ch 1. my last email from steve jobs

fire

flame (n) . . . a vitriolic or abusive message posted on the Internet or sent by email, typically in quick response to another message . .

Two words capture the computer industry cadence of the late 20th century and the millennial years – “flame” and “Steve Jobs.” Both came out of the Silicon Valley in the late 70’s / early 80’s. 

Somewhere, deep in one of Adobe’s email archives, is the last communication I ever received from Steve Jobs.

Things might have gone better for NeXT Computer. The company had moved to a software-only business model in 1993, as it became impossible for Steve to compete against other workstation manufacturers, like Sun Microsystems with any kind of volume.

The new Intel port had great promise, and there was talk that the elegance of the user interface could turn the tide against the evil windows forces. This fiction continued until Windows 95 settled that score permanently. Still, for those familiar with the leading GUIs of the day, NeXTSTEP was evolutionary, and quite possibly revolutionary.

Eventually, Steve took the technology and the engineers to Apple. NeXTSTEP drove the industry at the time to develop more elegant and utilitarian user interfaces.

Apple’s flagship operating system – iOS, known for its elegance and ease of use is based on NeXTSTEP.

Life in a hardware company meant low margins and tremendous inventory risks, the kind of risks empires were lost over. Not having to worry about hardware liberated Steve. At the time, Pixar was also being birthed, so losing the hardware harness was undoubtedly a godsend for Steve.

In an effort to expand his Reality Distortion Field (RDF) and the company’s revolutionary NeXTSTEP Operating System’s (OS’s) acceptance, Steve directed his engineers to port NeXTSTEP to the Intel architecture. It made good sense, but there was a problem. A certain licensing arrangement existing between NeXT and Adobe stood in his way, and he was not happy.

To make sure I truly appreciated his ire, he wrote me a short, brief email.

The second line began:

“I AM REALLY PISSED OFF!!!”

Steve was pissed, and not in an English drunk pissing in a Birmingham street after a rave sort of way. He was thwarted and angry, and angry for having been thwarted.

Pissed.

Olivetti wanted to port NeXTSTEP to their Intel platform. To do this, the source code for NeXTSTEP, which included Adobe’s code, needed to be shipped to Olivetti in Italy. Hardware dependencies meant vendors had to port their software to each major hardware platform and UNIX flavor of the time. There was always tuning necessary.

Unfortunately, Adobe refused to grant NeXT the right to send their “family jewels,” the Adobe PostScript© source code, to Italy to be ported to the Olivetti Intel platform.

In Steve’s eyes, though only the messenger, I was Adobe. The General Counsel for Adobe made it clear. She thought Italy had fine courts, but not good enough to protect Adobe’s intellectual property. She also thought Italian courts were very affordable, and she didn’t want the code to leave the United States in any circumstance.

The answer was a hard no. Steve was not getting his way. It was clearly time to shoot the messenger. I knew it was coming.

Did it have to be ALL CAPS, Steve? ALL CAPS?

Tacky in an alt.net type of way, but for the Valley? Par for the course. Nothing odd.

Nothing to see here . . .  move along.

I only have but one regret, I regret not printing out the email – that I don’t have the full text. I’ve probably spent more time wondering about how I can get a hold of the original copy of his email than the impact his email had on my life, if any.

I never lost a moment’s sleep about Steve’s flame – it was par for the course, an expected collateral event, part of working in the business. I was never scared, disappointed, nor ashamed. My job was to take the hit for Adobe, and I took the hit. I’ve gone on to have a career one can only dream about, and Scottish-Canadian immigrant’s dream.

Getting flamed is a rite of professional passage. Everyone can’t like you all the time. Some would argue that there are some people you should go out of your way to stir up and piss off. It is the life we chose.

We all share some personal connection with Steve Jobs, as we share connections with Edison when we turn a light on, or Ford when driving a car. I am typing on a MacBook Air, proofing on my iPad Pro, and taking pictures with my iPhone. It’s damn personal between us.

Getting flamed by Steve? Rapture. Put it on my headstone. Complete me.

Bring it on – I finally mattered enough to be flamed by Steve. I slept very well that night and since. In sales terms, I got my day in the sun, my inflection on this earth, in this time-space continuum. 

I was finally important enough TO FLAME!

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