Myths of Steve Jobs

In the age of push-button publishing and social networking, people
seem to have become de-humanised, not knowing what their true
emotions are. This became very clear recently in the wake of Apple
co-founder Steve Jobs’ demise. Tributes ranged from “hagiographic”
to “outright lame.” Nobody seemed to have put an effort. There was
no honesty nor any genuine feeling.

Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the C language and co-inventor of
the Unix operating system, died a few days after Steve Jobs. He was
far more influential than Jobs. There was hardly a mention anywhere.

US President Obama led the pack: “Steve was among the greatest of
American innovators.” Really, what did Steve invent? Steven
Spielberg went further: “Steve Jobs was the greatest inventor since
Thomas Edison. He put the world at our fingertips.” That would have
set the man who invented light bulb incandescent with rage! Closer
home, in India, HCL owner Shiv Nadar said, “He is in the same league
as the person who created the wheel.”

After tech luminaries, politicians, and celebrities set the ball
rolling, technically challenged daily news publications in America
took over with individual pieces on what they thought Steve Jobs and
Apple had accomplished. That was when the lines got blurred. There
was one blooper after another. And, it wouldn’t stop there. When
FOSS guru Richard Stallman refused to follow the herd and tried to
put things in proper perspective, the defenders of the ark went
really out of hand (Forbes; Leave It To Richard Stallman To Go
There; 10 October, 2011).

Myth 1: Steve Jobs Invented The Personal Computer

Even The New York Times fell for this urban legend. (What Makes Steve
Jobs Great; In 1973, Xerox Corporation had something called a “personal workstation.” It was a research project limited Xerox installations and
a few universities. It could not be used at home.

So, the job of inventing the personal computer was left to a guy named
Gary Kildall. Not even Intel knew their processors could be used on a
desktop. If you check the archives of the American TV program
“Computer Chronicles”, you will find an episode titled “Gary Kildall
Special” ( that will make it clear as
daylight as to who invented the PC.

… Killdall had started developing his Control Program for
Microcomputers (CP/M) in the early 1970s when he realized the
potential for a general-purpose small computer. He was carrying a
portable computer at a time when a desktop PC was just a dream.

Tom Rolander (first DRI employee): “I met Gary in 1973 in the
Computer Science Lab late one evening. He was a young kid … He came
into the computer center with a leather briefcase that he flipped
open that he connected to a teletype … and that was an entire
self-contained computer. It was the first personal computer I ever saw.”

… Gordon Eubanks (another DRI employee, later Symantec): “… he
invented a programming language called PL/M and implemented it for
the Intel microprocessors to prove that that 8080 was a real
computer and not a controller for microwave ovens …

… while a consultant at Intel in the 70s, he offered to sell them
CP/M but Intel could see no use for it and turned him down. Shortly
afterwards in 1976, Gary and his wife Dorothy founded a company
called InterGalactic Digital Research, later shortened to Digital
Research …

Gary’s design allowed programs written for CP/M to be used on hardware
produced by different manufacturers. Thus, CP/M started a whole new
industry for personal computing.

In 1977, Steve Jobs started marketing a “personal computer” DESIGNED
BY STEVE WOZNIAK. Their Apple II personal computer was targeted at the
masses, unlike CP/M-loaded PC kits targeted at hobbyists and engineers.
Apple II was one of several commercially successful personal computers.

Myth 2: Steve Jobs and Apple Pioneered The Graphical User Interface (GUI)

In 1975, Xerox invented the GUI or the WIMP – windows, icons, menus and
a pointer controlled by hand-held device known as the mouse. (Xerox PARC

Apple’s attempt at GUI was called Lisa and was released in 1983. Because
of his running feud with the Apple management, Steve Jobs was forced out
of the Lisa project. Later, Jobs got interested in the “Macintosh”
project run by an Apple employee named Jeff Raskin. Jobs forced out
Raskin and took over the project. He also visited Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center and studied their GUI implementation. He also brought in
people from Xerox to work on the Macintosh project. Apple did make
several improvements to the Xerox GUI concept. To put it correctly, the
Mac was the first commercially successful OS that featured a GUI.

Myth 3: Without Steve Jobs, Beautiful Typefaces Wouldn’t Have Come To

This myth was propagated by Steve Jobs himself. It is like saying that
if Columbus hadn’t discovered America, then the continent would have
remained undiscovered. In 2005, Steve Jobs made this claim in the
“commencement address” he gave at Stanford University.

…Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy
instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster,
every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed.
Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal
classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do
this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying
the amount of space between different letter combinations, about
what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical,
artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found
it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my
life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first
Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all
into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.
If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac
would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced
fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no
personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I
would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal
computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do….

Myth 4: Steve Jobs And His Original Ideas

The Mac OS X was based on the NeXTStep operating system built by Steve
Jobs’ company NeXT Computer. NeXTStep was one of many Unix-like
operating systems and used BSD Unix source code.

Despite the fact Apple owed so much to open source, it did not prevent
Steve Jobs from trying to discourage companies supporting open source.
In 2010, *Jonathan Schwartz*, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, recounted
his encounter with Steve Jobs in a blog post titled “Good Artists Copy,
Great Artists Steal” (

…I feel for Google. Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too. In 2003,
after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking
Glass, Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects
were “stepping all over Apple IP. (IP = Intellectual Property =
patents, trademarks and copyrights.) If we moved forward to
commercialize it, “I’ll just sue you.” My response was simple.
“Steve, I was just watching your last presentation, and Keynote
looks identical to Concurrence. “Do you own that IP?” Concurrence
was a presentation product built by Lighthouse Design, a company I
help to found and which Sun acquired in 1996. Lighthouse built
applications for NeXTSTEP, the Unix based operating system whose
core would become the foundation for all Mac products after Apple
acquired NeXT in 1996. Steve had used Concurrence for years, and as
Apple built their own presentation tool, it was obvious where they’d
found inspiration. And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I
think Sun has a few OS patents, too. Steve was silent. And that was
the last I heard on the topic….

These were not the only instances when Apple relied on others’ work. The
Safari browser created by Apple uses an HTML rendering engine called
Webkit. Webkit was derived from the KHTML engine used by the open-source
Konqueror browser. Many Apple devices such as the iPod uses an open
source font-rendering engine known as FreeType. This is particularly
galling considering that FreeType developers struggled for many years
without a proper specification for the bytecode interpreter logic for
TrueType fonts. Although FreeType developers
( eventually succeeded in reverse
engineering this Apple secret, patent-conscious FreeType users had to
wait till May 2010 when Apple patents on hinting bytecode expired
(FreeType and Patents;

Myth 5: Steve Jobs Was A Design Genius

Steve Jobs was not a designer. Most successful Apple designs were
created by somebody else at Apple, not Steve Jobs. He approved or
disapproved designs. Apple’s chief designer Johnathan Ive said to Jobs’

“He [Jobs] will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say,
‘That’s no good.’ ‘That’s not very good.’ ‘I like that one.’ And
later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about
it as if it was his idea.” [CNET; Jonathan Ive: Steve Jobs stole my

The Apple iPod was based on a design invented and patented (US Patent
6928433; by Creative, the Singapore company of
Soundblaster soundcard fame. The suit filed by Creative against Apple
shows some glimpses on how the genius worked:

The complaint accuses Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs of
getting a look at the design details when he tried to arrange a
joint business partnership with Creative Technology. But Apple then
“abruptly” changed course and tried to license its technology. Apple
also suggested that Creative Technology spin off its digital music
player arm into a separate company, allowing Apple to invest in it.
When Creative Technology refused, Apple went ahead and introduced
the iPod in 2001. [San Francisco Chronicle; Lawsuit: iPod violates
patent / Rival alleges Apple took player’s design after being

The first generation Apple iPods were not the epitome of design. It took
three more generations to get them to look pretty. The first generation
of Apple iPhones did not have the ability to forward text messages. They
also did not have the ability to do cut and paste text. It is all
forgotten now. Apple mobile devices cannot really be switched off. The
screen would go dark but internally the device would remain on and
consume power from the battery. This design choice allowed the user to
pick up the device and start using it right away. No other company would
be allowed to have such liberties. To make matters worse, these devices
did not come with a user-replaceable battery. It could be replaced only
at an enormous cost to the user.

In conclusion, we may never really know why why these myths were
created. Perhaps, some big shots saw a potential gold mine and pumped up
the man, the company and its products to high heavens. If true, their
efforts must have been rewarded beyond their wildest dreams – the market
capitalization of Apple (a company that sells overpriced gadgets) stands
cheek by jowl with Exxon (the world’s biggest oil company on whose
products runs the world’s biggest economy). We may never know. What is
really within our realm is understanding why these myths found traction.
It must be the “Mona Lisa Effect”. The original is pretty much
unremarkable. The literature surrounding it paints a different picture.
We did not accept what our eyes told us – that IT WAS AN ORDINARY
PAINTING. Under the influence of the propaganda, we started believing
that the painting was greater than it really was. The same thing seems
to have happened in Steve Jobs’ case. Steve Jobs’ real achievement (that
nobody mentioned) was that he stood up to Bill Gates (after numerous
falls though). As the Bill Gates road-kill list is too long to be
mentioned here, I suggest the reader go over a few articles by on (Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office
Monopoly, to get a full picture of what shaped
Steve’s attitude towards competition.

(V. Subhash)

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