Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Apple Confidential 2.0: A Review

© 2004 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

You want to like Apple Confidential 2.0. Subtitled “The Definitive History of the World’s Most Colorful Company,” you want it to live up to the self-billing. Apple is certainly a colorful company and, as the world’s oldest personal computer company – think about that for a moment -- it has a complex, lush history worth telling. Even if you have never been an Apple II, Newton or Mac aficionado, you’d be hard pressed to find a company that has generated as many waves and ripples through modern culture and society. Coca Cola, General Motors and Sony might come close in many respects, though the extravagant fanaticism -- for and against -- and general atmosphere of loopiness in the Apple world set it apart.

Apple Confidential cover

Certainly Apple Confidential 2.0 is filled with facts, some large, some small, and some so ludicrously inconsequential as to make you wonder why they were committed to paper. The book also has a great mass of screen shots, graphs, drawings and photos (one photo includes your humble reviewer in the background), not to mention tables and timelines. Owen Linzmayer says in the Introduction that he has been following Apple since the days of Creative Computing, in which he was an Apple II columnist. “I ‘d bet there aren’t more than a handful of employees who have been at Apple as long as I’ve been focusing on the company in my journalism career.” After reading a few pages, you begin to believe it, imagining Linzmayer’s home filled to overflowing with shoeboxes of clippings, note cards, and Post-Its covered with Apple miscellanea.

It’s about people

People play a larger role in the book than technology, which is not particularly surprising. Steve Wozniak looms large as a gifted, very sensitive engineer who seems genuinely interested in making the world a better place and in doing “good things.” You can’t help but come away with a positive impression of this brilliant, unassuming, loveable bear of a man who went from designing “blue boxes” for making free long-distance phone calls to designing the Apple I and II to enrolling in (and graduating from) the University of California, Berkeley, under the name “Rocky Raccoon Clark.” An entire chapter is devoted to “Woz’s Wanderings,” talking about his marriages, his rock festivals, and his post-Apple entrepreneurial endeavors, and he crops up at other points in the book, usually to illustrate his engineering talents, his loves and his loyalties. About the only negatives mentioned are his poor choices in friends.

Others don’t fare as well. Former Apple CEO John Sculley also has an entire chapter, too, as well as repeated references throughout the book, and many of his personnel, management, and marketing successes are noted. But at one point he is also compared to Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who caved in to Hitler, and to make the point even more vivid, there are pictures of Sculley and Chamberlain shown side by side. To call this egregious is an understatement; such a comparison is more suited to a rant by some know-nothing in a chat room than to a self-styled gray eminence of Apple journalism.

Michael Spindler, CEO during Apple’s darkest period, has a chapter to himself, too, and it is almost uniformly negative. And another chapter is devoted to Dr. Gil Amelio, the CEO who brought Steve Jobs back to Apple. While it is generally more positive, there are some passages that come across as either ignorant or petty, or perhaps both, such as: “Amelio earned a Ph.D. in physics from Georgia Institute of Technology, entitling him to be addressed as ‘Doctor Amelio.’” Entitling him to be addressed as Dr? That is the proper, earned title to use for someone with a doctorate. Does Ph.D.-less Linzmayer have some kind of grudge against the academically gifted?

The main character throughout the book, stated and unstated, is Steven Paul Jobs. His likes and dislikes, successes and failures, pop up all over. And the majority portray him in a bad light. He comes across as rude, arrogant, and technically ignorant but wanting desperately to be thought of as technically adept and visionary. He also seems untrustworthy if not downright dishonest, gifted in his choice of friends more than his management choices, and at times Apple’s albatross as well as its savior. Since much of this is documented using Jobs’ own words (a consequence of both his self-promotion as well as his tendency to write or speak before giving thought to the ramifications), you don’t get the impression that Linzmayer is entirely unfair in his assessment. Though there are times, as with Sculley, Spindler and Amelio, that the choice of material seems petty in the extreme. If you are a devoted Jobs cultist, it seems fair to say you won’t like the book at all.

Coded clues

Quite a bit of the material goes beyond voyeuristic curiosity (tales of the rich and foolish) and is genuinely useful. If you are one of those Mac users who has no patience for those who insist on calling various model Macs by their code name (“You have a yikes? Can you get treatment for it?”), there is an entire chapter on code names. Included are lists of code names for CPUs, for Apple II devices, for input devices, for entire classes of Mac models, monitors, networking devices, printers, software, and various miscellaneous categories.

For example, you may not realize that iSight, Apple’s clever FireWire-based video camera, had the code name of Q8. On the other hand, you may have trouble finding this information, since the index has no entries for either iSight or, for that matter, code names.

Speaking of the index, it is pretty bad. At one point Linzmayer discusses the movie Mission Impossible, and the role played by a PowerBook in this blockbuster film. There is no entry for “Mission Impossible” in the index, nor is there a general entry for “Movies.” If you happen to think to look for Cruise, Tom (star of the film), yes, you can eventually come back to the reference to Mission Impossible. Another film, Independence Day, had an even larger (and more positive) role for a Mac, yet it isn’t mentioned, nor is film star (and long-time Apple commercial spokesman) Jeff Goldblum. But Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, and Bug’s Life – none of which have a thing to do with Apple – are mentioned in the book, and have entries in the index under their own titles.

Marooned in time

If the index seems somewhat sloppy and very incomplete, there are times it appears to accurately reflect a similarly sloppy and incomplete text. There is, for example, a quite short chapter devoted to “Macintosh Insiders,” the select few who had their signatures molded to the inside of the case on all early Macintosh computers. The signatures are reproduced, along with (very) short summaries of what these individuals did on the original Mac project and, if known, what they are doing today. The chapter is disappointing in that, despite his vast collection of Apple material, Linzmayer has no idea what a fair number of them did after leaving Apple. Women on the project, in particular, seem to have vanished without trace. He is, of course, not obligated to keep track of every Apple employee, but what was the point of the chapter if he had so little to work with?

Throughout the book, Linzmayer struggles to present information in both a chronological fashion and thematically. When talking about the early days of the Mac, for example, he might quote a comment by someone who had no role in those early days, and who has not yet been introduced to the reader. Unless you are well steeped in Apple lore, the reference appears to be a non sequitur. This happens so often, however, that it interferes with the narrative flow.

Linzmayer attempts to make up for this with timelines. These are not woven through the narrative but, rather, graphed right on the page, with axes and tick marks. There are timelines for:

and possibly some other subjects as well (the timelines aren’t mentioned in the index). They do, to some degree, give you a feel for the progression, or non-progression, of various people or technologies. But they are also frustrating: if Linzmayer can exactly pinpoint an event on a timeline, couldn’t he also throw in a date?

The timelines, even when they do contain interesting tidbits of information, often come across as padding. For example, the Mac OS timeline is spread across seven full pages of the book, but it contains just 203 (mostly short) lines of text. In other words, it is shorter than this review, but takes up quite a bit more space, for no apparent reason. The Mac Models timeline takes up 21 pages (22 if you count the introduction).

On the other hand, there are occasions when Linzmayer can be very precise, though you wonder why. In talking about the birth of Apple, he has this paragraph in one margin:

When Apple was founded, Steve Wozniak lived at 1618 Edmonton Avenue in Sunnyvale and Ron Wayne lived at 1900 California Street in Mountain View.

And this is worth noting for what reason? It is, however, a taste of what is to come, as he makes a point of giving the exact street address of various buildings associated with Apple throughout the book. He then notes at least once that periodic postal and municipal reorganizations have renumbered some of the addresses, leaving you to wonder if you could actually find any of these places, even with a seemingly exact address, without the aid of a city engineer.

Where is Joe Friday?

If you are looking for the facts, just the facts, often Apple Confidential 2.0 can be a big help, despite the poor index. But there are some jarring editorial flaws that tend to reduce your confidence in the book, and these are even more distressing since this is in essence the second edition. (Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer, was published by No Starch Press in 1999). There are occasional problems with incorrect tenses or plurals, probably brought about through moving text around in a word processor.

But what can you make of Linzmayer’s claim that the PowerPC 603 had a code name of “Wart (King Arthur’s trusty aide”)? No, Wart was the wizard Merlin’s nick-name for the young Arthur, and the nickname was probably lifted straight out of T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone (a logical prequel to his The Once and Future King), which was quite popular at the time. Is Linzmayer correct on the code name, and simply clueless on the origin?

His introduction to the chapter on “Macintosh Insiders,” complete with the replica signatures, has this intriguing sentence: “Here’s a brief look at the people who created the Mac and an update on what they were doing at the beginning of the 20th century.” Logically, you would expect to have a chapter full of blank pages, since virtually all of the individuals mention weren’t even born until the latter half of the 20th century. Yes, he probably meant “21st century,” but you do wonder how the error made it into print.

You might also wonder how often something has been in print. An entire chapter is devoted to Apple’s famed “1984” advertisement for the Macintosh, called “The Greatest Commercial That Almost Never Aired.” It covers the genesis of the idea, the production of the commercial by Ridley Scott (fresh off his success with Blade Runner, one of the finest science fiction films ever made), the reaction to screenings of the commercial when shown to Apple marketers (wildly enthusiastic) and the Apple Board of Directors (appalled), the enormous costs involved in commercials shown during the Super Bowl, etc. It is a fascinating, absorbing chapter.

And I had read it all before, on a Web site, “Curt’s Media.” Created by a graphic designer with extensive experience in print and film, the Web site has a section called “The 1984 Apple Commercial: The Making of a Legend” (http://www.isd.net/cmcalone/cine/1984.html). There is about a 90% verbatim overlap between the text on the Web site and the text in the book. Someone clearly plagiarized something.

That “someone” appears to be Owen Linzmayer. On the “Curt Media” site is this statement: “The following information comes from Owen Linzmayer’s Book, The Mac Bathroom Reader. He has made this information available to give you an idea of the kinds of fun articles, quotes, and information that are included in The Mac Bathroom Reader.” In other words, the chapter in Apple Confidential 2.0 appears to be lifted almost verbatim from The Macintosh Bathroom Reader (Sybex, 1994).

The Macintosh Bathroom Reader is out of print, but Amazon does sell used copies. On reflection, your reviewer decided that buying a used “bathroom reader” had little or no appeal (“you want a used what?”), but it seems clear that at least one chapter of Apple Confidential 2.0 was lifted from Linzmayer’s own, earlier work. While self-plagiarizing isn’t quite as mortal a sin as plagiarizing the works of others, it does leave you wondering how much of the current volume is new, and how much is recycled.

Inside the back cover is a note: “Visit www.nostarch.com/apple2.htm for updates, errata, special offers and other late-breaking information about Apple Confidential 2.0.” As of this writing, it contains no updates, errata or special offers, just an advertisement for the book, a table of contents, and quotes from entirely positive reviews.

But I like it

Despite all the flaws, I do like the book. It is not a “definitive” history, and it stands in desperate need of aggressive editing and competent indexing. When viewed as a casual popular history of a company chock-full of colorful, unintentionally entertaining people, it is a good introductory guide, and on those terms I can recommend it.

But check your facts before quoting from it.

Owen W. Linzmayer, Apple Confidential 2.0. No Starch Press, 2004. x, 323 pp. ISBN 1-59327-010-0. $19.95