What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

A Review of Apple Confidential 2.0

by Robert Velarde (Posted: 3/3/04)


I'm a switcher and have only been using Macs regularly since early 2002, so I haven't exactly followed the history of Apple Computer closely for very long. After reading through Owen Linzmayer's book Apple Confidential 2.0, The Definitive History of the World's Most Colorful Company (No Starch Press, January 2004, $19.95), I was reminded of The Grateful Dead song Truckin' — particularly the line "What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been." While I'm not a big fan of the band, these lyrics certainly sum up the history of Apple Computer, Inc.

Linzmayer has been covering Apple as a journalist since 1980 — and it shows. Apple Confidential 2.0, an updated version of the book originally published in 1999, is meticulously researched. According to promotional material the "revised second edition contains over 60 pages of new material." (Incidentally, Linzmayer is offering autographed copies of his book for purchase via <www.owenink.com/ac/order.html>.)

Although the San Francisco Chronicle called the first edition "an excellent textbook for Apple historians," don't be intimidated by the comparison to a textbook. While Linzmayer certainly packs a lot of content into this 323 page book, it is well written and will keep your attention. Sample material from the book is available for download in the form of a 1.9 MB PDF.

The design of the book is appealing as well. Scattered throughout the pages are numerous captioned photographs and amusing quotes (some of the quotes contain colorful language that may be offensive to some readers). Apple Confidential 2.0 reminds me of a coffee table book, but not in a bad sense. If only it were larger in its dimensions with a hardcover and color photos (they are grayscale) it might well fit the bill.

Another helpful touch is the inclusion of timelines in various chapters. These timelines cover numerous topics. The "Mac Models Timeline" is particularly interesting, tracing the development of Mac systems from 1984 to the present (pp. 121-141). The book also includes a helpful bibliography and index.

In what seems an odd choice, there are no chapter numbers (if you count them all you will come up with 25 chapters). This makes it awkward when Linzmayer refers to other "chapters" of the book, since he is forced to include the entire chapter title instead of just saying, "see chapter so and so".

THE PLAYERS

When you discover how much money some Apple CEO's were given when they were essentially given the boot by Apple, it's hard to feel sorry for them. Let's look at just a few examples of this as discussed in the book. When John Sculley resigned in 1993 he left with "$1 million in severance pay, a one-year consulting fee of $750,000, a commitment from Apple to buy his $4 million Woodside mansion and $2 million Lear 55 jet, and $2.4 million of unearned stock options. Total take: just over $10 million" (p. 162). Gee, poor Sculley.

When Michael Spindler resigned in 1996 he "was awarded $3.7 million in severance pay ... Apple also gave Spindler $50,000 for moving expenses [I guess he never heard of U-haul!], $150,000 to help pay off his Atherton home, and health insurance for two years" (p. 240). Not as good a take as Sculley, but $3.7 million isn't bad, either!

What about Gilbert Amelio who resigned in 1997? Linzmayer writes: "The company gave him a one-time lump-sum cash payment of $6,731,870 less $1,500,000" to go towards a payment of a loan given by Apple. Amelio also received "130,960 shares of stock and an additional bonus of $1,000,000" (p. 269). I guess it pays to be CEO of Apple regardless of what happens during your term.

THE FOUNDERS

Of course, Linzmayer doesn't just focus on those mentioned above. Naturally, he spends time discussing the founders of Apple: Steve "Woz" Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

The chapter on Wozniak is called "Woz's Wanderings" and traces his history with Apple, including such highlights as the Apple I and the wildly successful Apple II; his 1981 plane crash; his brush with music via his sponsoring of the US Festivals; his marriages and divorces; and his different ventures. His current company is called Wheels of Zeus (wOz, get it?) and maintains a web site at www.woz.com. Wozniak maintains his own personal site at www.woz.org. Of all those associated with the success of Apple, Woz seems the most down to earth. Here's a guy who just likes to invent and tinker with things, but suddenly finds out that he is very wealthy. When Apple was preparing to go public, Woz gave away (or sold at bargain prices) a lot of stock to Apple employees he felt were overlooked (pp. 60-61). Without the influence of Jobs, one wonders if Apple would have ever even become a company. It's possible that Woz would have just kept his day job at Hewlett-Packard and we would all be using Windows-based computers or something worse (oh, the horror!).

What about Steve Jobs? Jobs is arguably the closest thing the computer industry has to a rock star. He is loved, hated, praised and trashed throughout the book by those who have worked with him over the years. While Jobs is mentioned throughout the book, particular attention is given to his influence on the Apple Lisa, the Macintosh project and his triumphant return to Apple after his long exile. Discussion also revolves around Jobs and his company NeXT and his profitable association with Pixar. In one amusing quote regarding Pixar given by computer columnist David Coursey in 1995, Coursey writes, "It's something between ironic and moronic that Jobs hit his biggest jackpot with the company where he is the least involved" (p. 223).

THE PRODUCTS

Every company has its ups and downs and Apple is certainly no exception. Linzmayer covers a variety of ground regarding Apple products. From the success of the Apple II to a chapter on "The Apple III Fiasco," Linzmayer tells all, or at least he tells a great deal. Many early Apple III models, for example, had a problem with chips popping loose out of their sockets. Amusingly, for a time Apple "recommended lifting the front of the computer six inches off the desktop, then letting it drop with the hope that the chips would reseat themselves!" (p. 42).

Apple Confidential 2.0 also traces the history of the development of the Macintosh (including the famous "1984" commercial and the follow-up flop commercial "Lemmings"), the Lisa, and Apple's rocky relationship with clone manufacturers like Power Computing.

A chapter called "Code Names Uncovered" provides exactly what it claims — the code names used for various products. One of the most amusing accounts in this chapter has to do with the code name changes for the PowerMacintosh 7100/66 (pp. 49-50). When it was learned that the code name was Carl Sagan, the late astronomer complained. Apple responded by changing the code name to BHA, which stood for Butt-Head Astronomer. Sagan was not amused and filed a lawsuit. When Apple's lawyers got squeamish, the code name was changed to LAW (Lawyers Are Wimps).

Linzmayer includes an interesting chapter on the saga of the Apple Newton Personal Digital Assistant ("The Fallen Apple"). Unfortunately, he fails to note the continuing interest in the Newton platform and the flourishing online Newton community represented, for example, by the discussion list Newtontalk. Nevertheless, the chapter is full of information regarding the development of the Newton. For more on the Newton, see my article Happy Birthday, Newton! which discusses the 10th anniversary of these remarkable devices that were in many ways ahead of their time. I use an Apple Newton 2100 regularly, by the way. It has a great battery life, fast processor, large screen and can even connect to my Airport wireless network via a PC card.

THE PROPHETIC

The demise of Apple has been predicted over and over again. Every now and then a computer columnist fancies himself or herself as a sort of Jeane Dixon or Nostradamus. Fortunately for Mac users, these Prophecies of Apocalyptic Apple Doom (PAAD) have repeatedly turned out to be false. Apple Confidential 2.0 concludes by discussing the current state of Apple Computer in a chapter called "Happily Ever Apple?" (pp. 289-304). Linzmayer does find time to discuss the rise of the retail Apple Stores and Apple's entry into the music industry via the iPod and iTunes. He doesn't mention the recent Apple Corps lawsuit against Apple, though. Designer Jonathan Ive is given more much-deserved credit for his elegant creations (even the business failure the PowerMac G4 Cube is given brief mention). The digital hub known as iLife is also covered in brief (see my recent review of iLife '04), as well as the new PowerMac G5.

Apple Confidential 2.0 is packed with information that will captivate anyone even slightly interested in the history of Apple Computer. It is a book to be savored, not rushed through. If you haven't read much about Apple's history, Apple Confidential 2.0 will be a welcome addition to your library. Linzmayer has done a fine job. After you've read his book, you'll realize what a long, strange trip it's been.



Robert Velarde, co-author of Examining Alternative Medicine (InterVarsity Press), is a writer and editor. He is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary.


The Christian Macintosh Users Group (CMUG) is an international internet-based fellowship of Christians who use Macintosh computers in their personal, professional, and ministerial lives.

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