got in.

      My jean jacket from back then:

    • Part 4: There is a saying among authors: you might be a nice person, but you must be mean to your protagonist. Readers want to know what happens when your protagonist faces an impossible situation.  

      I thought the universe had gone too far with its Steve Jobs story by the time he arrived for a demo with Andy and Bill. NeXT had been forced to get out of hardware and his dream of running a computer company was over. Pixar had struggled with Disney and Toy Story after years of trying to be a hardware and then a software company, burning a lot of Steve’s savings. 

      I felt a little sad to see him in our lobby, knowing he would never achieve what he once had. He had wanted it so badly and had poured all of himself into it. 

    • Part 5: After the demo, Andy sent him home with a Teletouch. Putting one in Steve’s hand was entirely different from lending one to any other busy person. They might turn it on for 15 minutes to get the gist but Steve sent Telecards back and forth to Andy for a couple of weeks. He wasn’t one to miss any details. Steve told Andy that after using it he thought the touchscreen keyboard was a good design choice.

      Steve would have seen the amazing stamps that Susan Kare designed to place on Telecards. Susan had been Apple’s first artist and was NeXT’s Creative Director before coming to General Magic. She designed our brilliant logo. Placing a thumbs-up icon on a message to show that you liked it felt like something which could catch on.  

      Unlike the first iPhone, we had applications and AT&T was building a marketplace on their network. My favorite was maps from StreetLight that gave you turn-by-turn directions. Oh my God. That felt like an app everyone would love. I don’t know whether Steve got to see it.

    • Part 6: The most persuasive man in tech no longer appeared to be Steve, but our CEO Marc Porat. Marc had produced a detailed vision of the product while at Apple. He collected a team of legends, persuaded brands like Apple, Sony, Motorola and AT&T to join, and prepared to take the company public on a concept, led by Goldman Sachs. 

      Every great story needs a villain, and Steve’s was John Sculley. When Steve drove his new silver Mercedes to NeXT and showed it off in the parking lot, we glanced at each other and wondered if the first sign of middle age had arrived. He had two loud, black, air-cooled Porsche 911s that he drove like bats out of Hell, and we were cool with those. But this?

      I think it was Mike Slade who suggested a possible way to have him get rid of it: tell him we heard Sculley bought that model too.

      Steve’s nemesis had made General Magic possible by allowing Marc Porat to spin it out of Apple. Sculley served on General Magic’s board. He had been considered a marketing genius when the Mac regained momentum after Steve was forced out.

      He became General Magic’s villain too when he surprised us and released the Newton, which competed with us and discredited the category.

    • Part 7: Popular Wharton business professor Adam Grant believes the most important employees are disagreeable givers. They are the ones who tell you what you don’t want to hear but need to.

      I never wanted to play that role. I’d much rather be liked. But at General Magic, amidst the incredible passion and optimism, I came to believe that I had to be that guy.

      For example, we needed a cloud. Marc brilliantly persuaded AT&T to invest $100 million and we hired a huge team to write a special language called Telescript to make it go. I couldn’t understand why we needed that when AOL could easily send our Telecards. So Steve Case and I went watersliding one night at a Sheraton and, well, AOL made an application to deliver Telecards. Millions of customers already had AOL accounts. Win!

      A few months ago, I ran into Bill Fallon in New York, the man in charge of building the AT&T cloud. He understandably griped about a mystery person at Magic who had betrayed them and did a deal with AOL. I sympathized because that must have been awful. It was a nice evening and, well, I didn’t get around to telling him what disagreeable jerk was responsible.

      I love you, Bill. It wasn’t personal. Can you ever forgive me? 

    • Part 8: When it became clear we had a brilliant vision 10 years before it was technically possible, General Magic came to an excruciating end. Tony went on to build the iPhone, Andy Rubin built Android, Pierre Omidyar built eBay, Megan Smith became VP of Google and then America’s CTO, Kevin Lynch built apple Watch…I could keep going.

      So remarkable was the story, filmmaker Sarah Kerruish and lawyer Mike Stern (both former Magicians) formed a team to produce a powerfully emotional film about it. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival a few months ago to rave reviews.

      When they called me to interview for the film, I believed I had buried my disagreeable personna I hated so much ages ago. I would be my most positive self on camera. But they tricked me. Steve Jarrett, the eager young intern I had hired there, wrote the questions the filmmakers asked. He knew how to ask the questions that forced me to talk about our weaknesses. AND THOSE ARE THE ANSWERS THEY USED IN THE FILM! Ugh.

      Nevertheless, it’s a great film (teaser) that will show in San Jose on July 26th. Tell Netflix and Amazon it needs to be on their streaming services as a critical and fascinating part of Silicon Valley history.

      Magicians: set the record straight where I got it wrong & fill in the important things I missed.

    • WOW.....I hope this makes it to Netflix.....I can hardly wait to see it somehow.....I would be happy to coordinate a viewing in Las Vegas.....I am sure I could get Tony Hseih's interest and he would love to showcase this somewhere in Downtown Las Vegas (not the Strip).

    • Thanks, wxwax. I've always wondered if Steve's interaction with General Magic influenced him at Apple. Maybe Tony or Andy would know.

      I helped my young sons start SmugMug, thinking the most important thing I could do in life was to help them achieve their dreams, and then Apple called me several times to see if I was interested in running MobileMe. It wasn't Steve or an offer, just an opportunity to interview.

      When I declined, another group called to see if they could acquire SmugMug. We had a couple of really good meetings but in the end we wanted to keep it as a family company.

    • I cannot wait to see this movie. This is Silicon Valley legend, and I really respect and like a lot of the characters I already know. Thanks for sharing your short story, Baldy!

    • I love your stories about Silicone Valley even though, or maybe because, I have no real understanding of how computers or the internet actually works! How was it that so many innovative and brilliant all came together, seemingly out of nowhere, to be in the same place at the same time?

    • Another fascinating inside story. Thanks. I remember seeing the NeXT at a trade show and thinking it was the most brilliant computer ever. I tried to convince my boss that we needed some, but failed. I wonder how it would look to me today...

    • This is amazing! I have always loved your stories, Chris. It is so incredible to have this view into your experiences.

    • Chris: There were probably some hard feelings a couple of decades ago but none lingering, not even those that may have been there wouldn't have been squarely aimed at you.

      Since you were in charge of dealing with 3'd party developers I think I always realized you had a hand in the onboarding of AOL, though until I read your post I always assumed the idea originated with Sony. In the end it didn't really matter - the presence of AOL on SONY MagicLink's did not generate device sales any more than our name did, and ultimately AT&T PersonaLink was utterly dependent on device sales and unlike AOL, spent a fair amount of money to actually attempt to actually generate device sales. As you'll see in point 2 below we saw an urgent need to diversify into a PC application about a year before the MagicLink launched, but as we both know that idea died a slow, agonizing death.

      There are two somewhat related points that I don't recall if we discussed or not which could have possibly (though not probably) reversed the fortunes of at least our part of the General Magic universe.

      1. AT&T spent all that money developing what we would today call a cloud based platform for "communicating applications using General Magic's Telescript technology." Our deal with General Magic obligated us to be the first to develop any application that had anything to do with Telescript, and that was the GM/PersonaLink messaging application. If all General Magic wanted was a then current state of the art e-mail network, we could have made that available a week after our initial meeting with Marc Porat, Rich Miller and Bill Atkinson when they first visited us at a Bell Labs facility in NJ. No, it had to have Telescript.

      To my recollection no 3'd party apps were ever developed using Telescript, including AOL's. In truth there wasn't much Telescript in the PersonaLink Mail application - I think it was primarily tied to authenticating users and providing a rather clever user directory, but it was a start, and again, a core contractual item we were obligated to meet.

      While AT&T certainly had an issue with AOL, we never quite understood why General Magic didn't have an isssue with it (at least when we thought it was all Sony's doing), as it substantially compromised the value of it's whole Telescript proposition, which, despite various public pronouncements to the contrary, was obviously a distant second in importance internally to MagicCap. Various Magicians have indicated their disdain for John Sculley and Apple for upstaging General Magic's device - can you see the similarity AT&T saw for the introduction of an AOL messaging app on MagicCap devices to Apple's action? We had a similar reaction to Motorola's tie up with an outfit named RadioMail. Perhaps you were involved with that one also.

      2. We campaigned long and hard for a MagicCap for PC's sofware app as it became apparent that Sony's $800+ device wasn't likely to fly off of store shelves and Motorola's $1500+ device might not ever make it to market, along with the phantom devices of other alliance members Panasonic and Philips. Rich a company as we were, AT&T could not afford to dole out Sony MagicLink's for free or very little to tens of thousands of customers, but we easily could have and would have distributed software to millions of customers for free, which we believe would have put tens of thousands of users on the PersonaLink network, generating revenue for both AT&T and General Magic, and perhaps providing a "tandem" device-computer solution that would have benefited device partners - which was ultimately the architecture that won that generation of handheld devices.

      Our requests went nowhere for quite awhile, and were ultimately undertaken by a too little, too late internal effort at General Magic that never produced a viable product.

    • HI Chris....I know you had already screened this at Tribeca, but, did you attend the screening last night in San Jose? Or, did anyone else on CAKE?

    • We did!! Great theater, 1,100-person capacity crowd, big names were there + media, and I felt mobbed by people I knew until the wee hours.

      Everyone I saw there had read my various stories about Steve Jobs and were asking for more. Some conversations about Cake. Andy Hertzfeld is willing to sit down with us and give feedback on Cake's design, navigation, etc.

      Great feedback about the movie. Hopefully it gets picked up by Netflix or Amazon.

      I flew the flag and wore my General Magic T.

    • I got invited to the movie premiere by @Chris at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose. I honestly didn't know what to expect so I came way too early, but all dressed up. While waiting for @Chris, Toni and @Kevin to come I snapped a photo of the billboard:

    You've been invited!