Monday, June 20, 2005

Macintosh Literature Review

Posted by AmishThrasher at 8:29 am
Some books on the people who
made it possible.
Bagdikian, Ben H., “The Information Machines: Their Impact on Men and the Media”, Ch. 1, “Information Machines and Political Man”, pp. 1 - 27, New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
An important aspect of explaining and evaluating the launch of Macintosh, and the information contained within other sources, is to examine events within the context of a relevant academic framework. Bagdikian provides the first of two such analytical frameworks that I will use for evaluation purposes. I chose Bagdikian in particular, as his work is undeniably a key text in the area of communications research. Given that I personally believe that society is more important in shaping technology (i.e. cultural determinism) than technology is in reshaping society, I feel that Bagdikian’s technological determinism is somewhat an overstatement. While, in this particular essay, Bagdikian is discussing early newspapers rather than personal computers, it would be an interesting exercise to apply the Bagdikian framework (and premises) to the development of personal computers.

Butcher, Lee, “Accidental Millionaire”, New York, New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1988.
Butcher provides a narrative of the ‘rise and fall of Steve Jobs’. Many anecdotes used in “Accidental Millionaire” are suspiciously similar to Moritz’s “Little Kingdom”, though the latter is not credited. At times, this book almost feels like a ‘hatchet job’ towards Steve Jobs, where almost all of Apple’s early success should be credited towards others (especially Steve Wozniak), while all of Apple’s early shortcomings (real or imagined) are the clear fault of Jobs. Butcher presents Jobs as being manipulative, a ‘spoiled brat’ who was the ‘golden boy’ of his parents, incompetent at both engineering and management, immature, sexist, somewhat like the leader of a Jonestown cult, and guilty of most any other vice you can name. The book appears to be based on a series of interviews with (disgruntled) former employees, and while presenting only a handful of quotes from Jobs (mostly from other sources), former employees like Trip Hawkins are quoted extensively. In spite of an editorial bias that sticks out like a swollen thumb, many of the first hand quotes and anecdotes about the early years of Apple may be of use to an assignment on the subject.

Ferguson, Charles H., and Morris, Charles R., “Computer Wars”, New York, New York, and Toronto, Canada: Random House, 1994.
Computer Wars” was written in the early 1990’s, amidst heavy losses at computer company IBM. Of particular interest are some of the early chapters, which deal with IBM and the introduction of the original IBM PC, and the retrospective mistakes IBM made. Unlike other books covering the IBM PC’s early history, Ferguson and Morris write at a time when the fatal flaws in the Armonk - based company’s strategy (for example, IBM staying in business partnerships with Intel and Microsoft, in spite of superior technology being available within their own company) have become apparent. It is interesting to note that one such flaw identified by Ferguson and Morris was that IBM did not allow for new technology to ‘cannibalise’ older, yet profitable, products; while Butcher repeatedly criticises Apple for doing the opposite in introducing Macintosh to compete with the outdated (yet profitable) Apple II (blame for this decision is unsurprisingly accorded to Jobs).

Jobs, Steve, “1984 Apple AGM Keynote”, in TextLab, “The Lost 1984 Commercial”,, downloaded 27/3/2005
This is Steve Job’s presentation during the launch of Apple’s Macintosh Computer, during Apple’s January 24th, 1984 Annual General Meeting. The version presented on the TextLab web site is consistent with other versions of the film, as presented in other forums. This video clip is interesting, as allows Jobs and Apple to present how they intend their technology to be used, including a public presentation of the machine’s capabilities, and several examples of its early advertising. Some of the comments by Jobs, as well as several of the commercials, make direct reference to market conditions - in particular the competition between Apple and IBM - which had shaped the Macintosh. In a historical sense, this is a primary source of information about the launch of the Macintosh, and has been discussed, to some degree, in several of the secondary texts mentioned in this literature review. Whilst the information presented comes directly from Apple’s Public Relations department and is therefore far from unbiased, this video is nonetheless worth further consideration in any essay on the subject.

Kawasaki, Guy, “The Macintosh Way”, Glenview, ILL: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1989.

The Macintosh Way: offers an interesting insight into the culture of Apple’s Macintosh development team, and its user and developer culture. Kawasaki shares his experiences as a software developer whose job involved ‘evangelising’ the benefits of the Macintosh platform to other software companies. Kawasaki’s writing style is full of satire, self parody, and light-hearted humour; allowing him to write about Apple while going beyond writing “It’s Steve Job’s fault” 100 times a page. Indeed, the book’s title itself is a parody of the term ‘the HP way’, used to describe the former corporate culture of computer company Hewlett - Packard. Kawasaki’s account is of interest, given that his book describes his involvement in the nexus and interplay of corporate politics (for example, between Jobs and former Apple CEO and President John Sculley), consumer demand (the business community’s demand for a relational database program), corporate culture (from which the book derives its title), and market forces (Apple’s in-house relational database project ‘Silver Surfer’ being used to leverage Ashton-Tate to develop on the Macintosh platform). Given that cultural determinism is a framework for this essay, this book provides important information about cultural factors within, and outside, Apple.

Levy, Steven, “Insanely Great”, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia: Viking, and Penguin Books Australia Ltd., 1994.
Levy is a respected technology journalist who has written articles for a range of magazines and publications, including Harper's, Macworld, Newsweek, Premiere, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Wired. Levy’s book constructs a narrative of the development of the personal computer, from the earliest theoretical work of the 1950’s and 1960’s ‘thought augmentation’ machines, through to the earliest personal computers (such as the Altair and Apple I), the work of Xerox’s influential Paolo Alto Research Center (PARC), and the development of the Macintosh. The book then continues to describe the adoption of Macintosh style GUI’s (Graphical User Interfaces), and the development of an early PDA / smartphone style device by a company called General Magic (a future trend as of 1994). A secondary narrative is Levy’s own computer experience, from techno-skepticism at journalism school, to his experiences as a journalist covering the Macintosh development team and ultimately as a computer user and journalist. Thus Levy himself is a primary source of events described by other sources, though as a journalist - thus somewhat similar to some chapters of Moritz's work.

Moritz, Michael, “The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer”, New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984.
As noted earlier, there are striking similarities between this book, and Butcher’s later work. Indeed, it appears at times, especially when dealing with Jobs’ and Wozniak’s past, that Butcher has merely taken Moritz’s sentences and rephrased them slightly. That said, there are several key distinctions between the two texts. First, while Butcher chooses a very linear narrative, the latter half of most chapters ‘fast forward’ to Moritz’s current experiences with the Macintosh Development team (these anecdotes do not appear in Butcher’s work). Secondly, while Moritz is still highly critical of Jobs, it doesn’t read like a prosecution transcript of a court-case against Jobs. This is because Butcher adds vitriolic quotes from former Apple employees, not present in Moritz’s earlier work. Ergo, the end of one of Moritz’s chapters fast-forwards to Steve Wozniak’s ill-fated ‘Us Festival’ - a failure selectively excluded by Butcher in making Wozniak the ‘great man’ of personal computing. The final major difference between the two texts is the publication date, and where Moritz provides analysis as seen in 1984, Butcher goes on to add an extensive epilogue about Steve Jobs leaving Apple and founding NeXT. For these reasons, in spite of some of the “amazing” similarities between Moritz’s ‘Little Kingdom’ and Butcher’s later work, both texts are worthwhile using in any future essay. One final note is that Butcher and Moritz both provide a ‘great man of history’ account which, as noted by Winston, is only of use when other socio-economic factors are taken into consideration.

Winston, Brian, “How are the Media Born and Developed?”,, downloaded 27 / 3 / 2005
Winston provides the second of 2 academic frameworks I will consider in this essay. In his essay, Winston first considers a ‘great men of history’ technological determinist account of the history of cinema. Winston finds such narratives - such as Butcher’s and Moritz's accounts of Jobs and Wozniak - as being highly selective, offering only individual genius as the explanation of all technological advancement. This is problematic as technological development most often involves ‘the collective inventiveness’ of a range of people, and their inventions, failed attempts, and prototypes. Next, he considers a technological determinist account whereby the invention of some technologies with inevitably, causally, lead to the invention of other technologies. The problem with this is that social, cultural, and economic factors at best either promote or retard the inevitable path of technology. Winston thirdly considers a form of cultural determinism - economic determinism - as a model of technological advancement; but notes that (in a manner similar to its technological determinist counterparts) economic determinist accounts inevitably emphasise the importance of supply and demand in technological development. Ultimately, in a conclusion I agree with, an account fo media development must take all socio-technological factors into consideration, and that ultimately society decides the difference between ‘prototype’ and ‘invention’.