Steve Jobs on the Rise of the Personal Computer: A Rare 1990 Interview

In early 1990 Steve Jobs granted a very rare interview to the makers of a PBS NOVA miniseries called The Machine that Changed the World.

The producers of the series had a tough time getting Jobs to talk with them. They had already interviewed Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and most of the other founding fathers of the personal computing revolution, but the reclusive Jobs brushed off all requests. “As we started the series,” writes Nancy Linde at the NOVA Web site, “we were warned time and time again. ‘You ‘ll never get Steve Jobs on camera.'”  After multiple requests, Jobs finally replied with a terse “No, thank you.” Linde continues:

But we had an ace up our sleeve by the name of Robert Noyce. A legend in the computer world as the co-inventor of the microchip and co-founder of Intel, Bob Noyce was a strong supporter of The Machine That Changed the World and served on our advisory board. Like most in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs revered Bob Noyce, and a one-paragraph letter from Noyce changed Jobs’ “no” into a “yes,” giving our series one of a limited number of interviews Steve Jobs gave in his short lifetime.

At the time of the interview, Jobs was 35 years old and about midway through his 11-year exile from Apple. He was working with NeXT, the computer company he founded after being pushed out of Apple in 1985. In keeping with the theme of the miniseries, the interview deals mostly with the big picture. Jobs talks about the role of the computer in human life, and about the emergence and evolution of personal computing. He tells the story of how he and his early friend Wozniak (referred to in the interview as “Woz”) turned a hobby into a business and developed the Apple I and Apple II computers. He very briefly touches on the first two drivers of the personal computing revolution — spreadsheets and desktop publishing — before talking at length about the revolution that was yet to come: networked computing. The World Wide Web had barely been created in 1990, and Jobs is fairly prescient in his predictions of how the linking of computers would change the world.

The interview is presented above in raw form. You can read a transcript of the conversation at the WGBH Web site.

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