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.”