John Gruber wrote a bit today (“Getting Steve Jobs Wrong”), about Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was missing the central question of the man – how can we define what it was, exactly that he brought to the table?
Gruber’s piece rings true and a bit sad, because we probably won’t get the insight we were all hoping for. I certainly don’t plan on reading Isaacson’s book, after hearing all these disappointed nerds.
But because I’m a student of computing history (I took a class!), I had to pick a nit with Gruber’s assertion that Gates invented the software company:
But the whole idea that software in general could be more valuable than hardware — or even just valuable, period? Gates. The man pioneered the concept of selling software.
This is probably true from the perspective of the personal computer and hobbyist industry, but the idea that software itself was valuable can be traced directly to 1969, when IBM made the decision to price software and services separately from hardware. It was a big enough deal that the decision earned itself a name: it was called “Unbundling”.
That said, it leaves the question of what Gates brought to the table, too – he certainly seems like more than just a very effective businessman, but was he a visionary?