Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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Some people say that in the future object-oriented software is going to be the only kind of software. Of course it's true. I remember being at Xerox at 1979. It was one of those sort of apocalyptic moments. I remember within ten minutes of seeing the graphical user interface stuff, just knowing that every computer would work this way some day; it was so obvious once you saw it. It didn't require tremendous intellect. It was so clear. The minute you understand objects, it's all exactly the same. All software will be written using object-oriented technology some day. You can argue about how long its going to take, who the winners and losers are going to be, but I don't think a rational person will debate its significance.

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.

Pixar

85% of the world doesn't have access to a telephone yet. The potential is there and you're pretty optimistic. Tell me about Pixar. This story is very interesting. I got hooked up with some folks. Again a friend of mine told me I should go visit these crazy guys up in San Rafael, California who were working at Lucasfilm. Now George Lucas, who produced the Star Wars film trilogy, was a smart guy, and at one point when he had a lot of money coming in from these films he realized that he ought to start a technology group. He had a few problems he wanted to solve.

I'll give you an example of one. When you make a copy of analog audio recording, like tape cassette to another tape cassette, you pick up noise artifacts, in this case hiss. If you make a second-generation copy it gets worse exponentially. The same is true of optical analog copies. You take a piece of film, make an optical copy, you pick up noise artifacts, in this case optical noise which comes across as blurriness in some cases, comes across as other noise artifacts in other cases.

Now George, to make Star Wars, actually had to composite together up to thirteen pieces of film for each frame. The matt paintings for the backgrounds might be a few pieces of film, the models might be a few pieces of film, the live action might be a few pieces of film, some special effects might be a few pieces of film. And every time he'd make a copy to composite two together and then add a third, then add a fourth, he was adding noise artifacts with each generation. If you go buy a laser disk of any of the Star Wars Films, if you stop it on some of the frames, they are really grungy. Incredibly noisy, very bad quality.

George being the perfectionist he was, said "I'd like to do it perfectly," do it digitally; and nobody had ever done that before. He hired some very smart people and they figured out how to do it for him, digitally with no noise artifacts. They developed software and actually built some specialized hardware at the time. George had at some point decided that this is costing him several million dollars a year and decided that he didn't want to fund it anymore, so I bought this group from George Lucas and I incorporated it as Pixar and we set about revolutionizing high-end computer graphics.

If you look at the ten most important revolutions in high-end graphics, in the last ten years, eight of them have come out of Pixar. All of the software that was used to make Terminator, for example -- to actually construct the images that you saw on the screen -- or Jurassic Park with all the dinosaurs, was Pixar Software. Industrial Light and Magic uses it as the base for all of their stuff.

But Pixar had another vision. Pixar's vision was to tell stories. To make real films. Our vision was to make the world's first animated feature film -- completely computer synthetic, sets, characters, everything. After ten years, we have done exactly that. We have developed tools, all proprietary, to do this, to manage the production of this thing as well as the drawing of this thing, computer synthetic drawing. We are finishing up making the world's first computer animated feature film. Pixar has written it, directed it, producing it. The Walt Disney Corporation is distributing it and it's coming out this year as Walt Disney's Christmas Picture. It's coming out November 11, I believe, and it's called "Toy Story." You will hear a lot about it because I think its going to be the most successful film of this year.

Fantastic. It's phenomenal. Tom Hanks is the main character's voice. Tim Allen is the second main character. Randy Newman's doing the music for it. It's just phenomenal.

There's a lot of hoopla about Hollywood and Silicon Valley converging. They call it "Sillywood" I think. Pixar is really going to be the first digital studio in the whole world. It really combines art and technology together. Again in a very wonderful way. Pixar's got by far and away the best computer graphics talent in the entire world and it now has the best animation and artistic talent in the whole world to do these kinds of film. We have the second largest group of animators in the world outside of Disney and we think the most talented in the world working side by side with these computer scientists, the best graphics people in the world. There's really no one else in the world who could do this stuff. It's really phenomenal. We're probably close to ten years ahead of anybody else.

New possibilities

It sounds really exciting. The question I was going to ask -- and you've partially answered it -- was about start-up companies. As I look around the facility here and your literature, there are alliances written all over the walls literally. You're aligned with Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Oracle and Digital and all the systems integrators. Communications companies and information technology companies are merging. And becoming one. Do you think it will ever be possible for a new major start-up company to develop if they're going to focus on major applications or software? Will there ever be another?

I think yes. One might sometimes say in despair no, but I think yes. And the reason is because human minds settle into fixed ways of looking at the world and that's always been true and it's probably always going to be true.

I've always felt that death is the greatest invention of life. I'm sure that life evolved without death at first and found that without death, life didn't work very well because it didn't make room for the young. It didn't know how the world was fifty years ago. It didn't know how the world was twenty years ago. It saw it as it is today, without any preconceptions, and dreamed how it could be based on that. We're not satisfied based on the accomplishment of the last thirty years. We're dissatisfied because the current state didn't live up to their ideals. Without death there would be very little progress.

One of the things that happens in organizations as well as with people is that they settle into ways of looking at the world and become satisfied with things and the world changes and keeps evolving and new potential arises but these people who are settled in don't see it. That's what gives start-up companies their greatest advantage. The sedentary point of view is that of most large companies.

In addition to that, large companies do not usually have efficient communication paths from the people closest to some of these changes at the bottom of the company to the top of the company which are the people making the big decisions. There may be people at lower levels of the company that see these changes coming but by the time the word ripples up to the highest levels where they can do something about it, it sometimes takes ten years. Even in the case where part of the company does the right thing at the lower levels, usually the upper levels screw it up somehow. I mean IBM and the personal computer business is a good example of that.

I think as long as humans don't solve this human nature trait of sort of settling into a world view after a while, there will always be opportunity for young companies, young people to innovate. As it should be.

Advice for future entrepreneurs

And that was going to be my closing question before I gave you chance to sort of free associate on your own. That is to talk to young people who sort of look to you as a role model. Opportunities for innovation you think they're still possible. What are the factors of success for young people today? What should they avoid? I get asked this a lot and I have a pretty standard answer which is, a lot of people come to me and say "I want to be an entrepreneur." And I go "Oh that's great, what's your idea?"And they say "I don't have one yet." And I say "I think you should go get a job as a busboy or something until you find something you're really passionate about because it's a lot of work."

I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. It is so hard. You put so much of your life into this thing. There are such rough moments in time that I think most people give up. I don't blame them. It's really tough and it consumes your life. If you've got a family and you're in the early days of a company, I can't imagine how one could do it. I'm sure it's been done but it's rough. It's pretty much an eighteen hour day job, seven days a week for awhile. Unless you have a lot of passion about this, you're not going to survive. You're going to give it up. So you've got to have an idea, or a problem or a wrong that you want to right that you're passionate about, otherwise you're not going to have the perseverance to stick it through. I think that's half the battle right there.

Responsibilities of power

Your talking made me think of the other side of that. You talk about the passion side. What would you say, there's passion and then there's power. What you would say about the responsibilities of power, once you've achieved a certain level of success? Power? What is that?

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