(Based on an e-mail to a friend, that I decided should be a post.)
Have you ever had one of those moments, when a chance encounter with a voice from the past causes you to see a chunk of your own history in a different way?
I had such a moment when reading the excellent interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley at Cult of Mac. The specific passage was this:
"The board decided that we ought to sell Apple. So I was given the assignment to go off and try to sell Apple in 1993. So I went off and tried to sell it to AT&T to IBM and other people. We couldn’t get anyone who wanted to buy it. They thought it was just too high risk because Microsoft and Intel were doing well then."
At the time, I was involved with the ill-fated Kaleida, one of the IBM/Apple joint ventures. And I had my own theories about the meaning of some of more off-center or squirrelly goings-on in the Kaleida board, at meetings with IBM, and in the related office politics. That quote suddenly snapped things into focus: I, Kaleida, and the equally ill-fated Taligent were part of an arranged date with IBM, that didn't work out.
The whole Sculley interview is worth the read, and he comes across as remarkably open and even magnanimous to Steve Jobs (in both his incarnations). If anything, he omits some of his own positive impact: The company would have died in the late 80s without the 'Open Mac' transition, which he fostered. But his reflections on the 'design thing' are right on target: The best way to sell John, or to get your project on stage with him was the 'big vision', a clear assertion of a direction and what Apple would do for a new set of users, no matter how half-baked your first version might be. For both better and worse, the shadow of Steve Jobs hung over Sculley for his entire tenure.
He's also on target in saying that his lack of technical background left him disarmed against both internal and external engineering controversies. As an example, much of impetus for the famed Pink vs. Blue schism (that led to both Taligent and the equally disastrous Copland) came from an internal engineering report that the existing MacOS was so entwined with the Mac hardware that it was impossible to either port it to an Intel platform, or to 'jack it up' and insert a real multi-tasking operating system kernel. The latter assertion was given the lie when the A/UX team did exactly that, showing that it was a hard and ugly task, but not infeasible. John may never have known about it, and certain never understood the implications, and so ran without knowledge of another set of strategic options that might have been available.