Why John Sculley Has This Apple Fanboy’s Thanks

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jun 25, 2010 in Tech |

Steve Jobs on the left and John Sculley on the right from the early 80s with a Mac and a Lisa

Apple logo from the 80sA while ago former Apple CEO John Sculley gave an interview in which he confessed to deeply regret his firing of Steve Jobs twenty five years ago. To many it seems obvious that Jobs should have been running the company just as Bill Gates did with Microsoft. However I think Sculley firing Steve Jobs was in fact the best thing that he could have ever done for Apple, and perhaps the entire computer industry.

Because after Steve Jobs was fired it made him a man who would never rest on his laurels, or worse yet seek an early retirement like Bill Gates. Being sacked gave Jobs something to prove, and looking at the last decade at Apple boy did he ever prove it. And I don’t think that Jobs would have shined as bright as he did if it weren’t for the fact that he was in exile for over a decade from the company he co-founded.

Apple today also owes a great deal to the company that Steve Jobs established while he was in exile. Under the surface of every modern Mac, iPhone and iPad is the NeXTSTEP operating system that he developed back in 1985. Even the ability of Macs to run on Intel chips owes a great deal to the variety of chips that NeXTSTEP was designed to run on after NeXT exited the hardware business.

The NeXTstep OS

But getting back to John Sculley I’d argue that what the computer industry looks like today in fact owes a great deal to what Sculley did at Apple from 1985 until his departure in 1993. And what makes his accomplishments all the more amazing is that while he viewed himself as a marketing guy, every innovation that Apple gifted the industry with were all on the engineering side of the business.

As a Mac fanboy the first impressive thing that Sculley did was to grow Apple from $800 million in sales to $8 billion. This boom came to Apple because of the Macintosh, but in retrospect it might not have gone that way. The first cash cow for Apple was the Apple II which was the computer that put them on the map — however they failed with the Apple III and the Lisa, so it wasn’t a sure thing that the Mac would find an audience.

The ill fated Apple III - till this day Apple refuses to name any device with the number 3!

Above: The ill fated Apple III – till this day Apple refuses to name any device with the number 3!

And least we forget Commodore which was around during the same era never pulled off the same success when they went from the C64 to the Amiga, and the same fate also met Atari after it introduced the Atari ST. Seen in this light Sculley is the man who helped Apple get out of the 80s and into the 90s. Sculley also managed to attract a strong group of third party software developers to the platform like Adobe and Quark which empowered Apple to dominate the creative marketplace — which in turn helped them survive during the dark days ahead in the 90s.

Another thing that allowed Apple to survive after Sculley departed was the legacy of innovations that were produced during his tenure. It was during this time that Apple pioneered the concept of “multimedia” which is very much alive today. Currently nobody thinks twice about a personal computer that includes a CD-ROM drive and can play digital video; but these technologies were first rolled out by Apple and actively evangelized to their developers.

HyperCard home screen

Part of Apple’s multimedia push included the revolutionary program HyperCard which was introduced in 1987. HyperCard was given away for free with every new Mac and it was the first program that allowed non-programmers to create their own software. Microsoft would later pick up on this concept in 1991 with Visual Basic, which is one of the reasons that they would continue to dominate the corporate market for custom software. And in many ways HyperCard was a true predecessor of the web with its demonstration of the value of hyperlinks.

An Apple Newton, Treo and an iPhone

Above: An Apple Newton, Palm Treo and a modern Apple iPhone found via Peter N. Glaskowsky.

Lastly the Newton really did change the world by making the concept of a PDA real. While its handwriting recognition wasn’t ready for prime time it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that everything that the Palm Pilot 1000 would get right in 1996 was owed to what Apple did with the Newton in 1992. In fact the original iPod operating system would later be created by a company called Pixo which was founded by two ex-Apple Newton developers.

So while Sculley may have gotten many things wrong the industry owes a great to him and all of the folks who worked at Apple during that era. I have fond memories of that era when multimedia was new, and so do quite a few other developers who fell in love with Apple during that period. And it’s for that reason that John Sculley has my deepest gratitude from this Steve Jobs fanboy.

John Sculley's book Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple

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