Two impressions emerge from Walter Isaacson’s authorized (but fair-minded) biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs: 1) Having a creative visionary at the top of a company can have a top-down impact on the products themselves, which in Apple’s case meant a bold, tightly integrated aesthetic. 2) Working for Steve Jobs—or worse still, going out for dinner with him—would be one part inspiration to every 100 parts hellacious nightmare. The Jobs that emerges from Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, a rare and fascinating 70-minute session for a 1995 series called “Triumph Of The Nerds,” mostly stays within the lines, with his self-aggrandizement mitigated by the fact that he really achieved great things. But as Jobs loosens up and talks about his exile from Apple and his rivalry with Microsoft, his candor reveals an altogether more complex and combative figure, both keenly aware of his role in the past, present, and future of computing and the withering of those who cheapen it or stand in his way.
The Lost Interview catches Jobs at a fascinating crossroads in his career. By that point, he and engineering wizard Steve Wozniak had already partnered on multiple enterprises, starting with blue boxes to game the international calling system and eventually founding Apple in the mid-’70s. The company was innovative from the start, but increased competition and internal dysfunction weakened it badly as it headed into the ’90s, and Jobs was ousted from the company after battling with CEO John Sculley. Sitting down with interviewer Robert X. Cringely, Jobs was only 18 months away from rejoining Apple and leading its ascendancy in Silicon Valley, and in the meantime, he was hard at work at NeXT, a new company that was ultimately bought out by Apple.
The first half of the interview is a reasonably compelling rundown of Jobs’ history and accomplishments, and Cringely gives him all the room he needs to pontificate. But once Cringely gets to some thornier questions about his painful breakup with Apple, the complaints of people who have worked under him (“This looks like shit,” was a common refrain), and his thoughts on Microsoft’s dominance, Jobs springs to life. On the last question, especially, he offers Bill Gates and company the backhanded compliment of being excellent opportunists, but he doesn’t seem to begrudge their success so much as their lapses in taste. It drives him crazy that an inferior product is hogging superior market share. The Lost Interview not only finds Jobs poised to change the computing landscape once more, but speculating on the Internet’s future in a manner that anticipates with breathtaking precision just how the world is going to change. Behold the oracle of Jobs.
Key features: Cringely and producer-director Paul Sen offer context and color in a commentary track, Cringely does a second audio-only interview with co-producer John Gau, and Andy Hertzfeld, a Macintosh programmer in Apple’s early days, appears in an hourlong interview from 2005.