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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 2: Jonathan said we were just like Apple, but very different from Microsoft. Microsoft had turned software creation into a factory process. Three people would visit him with a 1.0 product who seemed to be product managers. They took notes furiously as he tried the product, which was never any good. As he pointed out the things he didn’t like they would enthusiastically say, “thank you Jonathan!” And they’d dig for more details.

      They’d come back in a year with a much-improved 2.0 that was still not ready for prime time and the process would repeat. Finally they’d return with a 3.0 and it was good enough to get respect and market share.

      Apple, on the other hand, would send its creator. He or she wanted to build something insanely great on the first try that would change the world. Their mission was to get Jonathan to love it. It was hard for him to give feedback because the creator would get ever more defensive and deflated if Jonathan tried. After awhile it was too uncomfortable and he stopped trying.

      I've always wondered how Steve took that answer, because it described himself so well.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 3: One visitor was George Fisher, the superstar CEO of high-flying Motorola. Their processors powered Apple and NeXT computers. He dropped a bomb that caught me completely by surprise: the Motorola 68000 line of processors we used was near its end of life because it had become too hard to cool.

      The answer was to adopt their upcoming processor, the Motorola 88110. To me it felt like the kind of crushing blow that could kill our fragile company. We would have to design new hardware. Who knew how much work it would take to get our operating system to support it? I would have to tell our developers that their lives were going to get more complicated and expensive. What if Motorola didn’t get enough support for it and we had to change processors again?

      Back in the day, there was a widespread belief that Intel’s processors were also at an evolutionary dead-end and Microsoft would face our fate as well. I made a list of options: Sun’s Sparc chip? At least they had shown that you could move from the Motorola 68000 to a so-called Reduced Instruction Set chip and succeed. But they were our enemy.

      MIPS, the respected chip company Silicon Graphics bought? That made us dependent on a competitor. But supporters of Motorola’s 88110 didn’t look like a who’s-who of the industry, except Apple, and I heard they were wavering.  

      I can’t explain why I couldn’t just chill and trust Steve, George Fisher and our engineers. Who was I to to get so worked up over it? Steve called me at 11 one night to settle me down but I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to know what Intel was doing and everyone just shrugged. Steve had a philosophy of betting on technologies in the spring of their lives, not the autumn.

      The next day Steve held a meeting with our engineers and me where he punctuated the air dramatically with his finger and said, “This company will live or die by its choice to support the 88110.” I don’t know what came over me. I said “die.”

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 4: That was the last word spoken in the meeting and I could tell Steve was mad. I was mad too. An engineer walked me to my office while saying it had been nice knowing me.

      I closed my office door, picked up the phone, and asked for Andy Grove. I wanted to know why they weren’t in the conversation. I guessed it was because we used the Intel i860 chip on one of our graphics boards and it didn’t impress us. But what were Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Andy going to do about the Intel 80486 facing the same fate as Motorola’s 68040? I had to know.

      I got Andy’s assistant on the phone. His assistants were executives-in-training who spent 2 years mentoring under Andy. I explained that if Steve heard about this call I would be fired. I justified the call by saying sometimes history has shown you have to do the right thing and keep it secret from Steve until later, as the Mac team famously did when they hid a Sony engineer in the Apple building so Steve wouldn’t find out.

      I said I had no idea what Steve’s relationship with Andy was. For all I knew, Steve thought Intel chips were shit (the word Steve would have used). But I knew Steve liked people at the top of their fields who admired and mentored him. Could I meet with Andy and explain our situation so Andy could call Steve?

      He said he would ask Andy. He called back and scheduled a two-hour meeting at Intel, saying Andy would be there. I suddenly felt I had to have an engineer there and sought William Parkhurst, who I admired as one of the most influential engineers we ever hired. I fessed up to my boss, Mike Slade, about what we were doing. Max Henry, Donna Simonides, William and I piled in my Honda Accord and headed for Intel.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 5: Our engineers told us Intel chips were inferior to Motorola’s and they only became a standard because Intel had managed to convince IBM’s PC division to use them. I had read two of Andy’s books and was concerned that he was a salesman prone to exaggeration.

      And that was exactly my impression when I met him. Motorola couldn’t push the 68040 past 40 megahertz and to their credit, 40 megahertz was insane! Oh my God. The only thing more insane was Intel’s 80486 running at 66 megahertz! Can you imagine? I was a physicist, I should know.

      And that’s when Andy lost some credibility with me. I can’t remember exactly what he said about future speeds, but I seem to remember 400 megahertz or maybe even more. Oh, please. You’re claiming 10x more than Motorola? Everyone knows Motorola is the more technically capable company. You won’t be able to bullshit Steve the way you did IBM.

      And yet. He seemed so confident. Probably just a good actor?

      I thought the plan should be for Andy to call Steve and admire him for all he’s done (not hard to do). Bring technical people up to meet Steve’s, offer a few really great engineers to do a test port of NeXTstep on Intel, and provide some funding. Maybe Steve would bite?

      Andy’s assistant said he’d keep me up to date on what happened next. I left wondering what Bill Gates and Michael Dell thought of Andy. 

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 6: When the first call came it was to say Andy and a large contingent from Intel were meeting Steve in the big downstairs conference room. Andy’s assistant didn’t know who was involved on our side besides Steve. I never heard.

      Sometime later Steve wandered in my office and asked if I thought porting NeXTstep to Intel was a good idea. Awkward. Did he know? I asked if Intel was going to help. Steve said they offered two great engineers to work alongside ours. They thought it could be done in 6 months. We’d have to keep it super secret from the outside world. Could I act as relationship manager?

      This wasn’t as strange as it sounded because I was managing the IBM relationship. Steve had licensed NeXTstep for them to use on their workstations years ago and they had a team living at NeXT working on it. We didn’t have much faith in that relationship.  

      “Hmmm, that sounds like a good idea, Steve. The 66 megahertz 80486 chip?”

      “Yeah. Intel’s graphics primitives are shit so it probably won’t be any faster than the 33 megahertz 68040 we’re using now.”

      Six months later I carried a beige Intel-based computer from a windowless room to my office, wrapped in a black cover. It was exactly twice the speed of our sexy black machines. 

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 7: Steve and William had made plans to package NeXTstep as software for retail sales at Comp USA and other stores. I didn’t see that coming. I was angling for building sleek black machines with Intel inside, but we were sticking to the plan of making a dual-88110 workstation. 

      The belief was the future of computing was Reduced Instruction Set architectures, not a PC-based chip. All the workstation companies like Sun, HP, Silicon Graphics and IBM had gone that way. I don’t think the workstation world believed that Andy could keep increasing the speed of his processors like he claimed he could. 

      I understood. Andy came across as a bit of a slickster to me whereas George Fischer was the real deal, the man The New York Times referred to as a gold-plated executive in a 12-carat company.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 8: I got a call a few months later from General Magic. Their vision was so compelling I accepted their offer to work there.

      Selling NeXTstep as software wasn’t going well and NeXT discontinued making hardware before they could ship the 88110-based workstation. Far as I knew, only Data General was making a machine with 88110s. Apple had abandoned it and teamed up with IBM & Motorola to produce the PowerPC processor.

      NeXT became less relevant, but word was Steve and Andy were getting along. Andy conducted offsites with Steve and his team to teach his management methods that would become so famous.

      George Fisher made a fateful decision to become CEO of Kodak. The reputations of Motorola, Kodak, or George would never be the same again.

      And then news broke that would change the world: Apple bought NeXT and Steve became CEO.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 9: The man who made the decision to buy NeXT was Gil Amelio, CEO of Apple at the time and former CEO of National Semiconductor. He wrote a book about how he saved Apple. He agreed to speak at a bookstore in San Jose that I owned. 

      He only took one question at the end. He called on John Markoff, the famous New York Times tech journalist. “Gil,” John asked, “why did you end up buying NeXT instead of Be?” 

      Be OS, like NeXTstep, was very respected and the man who ran Be was Jean-Louis Gassée, former high-profile Apple exec. Steve told Walter Isaacson that Gassée was "one of the few people who I'd say is truly horrible. He knifed me in the back."  

      Here’s how I’ve remembered Gil’s answer over the years: “Great question, we had big internal debates about that. A lot of people at Apple were afraid of Steve and Jean-Louis had many supporters. Be OS was very respected. In the end it came down to NeXT already supporting Intel and that was important to us.”

      I remember thinking, oh my God. Steve, you owe me.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 10: Turns out I wasn’t the only one to make secret calls and Andy wasn’t the only one to return them. John Landwehr was a product manager at NeXT who got the idea to call Ellen Hancock, Apple’s CTO.

      From an article by John Markoff:

      After reading newspaper accounts saying that Apple was in private discussions about acquiring a new operating system, Mr. Landwehr, without a word to Steven P. Jobs, his company's chairman, persuaded his colleague Garrett Rice to pick up the phone and call Ms. Hancock.

      It turned out Andy was underselling when he said his processors might go to 400 megahertz, 10x what Motorola ever achieved with the 68040. The clock speeds of current Intel processors are more than 4200 megahertz.

      More than 10 years after the computing world believed Intel’s processors were in the autumn of their lives, Apple based their computers on them.

      Gil Amelio:

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 11 (last part): The Harvard Business Review published an article, The Curse of the Superstar CEO, which tried to explain the fall of George Fisher and Kodak.

      I always wonder. Was it really about the CEOs? Or were there technical superstars we don’t know about who figured out how to make processors faster without overheating? That’s something I loved about Steve Jobs: he would ask who on planet earth is the best person to pull off something impossible and he would do anything to hire them.

      I know one of those. Steve spent all day in early Apple recruiting Bill Atkinson, a Phd student in neuroscience. Steve told me he didn’t know if they could have pulled off the Mac without him. I have seen Bill solve hard technical problems I don’t think anyone else could solve.

      I wonder if Andy had one of those and George didn’t.

      Steve Jobs and Bill Atkinson:

    • vegasphotog

      Chris, all kidding aside.....I hope you have plans to write a book. It would be VERY interesting and it seems your "fly-on-the-wall" perspectives are historically important.

    • yaypie
      Ryan Grove

      I've often wondered what the computing world would look like today if Apple had bought Be.

      BeOS was a fantastic operating system, more advanced in many ways than other OSes of the era. I actually very briefly used it as my primary OS in the late 90s. But Be wasn't able to succeed as an independent company, and with the release of Mac OS X (which was heavily based on concepts and code from NeXT), Apple suddenly had a much better OS, and BeOS was relegated to the history books.

      But somewhere out there is a parallel universe where BeOS, rather than OpenStep, became the basis for Apple's new OS. Would it have been able to compete with Windows? Without macOS's BSD underpinnings, would it have been as popular with developers as Mac OS X was? I wonder.

    • Biofall

      This was an incredible read. You've lived quite the life. I'll have to check out more about Bill Atkinson. I wonder what sort of neuroscience he worked on?

    • mk

      Great series of posts, Chris! At Microsoft, we used to say that “the #1 feature is shipping”. It wasn’t always good for customers, but it sure did let msft exploit their user base to quickly learn and develop a decent product.

    • DanSolarMan

      it always amazes me what it takes for things to happen good and bad.

      If this didn’t happen this wouldn’t have happened. Almost at times like there is some sort of design going on in the universe.

    • va

      Fascinating. Tangentially, Intel saved the X86 architecture (boosting it 10x, 100x, etc.) after DIGITAL had asked them to "analyze" its breakthrough MicroPrism (aka DEC Alpha) chip for "second sourcing" at Intel's state-of-the-art FABs. The dishonesty of lifting that IP to "rescue" the X86 led to a legal settlement wherein Intel consented to purchase DEC's Hudson plant, that included not just the Alpha's chips, but also the StrongARM chips. (Old money on both boards and that's the way they handle scandals.) Chris' testimonial makes me believe that more people besides Andy Grove at Intel knew that the X86 was being "rescued" in this way...

      I totally agree with Steve about Gassée, convinced there was an Amiga 1000 in the basement of One Infinite Loop fueling all of that period's innovations (GfxBase->QuickDrawGX, ARexx->AppleScript, Speech->PlainTalk, etc..) sustaining an unbelievable amount of politics much to Bill Gates' delight.

    • robblessin

      I still believe it or not resell NeXT Computers , 25 years plus , my first day of work at Alembic Systems reselling 3rd party products and NeXT hardware ; NeXT shut down their hardware production line February 9, 1993 , everyone took it as an omen and after all these years later I'm still here ! Best Regards Rob Blessin

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