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Cringely's take on "Pirates of Silicon Valley" 79

whitefox writes "Robert X. Cringely gives his two cents on the TNT movie. He makes an interesting point against the sloppy screenwriting and how most people will accept the movie as the truth and never know the "real" history behind the biggest fortune in the world - not like that's ever happened before. "
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Cringely's take on "Pirates of Silicon Valley"

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  • It is too bad that they didn't even mention the fact that Steve basically did it all over again with NeXT, while Billy-boy was still stealing software in the same old pattern for most of the '90s.

  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Thursday July 01, 1999 @05:39AM (#1823559) Homepage
    Gimme a break.

    This always happens when a community starts to embrace its own unique stories. I mean, do you *really* think that Odysseus was really out adventuring that whole decade? (I have it on good authority that he actually spent the better part of those ten years recovering from the party they had after sacking Troy, which rates as one of the top three parties of all time).


  • Looking at Woz's site (and the amount of respect I have for him), having read Fire In the Valley, I'd have to believe Woz and his comments about the truth over what Cringely is saying.
    Cringley comes across as someone who was probably asked to do the movie, but declined.
  • by manitee ( 2974 ) on Thursday July 01, 1999 @05:47AM (#1823561)
    Triumph of the Nerds was a superior piece of documentary work.

    Many people (including my mother) watched Pirates and were intrigued. I told them to watch Triumph to get the real (and whole) story, but a non-geek can not seem to commit to a loooonnnnngggg docu about computers. Sigh.

    Marketing 1, History 0
  • I really like what Cringely writes, useally.

    this time it's more like a cry baby responce.

    Based on Woz remarkes the TNT film was probably a very good prtrail of those early days. He really liked His portrail and Jobs. He also notes that they get some stuff wrong, mostly technical and time fraim mistakes, but does that really matter?

    I should note that I didn't see the TNT film so maybe I'M wrong.

    BTW, you guys better check again, he added a LOT of cool replies to emails including a lot of Apple history scoops and insights. And some stuff about his other projects CL9, the USfests of 82 and 83. And meaty stuff about blue boxs and the like..

    gets better everyday.

    ( my music [])
  • Well, there's real history - a deliberate effort to understand what truly happened from evidence and records, and there's 'pop' history, which is written by the consortium with the biggest advt/production budget for the casual media consumer.


    "People who think they know everything are particularly annoying to those of us who do"
  • For those that haven't been back, Woz has been constantly updating his feedback about Pirates at []. Yes, he still has "comments" misspelled. He's even added some flames...

    Anyways, his basic take has been that while they certainly mixed up times and places, they did accurately portray the personalities. He even said that yes, he would skip the meal at those fancy shin digs and go to Dennys later. He didn't know how they knew that. It cracked me up when he said that in the movie, and I busted a gut when I found it it was actually true.

  • What I have heard from most people who I would not think of as in-depth computer enthusiasts, geeks, nerds, or the like, is that Bill Gates came off looking like a sociopathic theif, and Steve Jobs a big jerk.

    I didn't watch the movie, myself.
  • Bob needs to get a grip if he is being serious. I prefer to give Cringely the benefit of the doubt and assume that he must be jokeing. Just like Metcalf was jokeing about the death of linux. The "Priates of Silicon Valley" was a TNT movie, not a Frontline, NOVA or National Geographic documentory. What did he expect? Truth, Justice and the American Way? Cheers, gbs
  • One thing that Woz and Cringely agree on: the portrayal of Steve Jobs was good. In fact, Woz said that Jobs' tyrades and abuse of his employees was much worse than in the movie. The movie makes him out to be a real asshole with a messiah complex. Maybe it was all of the acid he dropped, I dunno....

    When Cringely makes comments like "And I'm the guy who knows it all. If you happen to be a friend of Oliver Stone, please give him my number", it makes me wonder if he's just bitter about not being the one who got to tell the story. He knows all of it? I doubt that.

  • by valis ( 947 ) on Thursday July 01, 1999 @06:01AM (#1823569) Homepage
    Yes, Woz and steve were portrayed well. Most of us accept that, or acept Woz's statement of that 'cause we all think he's way cool and stuff.

    But it was HISTORICALLY inaccurate. They changed a lot of things to make the story work. And Cringely is right to be concerned that people will start to take this version as fact.

    While the Apple guys were portrayed accurately, the Microsoft side was both weak and inaccurate. I'm not saying that because I think Bill Gates should have been portrayed as a monster or something. Hell, I like the man -- as long as I don't have to use any of the software his company produces. I respect his business abilities, even though they don't mesh with my personal philosophy on software. I would have like to see more about him and his personality.

    Finally, what I felt to be the big moment of the whole thing -- when Bill tells jobs that he too is a thief, is completely baseless since Apple licensed the GUI stuff from Xerox for cash and stock. I could just chalk that up to historical inaccuracy, but when the culminating point of the whole movie is based on something so false it raises concerns.

    All in all I think Cringely makes very valid points. Comparing Pirates and Triumph is probably a mistake since they have different intents and different audiences, but it's important for people to understand that they completely warped history to get the ending they wanted. Sure the characters were presented accurately, but things just didn't happen that way.
  • And why did cringley decline?
  • I guess I shouldn't say he declined. Maybe it was more that he was never asked, and he thinks he should have been.
  • What more of the Silicon valley's history. according to Cringley.
    Pass I have lived here since 1963,Silicon Valley needs urban renewal,not cringley,not Steve jobs.
  • What I found interesting was the part where he unplugged that guy's computer in the middle of the night. From what i understand it's essentially true, except i think the circumstances were a bit different. I think he pulled the plug on someone's computer who was working on the Liza (or is it lisa?) after he came up with the idea for the mac, killing hours of work, all because he had just come up with the next insanely great thing. IMHO the man is a complete and total nut, who gets a lot of credit for being a revolutionary which he really doesn't deserve. I think the only reason people like jobs and hate gates is because gates won and jobs lost. If things had turned out the other way i'm sure we'd have steve jobus of borg, and the revolutionary bill gates who got cheated out of his work by that big bad apple company. As far as I can tell, woz is one of the few people who actually did anything of importance regarding the technical details, and he gets virtually no credit for his accomplishments.

    As for cringely, i think he's just mad that triumph gets no recognition beyond geeks, where pirates was aparently popular among those "normal people." He's just jealous, that's all. And with regards to the historical inacuracies, it's a movie, not a documentary, you know "base on a true story," those types of things are never perfectly accurate. Real life seldom makes a good story, or atleast a good story that can be compressed into a 2 hour (probally more like 1 when you factor out the commercials) period.
  • Get it at the PBS website.. []
    Or if you live in/near San Diego, get it at the Store of Knowledge.


  • 'Pirates' was about the personalities behind the PC revolution. My mom spent 10 years working for Apple and being within what she calls the "Apple culture". She has met Woz, Steve Jobs, and all of those CEO's that apple went through. I was able to watch the movie with her and she said that the personalites that were portrayed in the movie were 100% accurate, and that the strange unity/devisiveness within the apple culture was accurate as well.

    She was brought aboard apple in 1987 when Apple was phasing(sp?) out the Apple ][ series and trying to convince people to buy these new Macintosh's. Her job was to sell to school districts and to convince them that this was the way to go. Then last year, she was laid off due to the downsizing of the education sales force.

    When all is said and done, she says she really liked Woz, that he was indeed a kind human being who was into the art of being a geek, and that Job's was an "arrogant SOB". Plus I got some pretty cool stuff out of growing up in a house where I had lots of cool hardware around me, and going down to the engineers area at the Apple offices was always fun. Plus, I got a dollar bill signed by Woz, which, if you know the story about Woz and $2 bills and the US government coming after him for defacement, it was pretty hard to convince him to sign it. And I got a little nameplate from one of the original Lisa boxes that I have taped to the front of my new G3 (which, incidentally, runs Linux and not MacOS).
  • Considering Cringely attitude, it's not surpising he wasn't asked to write the screenplay.
  • Man.... what a whiner. 'I did it first', 'I did it better', 'they copied me'. Get over it. Nerds was a PBS show for nerds and it fit its audience. Pirates was a made for TV movie and it fit its audience.

    Pirates was actually better in my opinion because now my friends and family have a much better understanding of why I have so much contempt for Gates and Microsoft.

    Quoting my mom, 'wait a minute... you mean bill gates didn't invent windows?'.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Cringe' has got a point. Why do people get so confused between art and reality? People get mad at Oliver Stone for his movie "Nixon" and yet similar "interpretations" of history by Shakespeare slide?

    People have got to "read between the lines" and understand that Hollywood tells stories. The purpose of art is to entertain, not tell the truth. Know the difference.
  • I think for this movie, the atmosphere was much more important than the facts. The producers seemed to be trying to capture the mentality and competitiveness that surrounded these two icons of the computer industry, and I think they did a good job of it. So what if a few of the events were slightly askew or out of order. My mother actually commented to me after watching that movie that she would love to destroy her computer after realizing how much of an asshole both Gates and Jobs are. Although that is obviously overkill, I think it is a important attitude. A lot of people in American society idolize Gates and Jobs (and many others), and to be honest, these guys really are not very good ideals. This movie helps show that.
  • Yeah, I agree. Both Woz and Cringely agree that the portrayal of Steve Jobbs was good (Woz should know the most, of course). But, Woz admits he's never met Bill Gates, so he has no idea if the portrayal of him was accurate.

    As far as your comment about acid....the first thought that came to my mind while watching that scene was "So, that's where the idea for the iMac came from." I could almost picture him having a "flashback" during a board meeting, saying stuff like "I see green iMacs, and blue ones, no not colors, FLAVORS! Yeah man!".
  • Two books to read:
    (1) "Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing" by Randall E. Stross
    (2) "Apple (The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders)" by Jim Carlton

    You can check the reviews at Amazon.
  • Hey, now. I don't read ad copy. One of my primary machines is an '040 NeXT cube. The thing rocks, even eight years later.

    Try using an eight year-old PC for useful word processing, browsing, news reading, etc.

  • You sound like a person to have never used a NeXT. It's problem was that it was too expensive. If it had been marketed and sold like Windows (ie, for $100 with some basic stuff -- wordpad, that kind of stuff), we would be saying "Bill who? Micro-what?"

    at work we have had NeXTstations since they debuted; and none have caused any problems... well, the rollers on the printers are starting to go; but after nearly a decade, that is to be expected.

    PostScript is pretty sweet as well. And the origin for graphics was in the lower left corner, where it should be for the positive axes. Diagram is the best for flow charts, love the drag n drop. And aplha blending that everyone is so nuts about -- developed on the NeXT. DOOM and Quake -- developed on NeXT. Carmack himself has many times evangelized the NeXT.

    Maybe you couldn't get a handle on CMYB or have something against the M68k. But hey, anything that runs on BSD (4.x, if I recall), supports networking out of the box, and runs for years without a hitch can't be all bad.

    At the moment I am in love with Window Maker, cause it looks like the NeXT, and OpenStep is too expensive.

    A. Mullin
  • There was a /. article a while back about his PhD being bogus, if I remember correctly. Hit the archives to confirm.
  • Actually, Milliways rates down some. The number one was the decades-long floating party from the same saga. Number two was a house party in Eau Claire, WI.


  • I was somewhat bothered that there was _no_ mention of Jef Raskin.

    And John Sculley didn't look at all like that actor who played him--I had hoped to see a lot more of the John character (note that I'm calling him a character).

  • It has been mentioned several times that PoSV is meant to be a purely entertaining piece. But I think the real point is not so much the acuracy of its technical details so much as it is the type charcaters it portrays.

    Although the "film" is technically inaccurate and has a garbled, misleading time line, it shows quite well the content of the charcaters hearts. Even if the "non-geek" viewers out there think its fact (which they polly don't because most people are smarter than that), they still leave with the sence that these two guys (Gates and Jobs) aren't wonderful people that we should admire. I think that is the real point of the piece and I'll wager that a good number of the "non-geek" community realises that.

    Give them a little credit - will ya. Most people aren't that stupid.

  • Yup, I agree.

    As I said, I didn't get to see the TNT film yet. But the part about Apple stealing the Xerox GUI is definetly wrong or a least inacurate, since there was a agreement between Apple and Xerox (which IMHO even Cringely misses, or at least downplays, in TOTN. Kind of makes me wonder why XEROX didn't sue MS too (or did they?).

    The web site of the TNT film has made some serious mistakes too. I noticed in Steve Jobs Bio they say the NeXT folded in 1993, This is not only wrong, but it also shows how they totaly missed one of the dramatic moments in Apples history, the 1996 Apple aquisition of NeXT and the return of the other steve to that computer/fruit company.

    ( my music [])
  • Unfortunately, the Bard isn't nearly as widespread among the general population as movies are. Of those who do read his works, I would bet that many are unaware that so many are intended to be histories as well as dramas.

    Besides, comparing something as sublime as a Shakespeare play to the disjointed mass of confusion that was Pirates is just silly. :)
  • I gave up submitting new Cringely columns a while back 'cause it either never got posted or it was posted several days late from somebody else, but he's had quite a few worth reading in the past few months. I thought the interesting thing about this one (which will probably be superseded within 24 hours, they usually come out late on Thursdays)was the part at the end about AOL getting in bed with Hughes instead of some other satellite company. Cringely comes across like a Steve Thomas standard generic preppy PBS host clone on TV but his columns are often interesting and insightful observations and theories about where the computer biz and culture is heading and why.

  • Jake Busey (played "Ace" in Starship Troopers) or Samuel L. Jackson. :^)
  • "And I'm the guy who knows it all. If you happen to be a friend of Oliver Stone, please give him my number."

    Talk about a pact with the devil. Cringly spends all that time barfing on PoSV for it not getting the story right and bending the truth when in fact Oliver Stone, his supposed saviour, has done more to bend historical truth like a prism than anyone in recent memory. Just look at Platoon (depicts 1 unit causing all of the attrocities comitted by U.S. troops in Viet Nam), JFK practically makes Oswald a working class hero and implicates L. B. J. as architect of JFK's assination and finally Nixon (portrays this Republican Hero as a theif and liar and rasist - wait he got that one right!)

    History is such a wonderful study and a terrible tool. The way people feel a need to rewrite history to justify their current posisision is terrible. I remember in High School learning about the Ionian Revolt against Persian Tyranny and what a wonderful and grand struggle it was. Later in life I found out that the Ionians wanted to replace Persian Tyranny with Ionian Tyranny...

    If you want history - don't expect to get it from TNT.

  • I'd agree that Gates' whole "we stole the vcr first" argument is way off, but I'm pretty sure it was actual a quote that Gates made at the Apple vs MS trial a few years back. I know I've heard it before anyway. I guess the real problem was that those who don't know any better might take it as truth and not just Bill blowing smoke out his ass.
  • 2 hour (probally more like 1 when you factor out the commercials)

    More like 1.5. A typical 1 hour show has 46 minuts of running time. I belive the running time of a 2 hour TV movie is 96 minutes but I am not completly sure.
  • I remember that. Also, reporters were unable to confirm that he was a 'professor' at Stanford. A TA or lecturer seems more likely. Robert X. Cringely is, of course, not his real name, but I forget what the real one is.

    All this dissembling, as well as the revelation that Jobs was stingy with the stock options, makes me wonder if my favorite part of TOTN was true. "When I was Apple employee number 12, I helped the company move out of this garage. Steve came out and explained that the company was short on loot, and asked if he could pay us in company shares. But I held out for the money."

    Chris O
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have to agree with Cringely that PofSV just gets too many things wrong to be considered a good fictionalized business history story, even if it's true to the "essence" of the characters. While I understand the focus on Jobs and Gates from a dramatic POV, the real story is so much more complex and interesting, with so many people involved in the happenstance, blind luck, missed and stolen opportunities that shaped the industry. Plus, the resonance of so many turning points is missed with the lack of technical detail on why things were happening. No mention of Jobs working at Atari, no mention of Woz coding "Breakout," no Gary Kildall as the could-have-been Gates or anything on his CP/M. The historic visit to Xerox PARC also comes off wrong.

    Gates gets much less screen time than Jobs (maybe because he never had an illegitimate child) and as a result even his landmark deal to provide IBM with an OS for their Acorn PC project (misrepresented in the film, since it was IBM who came knocking at Gates' door, not the other way around) gets less play than it deserves. The timeline and staffing of the early Microsoft is also very fuzzy, as is the whole move of M$ from selling programming languages to selling OSs and applications. No mention of Traf-o-Data or the fact that Gates was making money as a programmer when he was 12, either.

    IMHO, "Triumph of the Nerds," though a documentary, is a far richer and more dramatic offering. PofSV might just as well have been an entirely fictional story "inspired by actual events."
  • Are you talking about commercial success or 'holistic' success? I think that the Mac II and the NeXT hardware are both holistically successful products. They did what they were intended to do extrememly well--the Mac II opened up the Macintosh platform via NuBus to a significant degree. That promoted its longevity.

    The NeXT hardware is some of the most satisfying computer equipment I have ever owned. Some things might have missed a little (like the dustdeath-prone optical drives and the megapixel displays that run out of juice after about eight years), but those are oversights, and not significant design flaws. The cube was a brilliant bit of hardware that did away with the floppy drive in what, 1991?

    Steve isn't a designer, but he is a vision machine. His visions aren't always perfectly implementable, or successful, but they almost _always_ change the way things are done.

    Look at all of the PC cases with ugly translucent cases. And have you noticed all of the USB devices that are in clear blue plastic? Do you wonder why?

  • Cringely is whining. I lived through most of what is covered in the book and movie, right here in Silicon Valley. The movie is guilty of what movies always do: simplifying and taking license, so that they can present a story in a short time.

    Cringely complains about accuracy, yet my recollection is that Mike Swaine had a hand in the writing of the book.

    I anticipated revisionism, but found very little, and none of it critical to the story. I expected a pro-Apple slant, and didn't find that, either.

    The story showed that both Jobs and Gates are driven and not very nice people. Few could argue that point.

    Also, as Woz found little to complain of (and he was clearly much closer to the story than Cringely) I think we should write off these rants as being just a tantrum.
  • For the most part, as of now, this article confused me in that "what the hell is this" kind of way. They guy wanders off point halfway through, and ends up talking about AOL and loans and deals and.....huh?? But the first part that was on subject was interesting in the "oh look, this guy's kind of conceited isn't he?" kind of way. He didn't like the movie because the documentary was better (I gather that he made said documentary, so that may not be the most objective opinion), and because in the movie, Bill Gates went to IBM, while really it was IBM who went to Bill Gates. That was the only reason he gave that I could find. That comment blew me away. It's poetic license! And it's so small that it's hardly worth mentioning. I'm glad that the scriptwriters changed it; I mean, how entertaining would it have been to see the IBM executives running towards their plane on their way to Microsoft with "Synchronicity I" playing in the background? :)

    Was the TNT production completely and utterly correct? Probably not. But what is except reality itself? But was it entertaining...? AY! There's the rub. And yes it was. I thought so anyway.

    The kryptonite comments in the article just plain threw me off.

  • Yes, the movie was historically inaccurate (especially the way they portrayed Microsoft as a 2-bit company when they sold DOS to IBM. MS at that time was a respectable business selling compilers.)

    Microsoft was a "two bit" company at that time. They were a decent sized microcomputer software company, but microcomputer software was a small market. Bill Gates was never going to get rich selling ROM BASIC and compilers to OEMs and geeks.

  • I agree that Triumph was a better documentary, in the technical sense. I'm not surprised one bit, though, that a "mainstream" TV movie has more visibility than Triumph. I remember seeing ads for Pirates on other TV stations a month or two before the movie was played. That's marketing muscle for you.

    Cringely makes some great comments. I agree with his opinion that, because of Pirates, it might be the last time the "mainstream" crowd gets to see anything about this subject. Hopefully not. (And, hey, remember all of those disaster movies that came out last year, culminating with Armageddon? Hmm....)

    Nevertheless, I think that Woz's approach to giving his feedback was much more interesting to me than Cringely's, in that it was more personal. Woz must have received hundreds of emails about Pirates, many from geeks who haven't seen Triumph. He gracefully answered many emails, offering insightful information about the portrayal of the subject found in Pirates.

    I'm not saying I liked Pirates, but I was glad to be able to have my mother learn more about the subject. Believe me, I corrected their mistakes. I also showed her Woz's site. Maybe Pirates wasn't accurate, but I think my mom has a pretty good understanding of the story now.
  • All the NeXT Lovers come out of the closet for Steve Jobs/NeXT comments. I do love the elegance and beauty that NeXT hands to the User. When I got my first box my Unix experience was limited to telneting into my ACM account and typing 'elm' to read my mail, but it really allowed me to increase my skills in many ways. It's great having a graphical interface to configure something when you don't truly understand it. Once configured graphically, kick out to your command line and see what was done. The only way to learn is by doing!
  • Excellent credentials for spotting invented histories, eh? "It takes one to know one", and all that.

  • You're obviously not familiar with Cringely. He's been a computer-industry columnist practically forever - that was just his weekly column. If you read the title, you'll see he has two mostly-unrelated subjects for the column, which is why he switches topics (to the AOL deal) midway through.

    As a columnist, he tries to mix a distinctive style or voice into his essays: the kryptonite thing was part of that. He wasn't trying to prove that Pirates was inaccurate; to see all the inaccuracies, you could read his book, or read Fire In The Valley, or see his documentary. He was just letting you know how he felt about it, in case you were curious (as I was).

    Try reading some of the his other columns there, like his explanation of the Ponzi Scheme of ISP funding (the first one about Cisco, about a month back. I'd give the URL, but appears to be semi-down.)

    (BTW, his former employer, Infoworld, fought with him over his name, with the result that there are multiple Cringelys out there. The real/original one can be identified by the middle initial, "X".)

  • This video is sold by PBS Home Video at 800-828-4PBS (800-828-4727). I think it's about $50, but there may be shipping and handling added to that. If they ask you if you are an educational institution, say "no" because they charge teachers more. (How's that for the logic of educational TV?)
  • Quite true. What I mean was "try using your eight year old PC with Windows" etc. etc. etc.

  • > Excellent credentials for spotting invented
    > histories, eh? "It takes one to know one", and
    > all that.

    ... hrm?

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]