Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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In April 1995, Steve Jobs, then head of NeXT Computer, was interviewed by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation, producers of the Computerworld Honors Awards Program, as part of an Oral History project. The wide-ranging interview was conducted by Daniel Morrow, executive director of the awards program.

From his early years -- when he says except for a few key adults 'I would absolutely have ended up in jail' -- to how he felt about Apple in the mid-'90s -- 'The Macintosh will die in another few years [under John Sculley]' -- to his predictions about how the Internet would change the world, this is a rare look at Jobs after his first string of innovations but before he returned to Apple.

Steve, I'd like to begin with some biographical information. Tell us about yourself. Steve Jobs (SJ): I was born in San Francisco, California, USA, planet Earth, February 24, 1955. I can go into a lot of details about my youth, but I don't know that anybody would really care about that too much.

Well they might in three hundred years because all this print is going to disintegrate. Tell me a little bit about your parents, your family; what are the earliest things you remember? In 1955, Eisenhower was still President. I don't remember him but I do remember growing up in the late 50's and early 60's. It was a very interesting time in the United States. America was sort of at its pinnacle of post World War II prosperity and everything had been fairly straight and narrow from haircuts to culture in every way, and it was just starting to broaden into the 60's where things were going to start expanding out in new directions. Everything was still very successful. Very young. America seemed young and naive in many ways to me, from my memories at that time.

So you would have been about five or six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated? I remember John Kennedy being assassinated. I remember the exact moment that I heard he had been shot.

Where were you at the time? I was walking across the grass at my schoolyard going home at about three in the afternoon when somebody yelled that the President had been shot and killed. I must have been about seven or eight years old, I guess, and I knew exactly what it meant. I also remember very much the Cuban Missile Crisis. I probably didn't sleep for three or four nights because I was afraid that if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up. I guess I was seven years old at the time and I understood exactly what was going on. I think everybody did. It was really a terror that I will never forget, and it probably never really left. I think that everyone felt it at that time.

The Internet

Give me your thoughts on the current status and the future of the Internet and the commercial online services and how they're affecting computer development. The Internet and the World Wide Web are clearly the most exciting thing going on in computing today. They're exciting for three or four reasons.

Number one, ultimately computers are turning into communications devices and ultimately we're spending more and more of the cycles of the computer to not only make it easy to use but to make it easy to communicate. The Web is the missing piece of the puzzle which is really going to power that vision much farther forward. It's very exciting in that way.

Secondly, it's very exciting because it is going to destroy vast layers of our economy and make available a presence in the marketplace for very small companies, one that is equal to very large companies.

Let me give you an example. A small three-person company in Phoenix, Arizona can have a Web server that looks identical if not better than IBM's or the Gap's or anybody else, any large company. They can gain access to this electronic distribution channel for free. They don't have to build buildings. They don't have to sign up a thousand distributors and have people to call on them, etc., etc. In essence, direct distribution from the manufacturer to the customer via the Internet, via the Web, direct contact, direct transactions and distribution via UPS or Federal Express -- that's going to be cheaper than going through all these middlemen or building hundreds of stores around the country. It is going radically change the way goods and services are discovered, sold and delivered, not only in this country but eventually all over the world.

As you know, electrons travel at the speed of light and so it tends to bring the world much closer together in terms of providers and customers. That's pretty exciting. The levelling of big and small. The levelling of near and distant.

The third reason it's very exciting is that Microsoft doesn't own it and I don't think they can. It's the one thing in the industry that Microsoft can probably never own. I think one of the things that's essential is that the government continue to fund the Internet as a public trust, as a public facility and remove any of these ridiculous notions of privatizing it that have been brought up. I don't think they're going to fly, thankfully.

The Internet cost the U.S. Federal Government about fifty to seventy-five million a year. This is peanuts for what its doing right now and even if that cost someday escalated to half a billion a year, which of course you could build the whole Internet each year from scratch if you had to, you could replace all the equipment, etc. That would be an extrodinarily small price to pay for keeping it from getting into the hands of any one company and thereby starting to destroy and control the innovation that could take place around the Internet. It's the one last bright spot of hope in the computer industry for some serious innovation to happen at a rapid pace.

What's also great about it, again, is that the U.S. in the forefront here. That's what's great about the whole personal computer software industry. This is another example where the U.S. is in the forefront. It should be kept open. It should be kept free.

The World Wide Web is literally becoming a global phenomenon. Are you optimistic about it staying free? Yes, I am optimistic about it staying free but before you say it's global too fast, it's estimated that over one-third of the total Internet traffic in the world originates or destines in California. So I actually think this is a pretty typical case where California is again on the leading edge not only in a technical but cultural shift. So I do expect the Web to be a worldwide phenomenon, distributed fairly broadly. But right now I think it's a U.S. phenomenon that's moving to be global, and one which is very concentrated in certain pockets, such as California. Next: Pixar

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