Pirates of Silicon Valley DVD

Pirates of Silicon Valley DVD

MacMinute clued me in to the fact that Pirates of Silicon Valley is coming out on DVD. I recorded this movie when I last had cable (back in 1999) because I was out the days it aired. I enjoyed this movie, and because of it’s high geekfest quotient, right up there with Real Genius.

I think Dave still has my videocassette of it. I had forgotten I had recorded it until a few years ago when I saw part of it with him. We had great fun watching all the 1999 dot-com boom commercials that were aired on TNT along with it (too bad the DVD doesn’t have that as a special feature.)

It is really weird that the Wikipedia entry for the movie doesn’t mention that it is an adaptation of Fire in the Valley. It does mention what Woz’s recollection of the compromises made for narrative economy. The OoO execution is mildly confusing to those of us with decent memories,1 but the only thing that drives me up the wall is how the movie’s inaccuracies are quoted as gospel.2

I was too old to grow up on the book or the movie. Instead the stuff, I read stuff like Soul of a New Machine, Hackers, and <a href="Chaos. Like the VHS, both of those copies were lent out and never returned. But, I think it was worth it.

I suppose those younger than me will look at Fire in the Valley the way I look at these books. If so, you might want to pick up those books from your local library and read them. Maybe I’ll pick up a copy of these for myself sometime.

1 Wozniak says it preserves the personalities, but since I was just a kid at the time, I can’t say.
2 The narrative economies that you see often quoted as fact are:

  1. The insinuation that Apple needed the $150 million Microsoft investment. Apple, by that time, had large cash reserves (still does). The purpose of the money was the make the actual contract not appear to be the anti-competitive move it was (IE was bundled with Macintosh in exchange for Microsoft continuing Mac Office development for a set number of years). The movie presents it this way to inform the viewer of the role reversal—Apple had gone from 20 times bigger than Microsoft to 20 times smaller than it…and to show that Apple was in trouble if they didn’t do something radical. They do an excellent job of visually preserving the “1984” reference here—perhaps the greatest Bill Gates faux-pas if you compare reportage of the Microsoft 1994 anti-trust lawsuit to the 2000 one.
  2. The Barbarians at the Gates thing. Apple got to peek at the Xerox Alto because it offered its (then) high-flying options as compensation. Xerox PARC employees weren’t universally averse to it since many of them left for Apple (and later Microsoft). The movie is trying to show that in a nascient technology, everyone steals from everyone, but ends up making it look like Apple didn’t innovate a lot on their own (desktop metaphor, double clicking, keyboard shortcuts, overlapping windows, etc.) and that Xerox HQ “didn’t get it” while Xerox PARC “got it” (if anything, it’s the reverse. Why didn’t PARC patent any of these ideas?). Oh well, this meme originated in the book, and is so powerful it is taken as fact.
  3. Bill Gates wanted to steal the Mac operating system immediately upon seeing it. In fact, Bill Gates tried to encourage Apple to license the OS to other companies. Microsoft’s strategy at the time was to make money by being the largest applications and tools provider on the platform (think “Office”, and “Visual Studio” not “Windows”). When Jean Louis-Gasse didn’t budge because of Apple ][’s experience with companies such as Franklin, Microsoft then licensed the OS from Apple for Windows which was eventually levered into the monopoly you see today (after the infamous “look and feel” lawsuits). I know it’s strange to think how Bill Gates could have missed the OS->Office parlay. The movie presents it this way to contrast Job/Apple’s approach at the time (going so far as to build their own tooling and robotic factories to make the Macintosh) vs. Microsoft’s (the enemy of perfect is “good enough”).
  4. Overlooking QDOS. IBM only turned to Microsoft because Killdall didn’t show up for work? Somehow we forget how much luck plays into success. This contradicts the “history is made by great man” hypothesis of the movie.
  5. The IBM licensing thing. It standard operating procedure with IBM to license rather than demand the rights from their vendors. The movie plays up Bill Gates as being brilliant in business and agile in law when, in this case, he was just the lucky beneficiary of IBM’s attempt to fend off the longest-running anti-trust lawsuit in history. The movie does this because Bill Gates is brilliant—he pretty much came up with the idea of commercial software with BASIC for the MITS Altair—and has an agile legal mind—as evidenced by the 1994 anti-trust settlement. Instead of those, the movie preserve Bill Gates traits but at the price of making IBM seem stupid.

6 thoughts on “Pirates of Silicon Valley DVD

  1. Actually, there are accounts by Woz that Apple did license some of Xerox’s technology in exchange for stock. I think all parties did a good job of keeping this quiet.

  2. I know that Apple got to see PARC’s goods in exchange for options, but not the stock thing. The movie implies that Apple was a Barbarian at the Gate getting ready to steal all the cools stuff from PARC. I thought the movie didn’t portray that Apple compensated Xerox in the form of options, but maybe my memory is off.

    In any case, I stand by my statement that this ignores the innovations that Apple supplied to GUI today (overlapping windows and keyboard shortcuts alone are huge). And that if anyone is to blame for the inability to capitalize on the inventions of PARC, it is the brass at PARC (for failing to patent), and not Xerox HQ.

    They also didn’t mention the other advances at PARC: Ethernet, OOP, the laser printer, the IDE, and the precursor to PDF.

    Again, my memory may be off. I never got that VHS back from my friend.

  3. Post on Balloon Juice:

    If Jobs had responded to the infamous Gates letter way back when Mickeysoft would probably be a wholly owned subsidy of Apple today rather than apple being a boutique computer maker with around 2% of market share.

    Umm, the letter was between Gates and Sculley, not Jobs. The reason it was not acted on was obvious given Apple’s previous experiences and the power of Jean-Louis Gassée.

    What you are repeating is something portrayed on Pirates of Silicon Valley, done in the interest of narrative economy.

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