We're spending this 40th anniversary year of Apple's going through the company's rollercoaster history in one-week slices. Yet this time, let us blur that a little bit, and start with an event that isn't one you can pin to a certain hour -- but instead is a brooding problem that took place over all of April, 1985. For one thing, it's to do with the ousting of Steve Jobs from the company he co-created, and in history's telescoping of details, the usual story you hear is that CEO John Sculley fired him. It's actually not that unreasonable a summary, as he might as well have done, but strictly speaking no, he didn't -- and it didn't happen in one big board meeting.
It started in one, though, and that's another reason for blurring the weeks a little this time. For we've got it wrong: we were just erroneously building up to telling you the details of what sources said was April 19, 1985. That's the date that the excellent Fire in the Valley
puts for the big board meeting, and it's a typo. Folklore.org, and John Sculley's own autobiography, confirm that it was April 10, and we should've spotted that sooner. When we do a year's roundup of the history, we'll fix this and pretend we got it right. You'll never be able to tell.
Our combatants in this boardroom showdown are, in the left corner, John Sculley, late of Pepsi and brought into Apple by, in the right corner, Steve Jobs. They'd been fast friends and now they weren't, now this meeting was called by Sculley explicitly to remove Jobs as head of the Macintosh group. In retrospect, it wasn't a fair fight, because if Jobs's natural environment is the presentation stage, Sculley's was the boardroom.
"The moment I entered the boardroom, I knew the meeting would be momentous," writes Sculley in Odyssey: from Pepsi to Apple
-- but he wasn't writing about the April 10, 1985 meeting. He launches his entire book with a long story about one 1978 Pepsi meeting, and consciously or not, sets the tone for his bio as being one about a businessman. "For years, these executive sessions had followed a carefully orchestrated ritual. Today, there was a subtle, though telling, difference."
You'll never guess what it is, and we don't want to force you to read the book, so here you go: "Today, the fitted leather covering that hid the gleaming top of [the board table] was removed." You just gasped so loud that we heard it. Pick your jaw up and consider this: maybe John Sculley was just as rabidly detail-fixated as Steve Jobs.
Or maybe he's like anyone who has an arena that they fight in. "I had sat worried at this table and I had nearly soared at it. I had witnessed tense colleagues -- friends -- being publicly hung for questions of performance, and I had seen them applauded, just had been here, for marketing ideas and strategies."
Sculley takes nearly three pages to detail the table, the room, the precise sequence in which Pepsi executives must enter and what they must wear before he gets to a point. This 1978 meeting was the moment when Pepsi overtook its huge rival Coca-Cola. Pepsi had a 30.8 percent share of the national market to Coke's 29.2 percent. Now nobody who has followed Apple vs IBM, or Apple vs Microsoft, or possibly Apple vs Samsung, can claim to not understand the importance of this but, still, it is famously just sugared water.
is a confusing read, because it's an autobiography that wants to be a textbook. Its strapline is "A marketing genius tells his story," and that alone carbon dates this to 1987. While it mixes chapters on marketing life lessons with something broadly more chronological, it takes 240 pages to get to the one bit everybody wants to know. What happened in that Apple board meeting of 1985.
Weaponized board meetings
Not to harp on that Fire in the Valley
typo -- we've made enough of those without outside help -- that book does also say that this was "a marathon board meeting that began on the morning of April 19, 1985 and continued into the next day." No. Sculley says it was April 10, and: "the board meeting lasted from 6PM until 9:30PM, and resumed the following day at 9AM. It didn't end up until after 3:30PM."
Maybe it's us being detail-fixated now, but the "marathon" version has us picturing Sculley and Jobs banging their fists on the table for days, whereas the truth seems to be that the big conclusion was reached via some rather boring bits. "At one point, the board met only with me; at another, it met privately with Steve. The upshot was that the board unanimously decided that we should ask Steve to step down as executive vice president, and continue as chairman."
Sculley wants to make this sound like a business necessity, so he's probably piling on the routine parts, he's definitely making the board members the bad guys. Yet not only was the boardroom his weapon, he'd pre-loaded it by telling the board that either Steve was out, or they would be looking for a new CEO.
So he wasn't fired
The board sided with Sculley, and Jobs was removed from any responsibility worth speaking of. It's not clear if they rubbed salt in during this meeting or shortly afterwards, but Jobs's office was moved to a building Apple staff called Siberia. What is clearer is that Jobs knew this was really the end.
Sculley's assistant Nanette Buckhout, quoted in Odyssey
, recounts how she phoned Jobs after this board meeting and he came in to have a chat with her. Buckhout is absolutely on Sculley's side in this, telling Jobs that "John is the best friend you could ever have" and then saying that Jobs agreed. "He said 'I know he was a good friend. I know that. And I think what I should do is definitely leave Apple. Nan, I don't think I should stay at Apple.'"
In case you're having any difficulty following this week's chronology, let's make it worse. This board meeting was April 10, 1985, we're really focusing on April 16 through 22, when in that year Steve Jobs was seemingly brooding over a decision Buckhout says he'd already made. Now flash forward just briefly, to September 16, 1985: that's when Steve Jobs finally left Apple. We'll cover this more in September, if we get it right, because it's the very same date that he returns to Apple in 1996.
It's not as if Apple waited
Clearly, Apple carried on without Steve Jobs, but in an amusing chance effect of slicing through the company's history week by week, it turns out that Apple didn't do anything of consequence in April 16-22 during all the time that Jobs was away. Whereas, when he was back, this is the week things kicked off for Final Cut Pro.
In this week in 1998, Steve Jobs was back where he belonged making presentations -- but this time, not at an Apple event. Instead, he was at the National Association of Broadcasters exhibition in Las Vegas, where he gave the All Industry Opening and Keynote Address. "We need to talk about digital media," he said according to NAB reviewer Jim Bennett
in a round up of the whole week's events.
"The problem is that we have a zillion standards, and how do we deal with all of this? The computer community knows nothing about entertainment. However, much of the entertainment community is not particularly technically literate, either. We are dying to work with you guys to try to figure out how, together, we can bring some architecture to this Tower of Babel that's happening right now."
Bennett's review called Job's speech entertaining, but criticized it for not having details or specific steps. Behind the scenes, though, there were both. For it was off the show floor and in private sessions in this week of 1998 that Final Cut Pro version 0.9, an unfinished beta, was being demonstrated. This video shows you something of what was being demoed, though this is for the shipping 1.0 version later:
This gets complicated
Okay, this is a week for context, let's put it like that. While this week in 1998 was the first anyone had seen of Final Cut Pro, it was far from being as new, as the 0.9 version number suggests. To make a long story bearable, FCP began life as Macromedia KeyGrip, a video tool intended to be a professional rival to Adobe Premiere, and specifically to be based on Apple's QuickTime video technology.
That was a problem, though, as KeyGrip also used technology that was created by Microsoft, and licensed via a third company, Truevision, to Macromedia. Around this time, Microsoft had Video for Windows, which might be the archetypal Microsoftian software. Can it playback video? Yes, tick. Can it do it in such a way that you'd watch? Doesn't matter. Or it didn't matter, until Apple ported its own QuickTime over to Windows, and was getting vastly better video playback than Microsoft.
At some point in April 1997, there was a meeting between Apple and Microsoft about QuickTime. Speaking in court more than a year later, Apple's Senior Vice President Avadis "Avie" Tevanian, Jr. reported that while he hadn't been in the meeting, it had come down to Microsoft insisting Apple drop all playback features from QuickTime. Apple could make software that people used to produce video, but reportedly Microsoft insisted that it drop what we'd recognize now as QuickTime Player.
Tevanian told the 1998 Microsoft antitrust court that Apple's Peter Hoddie ultimately asked Microsoft: "Are you asking us to kill playback? Are you asking us to knife the baby?" To which he says Microsoft's Christopher Phillips said: "Yes, we want you to knife the baby."
It's an alleged conversation, but at the least is a bit of a clue that Microsoft and Apple weren't the best of friends about QuickTime. Microsoft has always been strongest on contracts and business more than actual software, so it's not a surprise that its terms for use of the technology Truevision used stated that it could not be used alongside Apple's QuickTime. You have to wonder why Macromedia didn't spot this earlier, but by April 1998 they had an NLE (non-linear editing) application that effectively they couldn't use and couldn't sell.
They could demonstrate it, though, and presumably the aim of Macromedia's demo of Final Cut Pro 0.9 was to attract a buyer. When no one else would take it on, Apple bought the team, spending $7 million on the deal, and then officially unveiled Final Cut Pro 1.0 right back at the National Association Broadcasters' show in this week of the next year, April 1998.
April seems to have often been a big month for Final Cut Pro, though, as the product lasted until April 2011. It was replaced then by the totally-reworked Final Cut Pro X and, ironically, that had the effect of boosting the popularity of Adobe Premiere. Here's esteemed movie editor Walter Murch being interviewed about why he abandoned Final Cut Pro and how now, four years on, the film industry still distrusts Apple.
Jobs was, of course, involved in the original launch of Final Cut Pro, and at the time was also deep into getting the iMac going and therefore saving Apple. Just a few years later, on April 19, 2001, he got to announce that the company had sold its five millionth iMac.
"Simply put, the iMac has redefined the consumer and education computer, ushering in several industry firsts including USB, FireWire, desktop movies, wireless networking, quiet fan-less operation, and world-class design," he said in a press release. "I look forward to shipping our ten millionth iMac in a few years."
It would be good to tell you now exactly when that happened, but Apple rarely breaks out its sales figures, and instead prefers to give one number for how many Macs it has sold, notebook and desktops combined. However, in the first quarter of 2016, the company sold 5.519 million Macs.
Sound and fury
We can't spend all this time talking about video tool Final Cut Pro without at least giving a nod to the audio application that was sometimes bundled with it, sometimes not. On April 17, 2005, Apple pulled Soundtrack out of FCP, and released it as a separate Soundtrack Pro. It was good, and at least in operation was comparable to Adobe Audition, but it was discontinued in 2010.
Whereas something that began this week in 2011 may perhaps never end. On April 19, 2011, news of Apple's lawsuit against Samsung was released to the public. Actually filed to the court on April 15, Apple's suit was a 373-page document detailing -- seriously detailing -- every pixel of the company's contention that Samsung copied the iPhone.
Samsung lost the case, but even now it's working to take the appeal to the US Supreme Court. That body has agreed to hear a motion that, broadly, reduces the money Samsung should pay Apple. The case will be argued in the court's new term from October this year.
-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher