of NeXT represents those early days when a student thinks he knows everything and is in a rush
to show that to the world. In fact, Jobs had just about every detail wrong. The Open Corporation
was a dismal failure in practice. Its hallmark was that employee salaries were not kept secret;
there was even an attempt to impose uniform compensation. It didn’t work, of course; all kinds
of side deals were cut to satiate key employees.
More concretely, Jobs had the whole business plan wrong. It would be two years before NeX T
delivered anything to customers. When the NeX Tcube computer finally did arrive, it proved too
expensive to ever command a serious market. Ultimately, Jobs was forced to admit that the undeniably beautiful machine he and his engineering team concocted was a flop. He laid off most
of the staff and turned the company from hardware to software, first to rewrite NeXT’s operating
system, called NextSTEP, for Intel-based computers. The company also engineered an ingenious
development environment called WebObjects, which eventually became its best-selling program.
Jobs didn’t know that WebObjects would later prove instrumental in building the online store
for Apple and for i Tunes, or that NextS TEP would be his ticket back to Apple. The road for NeXT
was always rocky, perhaps appropriate for something that was born out of a desire for revenge.
It was a good thing he had something else going on the side.
THE THINGS JOBS MISSED
THE IMPORTANCE OF
THE NET WORK
Of the three companies Jobs helped create, Pixar was the purest corporate and
organizational expression of his nature. If NeXT was a travail of spite and malice, Pixar was a
labor of love.
The Pixar story began even before Jobs left Apple. In early 1985, Apple fellow Alan Kay called
his attention to the computer Graphics Group (GG) skunk works in San Rafael, California, an ill-fitting piece of the filmmaking production puzzle George Lucas had assembled for his Skywalker
Ranch studios. It was little more than a team of 25 engineers—including a young “user interface
designer” named John Lasseter—who desperately wanted to continue to work together even though
Lucas, then embroiled in the costly aftermath of a divorce, was looking to sell.
Jobs’s trip to take a look-see left an indelible impression. GG’s head geek, Ed Catmull, showed
him some short demo films made by Lasseter, who was neither a programmer nor a user interface
designer, but a talented animator who had left Disney and been given his faux title by Catmull as
a way to convince Lucas to put him on the payroll. The films weren’t much to look at, but they
were three-dimensional, they were generated by computer rather than hand-drawn, and they
displayed the whimsy of a master storyteller.
Fascinated, Jobs tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Apple’s board to buy the group. “These guys
were way ahead of us on graphics, way ahead,” Jobs remembered. “They were way ahead of
anybody. I just knew in my bones that this was going to be very important.” After getting bounced
from Apple, Jobs went back to Lucas and drove a hard bargain. He paid $5 million for the group’s
assets and provided another $5 million in working capital for the company, which was christened
Pixar. In hindsight, the price was a pittance. But in 1985, nobody would have expected Pixar to
one day outstrip NeXT. Certainly not Jobs: He didn’t build any fancy digs for his motley crew of
animators and engineers, who for years made do with used furniture and dowdy offices.
Once again, what Jobs knew in his bones didn’t translate into getting the details right. As with
NeXT, Jobs initially intended the company to be a purveyor of high-performance computer hardware, this time for two frightfully niche markets: the special-effects departments of Hollywood
studios and medical-imaging specialists. By 1989, however, Pixar had sold only a few hundred of
its Pixar Image Computers, faux-granite painted cubes originally stickered at $135,000, that had
to be paired with expensive engineering workstations to do anything.
This time, the strategy pivot came from the talent. In 1990, Lasseter and Catmull told Jobs they
could make a business of creating computer-animated TV commercials—perhaps one day they
could even make, and sell, cartoons! Jobs was smitten with Catmull and Lasseter. They were always
teaching him something new. Could they deliver on the ultimate promise of the place, to use
computers to create an entirely new kind of animation for the cinema and thus upend the entire
business model of animation? Jobs decided to focus on this one disruptive opportunity. It was an
instinct he would return to, repeatedly, when he rejoined Apple.
In 1991, he fired much of the Pixar staff, announced the new direction to the survivors, and
reorganized so that the studio could pursue one animated project at a time. “I got everybody together,” Jobs said, “and I said, ‘At our heart, we really are a content company. Let’s transition out
of everything else. Let’s go for it. This is why I bought into Pixar. This is why most of you are here.
The last few years at NeXT, I’ve
gotten a little better glimpse of
what I really saw at Xerox PARC
[in 1979], which was two things.
One blinded me to the other
because it was so dazzling. The
first, of course, was the graphical
The second thing I saw—but
didn’t see—was the elaborate
networking of personal
computers into something I
would now call ‘interpersonal
computing.’ At PARC, they had
200 computers networked using
electronic mail and file servers. It
was an electronic community of
collaboration that they used
every day. I didn’t see that
because I was so excited about
the graphical user interface. It’s
taken me, and to some extent the
rest of the industry, a whole
decade to finally start to address
that second breakthrough—
using computers for human
collaboration rather than just as
word processors and individual
THE MERGER OF TELEVISION
AND COMPU TERS
I don’t really believe that
televisions and computers are
going to merge. I’ve spent
enough time in entertainment
to know that storytelling is
linear. It’s not interactive. You
go to your TV when you want to
turn your brain off. You go to
your computer when you want
to turn your brain on. Those are
not the same thing.