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Friday, July 19, 2024

Pirates of Silicon Valley

The 1999 historical fiction ‘Pirates of Silicon valley’ is some sort of ‘movie bible’ for the gooey eyed startup nerds who think of starting a massive venture out of garage. It portrays the early life of perhaps the two most influential geeks that set out to do just so-Steve Jobs and Bill Gates-portrayed by Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall respectively.

The movie, while based on historical fact did alter things a bit for dramatic reasons. Looking into the characters from the very beginning brings us to the realization that from the very onset of their dreams, they had seen the world very differently.

The parallel stories of the two companies are narrated by their respective co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Ballmer, long-time friends of Jobs and Gates.

It begins with IBM in the early 1980’s. At that time IBM was the big brother in the computer world that everyone else feared. Everyone dressed alike at IBM, company songs and jingles filled the air, and men in suits were everywhere.

Steve Jobs along with Steve Wozniak formed their own company, Apple Computers and begun making computers in a garage. A venture capitalist one day drops by the garage and offers $50,000 in venture capital. Apple was up and running.

Meanwhile Bill Gates was off in school doing wild things. He slept in his clothes, never could find his ties, and dreamed of computers and power. Bill Gates formed a company called Microsoft that made software such as operating systems. During one key meeting with IBM, Bill Gates sells IBM on the idea of using Microsoft’s new operating system “DOS” as the operating system for all IBM machines.They promptly buy one from a reclose for $50,000 and the Microsoft dynasty begins.

Meanwhile, at the Apple camp, Jobs and his colleagues were brought to the Xerox development center where technicians were creating a computer with graphical interface. The Xerox executives had been given a demonstration of their new technology, but the old-school executives couldn’t understand its potential as benefiting their company. Ultimately, they reject the new innovations. Jobs was given full demonstrations of the computers and understands the potential behind the new technology.

Over at Microsoft, Bill Gates fears Apple’s expansive growth, and travels to Apple headquarters to talk of an alliance. Bill weasels his way into the heart of Steve Jobs, Apples founder and has access to Apples new machines. After reverse engineering and a few modifications, Windows is born. Apple discovers this during a speech touting Apples new advertisement campaign for the Macintosh. Bill Gates yells at Steve Jobs for the first time. The great rivalry between Windows, and Mac is born.

Jobs was clearly portrayed in the movie as thriving on conflict, but his delight in turning his own company against itself leads directly to his downfall. It’s worth remembering that the movie was made in 1999, and back then Gates really did look like the winner between the two.

At the time, Microsoft unassailably dominated the personal computer world. Jobs had been unceremoniously ousted from Apple a couple of years earlier, and although he had returned, his company had been making huge losses. By 1999 the iMac was a hit and Apple was taking its first steps towards becoming the cultural phenomenon it is today, but ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ predates that global success: it was made before the iPod, before the iPhone, before Jobs adopted his famous black turtleneck uniform and cult leader status.

The word “Pirates” appears in the title of ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ to depict the darker side to the PC revolution. While Jobs and Gates were indisputably brilliant men, they did not invent much of the technology that is widely attributed to them. The credit for those innovations belongs to countless obscure men and women – many of them are employees at Xerox, which paid them to create marvels and then refused to make bank on their work because it didn’t appreciate what they had.

So, this is as much a film about intellectual theft and the grandiose egotism necessary to morally justify such actions, as it is about genius and inspiration and the world-changing technology they wrought.


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