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Interview with Steve Jobs - 1 April 2009

When I decided to add games for other 20th Century operating systems to the site, I realized that the most important system that was unrepresented on the site was the Macintosh platform. I sent an email to Apple with a request that it be passed on to Steve Jobs and, to my utter astonishment, he actually replied.

Mr. Jobs, I can't tell you what an honor it is to speak to you. You're one of the two Steves (along with Steve Wozniak) who founded one of the most innovative and interesting computer companies of all time!

Well thank you! You're certainly right about Apple having a history of exciting innovations. I'd like to think that Apple computers are as exciting to DOS gamers as they are to Mac enthusiasts.

You're a pretty important man to Apple right now. Back in October a CNN iReporter reported that you had suffered a heart attack and Apple stock fell 10% in 10 minutes. The market seems to be obsessed with your health, as though Apple couldn't survive without you.

It's disappointing that people feel the need to act that way. The reports of my poor health have been greatly exaggerated. Basically, Apple is a strong company that could do well under any CEO, so I hope that people won't feel the need to start selling their shares every time they read a rumor like that. At any rate, my health is just fine.

When I was in grade school we had two computers: an Apple II and an IBM PC. I've been an Apple gamer for as long as I've been a PC gamer. I bet that most of the site's visitors had the same experience. I've read that the Apple II continued to be more popular than the Macintosh until 1993! I'd love to hear your memories of the Apple II.

A lot of people probably don't realize that the Apple II came out in 1977, four years before the original IBM PC! No wonder you had one in your classroom. We had a huge head start, and we continued to make them until 1993. We sold about six million Apple IIs, which is something I'm very proud of to this day. You're right that the Apple II continued to generate more revenue than the Macintosh until the early 90s.

You specifically mentioned that you had an Apple II at your school. Check out this quote from Wikipedia: "Throughout the late 1980s and much of the 1990s the Apple II was the standard computer in American education." You can't get a much better endorsement than that.

I have an Apple II, and something that I think is amazingly cool: a CP/M expansion card. It has a Z80 processor on it, and it lets you run CP/M software on an Apple II. It's like having two computers in one! Apple was born in an era when computers were mostly for hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers, and Apple computers were a DIYer's dream back then.

I'm a DIY kind of guy, so I always build my own computers. I love being able to choose exactly the components I want, finding the lowest price, and then building it with my own hands. I wish I could build my own Mac!

You were talking about how Apple is an innovative company before, and I think the Macintosh is a perfect example of that. When the Mac came out in 1984, it was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface instead of a command-line interface. I know you're a big fan of DOS, but even DOS became infinitely more usable after we popularized the mouse. Who knows how long it would have been before there would have been a market for Windows if the Macintosh hadn't blazed the trail for GUI-based operating systems.

While you're right that the Macintosh has typically been a closed platform, it's undeniable that Apple was always the first to introduce exciting new technologies such as FireWire. The Macintosh was also the first to adopt the SCSI interface for internal hard drives. While SCSI is mostly a server technology now, my point is that Apple was always the first to adopt the latest advances in technology, some of which caught on in the wider personal computer industry and some of which didn't. Being a closed platform, we could change direction quickly and force the adoption of new technologies, while new technologies for the open PC platform often failed, despite being totally superior to existing technologies, because no one company could get them adopted by the entire industry. IBM couldn't get the industry to adopt the 8514/a graphics standard, despite it being clearly better than VGA. Look at how many technologies failed to replace the 1.44 MB floppy disk! The 2.88 MB floppy disk, the LS-120 and Zip drives up to 250 MB all failed while the 1.44 MB floppy disk stagnated for years. The PC was anti-innovation; good ideas couldn't catch on and just disappeared into the PC black hole.

It seems like what ultimately prevented the Mac from competing with PCs was the x86 processor. While PCs went with Intel and Intel-compatible CPUs, Apple went with the Motorola 68000 for the Macintosh, and with PowerPC for the Power Macintosh. PCs had more powerful processors, so why didn't Apple just go with Intel processors?

You can be a leader or a follower. We chose to go a different direction hoping that the industry would follow, and it didn't. When the time was right we switched to x86, and now Macs can do things that other PCs can't do: run traditional PC operating systems like DOS and Windows, as well as Mac OS X.

But why not allow OS X to run on any PC? There are millions of PC users who would love to try OS X, but they can't because they don't own a Mac.

The average computer user buys a new computer every two or three years, and Macs have used Intel processors for 3 years now. We completely switched to Intel in 2006. People wanting to try the Mac experience should consider buying a Mac when they replace their computer, which is something they were going to do by now anyway.

Absolutely, and if they were the same price, or I could build a Mac myself, I would absolutely go Mac so that I would have the option of using any operating system I wanted. Doesn't the fact that Macs have used Intel processors for 3 years now and still don't have a significant market share indicate that people aren't willing to buy a whole computer just to run an operating system? I realize that it might hurt hardware sales a little bit, but sales of Mac software could potentially increase tenfold! That's a huge percentage of the market that you've cut off from using OS X.

We think that Macs are great value for the price, and our marketshare has increased steadily since the switch to x86. As for why our marketshare is still only 14%, I attribute it to a lack of consumer knowledge. We really need to be advertising our platform more, and trashing Vista more in our ads.

Don't get me wrong, I think having a computer that can run Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and anything else I want is worth something, but Steve Ballmer is right when he says that Apple customers are paying $500 for a logo. A PC will usually be at least $500 cheaper than a similarly configured Mac.

I absolutely disagree. Technically, there's no such thing as a similarly configured PC, since a Mac can run OS X and a PC can't. In that regard, you're paying $500 for the ability to run OS X and not for the logo. Besides which, if you sit a PC next to a Mac, there's no comparing the two. The physical design of a Mac is something truly special.

Oh, for sure, Apple has beautiful products. But, that's kind of the problem, isn't it? It seems like Apple values form over function. Yes, the Mac looks nicer, but I'm still not going to pay hundreds of dollars for that. But that still validates what I'm saying: a certain percentage of the population is always going to buy a Mac just because it's made by Apple and looks the way it does, and you won't lose most of those people if you can run OS X on computers made by other companies. On the other hand, you can sell millions of extra copies of OS X and Mac software to run on it by allowing the OS to run on any PC.

I understand what you're saying, but you have to understand that we think that we can take over the PC market. If we could get 100% of personal computer hardware and software sales, in addition to the monopoly we already have on the iPod and hope to achieve with the iPhone, I'd be richer than God!

[At this point in the interview, Mr. Jobs slumped over in his chair and stopped answering my questions. Apple shares fell 90% within an hour.]

Okay, I made this one up. April Fool's!