Steve Jobs caught Microsoft flat-footed, not once, but twice.

This is pleasing to me, in that way that seeing one huge company beat another, even huger company is pleasing. It helps that one is Apple, Inc., the company that I’ve been mildly obsessed with since an early age. The other, Microsoft, seemed to have Apple beat after the release of Windows 95. At the time, Apple wasn’t too hard to beat. The company was churning out endless variations of the Performa line of computers, which were best known for middling performance and crap-tastic consumer appeal.

All this was also before Steve Jobs returned, and we started seeing products like the Blue & White Power Mac G3, the iMac, or the ill-fated Power Mac G4 Cube. (Part of me still wants one…)

The iPod and the iTunes Store, it turns out, caught Microsoft totally off-guard. It seems that Steve Jobs’ legendary demands for secrecy paid huge dividends. According to MacRumors.com, “e-mails sent by Microsoft executives Bill Gates and Jim Allchin to other members of the Microsoft executive team revealing that the company had been taken by surprise by Apple’s launch of the iTunes Music Store in April 2003. The e-mails were made public as part of an antitrust suit brought against Microsoft in late 2006 for which Groklaw has been documenting the exhibits provided as evidence.”

MacRumors story.

Groklaw story.

And later the iPhone caught Gates & Co.  flat-footed—again.

This is very telling to me, having begun reading Leander Kahney’s Inside Steve’s Brain. Leander was an industry buddy of mine back in the day, reporting on our travails at LinuxPPC, so I figured I’d get his book in lieu of the JesusPad coming out. It’s been a very good read, a good glimpse inside what some observers can see of Steve Jobs’ thinking. It’s also a good historical contrast with Frank Rose’s 1990 book West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer. That book detailed the rise of Apple, the development and release of the Macintosh, and Steve Jobs’ exile from the company. All that I remember of it at this point is at the very end, when Rose described Jobs working on the NeXT computer. There was a Macintosh in his office, with the six-colored Apple logo gouged off the front.

There’s been a remarkable progression since then, and even starting well before then. Remember that Mac OS X has UNIX at its core. The first version of UNIX was developed in 1969. It went through many iterations and off-shoots, including BSD,which was created around 1978. BSD later branched into FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD, and also into NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, which powered the beautiful and expensive NeXT computers. Apple acquired NeXT in 1996, bringing Jobs back in an advisory capacity, but what would happen with OPENSTEP remained up in the air. At the time, Apple was working on their next-gen OS, Copland which never saw the light of day. Perhaps out of desperation, Apple’s top brass looked around for a third-party system they could meld the proprietary Mac OS onto. Somehow, OPENSTEP was chosen to be the basis for the new system, then known as Rhapsody, which grew into Mac OS X. Thus, the work done at Bell Labs in 1969 found its way into millions of Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone computers. (To say nothing of the thousands of earlier Macs that ran LinuxPPC, our version of Linux, which in turn was modeled after POSIX.)

Got all that? There will be a quiz later. Good night!

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.