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Author Topic: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"  (Read 137 times)

rayarachelian

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    • LisaEm
John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« on: July 14, 2021, 11:31:51 am »

David Craig pointed this out a few months ago here: https://lisalist2.com/index.php/topic,181.msg1339.html#msg1339 - I just got my hands on the book last night, and started reading it.

I'll reply back with comments/review when I complete the book.

If you finish the book, feel free to add your reviews/comments/etc. as well. :)

Edit: two chapters in, and I'm already hooked, this seems to be very promising.

« Last Edit: July 14, 2021, 07:07:09 pm by rayarachelian »
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Al Kossow

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Re: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2021, 10:41:05 pm »

I just ordered a copy. Hopefully this will fill in some holes in my knowledge
His becoming VP of Education begat the Education Research Group which
became the Advanced Technology Group that I was hired into in 1986
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rayarachelian

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Re: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2021, 05:31:59 pm »

Here's my notes so far - these were taken on a cell phone while I was reading the book, so mind the typos. The intro to the book mentions that these are based on his views/memories to the effect of YMMV. I only started keeping track of chapters after I had already read past Chapter 4. Sorry. This isn't meant to be a summary of the book, just fished out some tidbits about the Lisa part of the book.

Edit: the criticisms here are what I've noticed, it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy reading the book so far. :) As with anything else, this was written recently, so we can't expect people to remember things from 35-40 years ago exactly, plus John may not have been exposed to everything that was documented on Folklore.org, or in other early books about Apple such as (Return to)/The Little Kingdom, West of Eden, etc.


Makes Steve out to be a guru or guru like in some instances, but also calls him "the ship that leaks from the top" (though that's also in reference to Apple Computer Inc. in a sense as the ship refers to the company.)

Didn't mention Steve was pissing off the Lisa team and got kicked off the team by Mike Scott rather that Couch was assigned to the Lisa team and Steve to the Mac team. I recall many Apple history books that mention the design of the Lisa as having Steve pester the Lisa guys and eventually made him go away, which is when the Mac project got taken by Steve from Jef. (A recent book, Valley of Genius has a quote from Daniel Kotke mentioning that the Lisa team named the machine Lisa as a way to tweak Steve's nose since he was annoying them - in the light of that, it (IMHO) makes it a bit clear that the Mac project was a way to get revenge and kill off the Lisa - and this is consistent with other things I've read elsewhere, but it just wasn't said anywhere else.)

Back to this book:

Mentioned the 1984 commercial as if everyone thought it was brilliant. John Couch omitted that at the time management other than Steve thought it was a terrible idea and that it was shown once before the Superbowl in the middle of the night. Many other books go into detail about the history of this commercial, there's a small mention only here.

Chapter 5

Mentions a cut down Lisa called Lucy the Dirty Lisa which could have been a $5k Unix machine that would have sold to universities. (I had never heard of this before, news to me!)

Said Unix didn't have file protection and couldn't ship a machine that didn't protect business users file. Not sure what to make of this as its untrue. Unix has permissions and ownership of files settable via chown/chmod. It doesn't have password protection, though it does have the crypt command - even early ones had crypt. It's possible he's referring to the Lisa's document password protection, but this isn't encryption as I've discussed in other threads - rather it's tied to the file checksum - if you tamper with it it will say the file is damaged. When you set a password, a flag is set indicating that there's a password, and a new "inode" extent block is created with the new checksum that's been scrambled by the password. You can then only open that file with the right password from Lisa Desktop, but there's nothing stopping you from reading it outside of LOS as it's in plaintext (though you'd need to understand the file formats for things outside of LisaWrite.)

Chapter 6 mentions the Lisa was able to connect to an Oracle server via TCP/IP. This is false unless it was running UniPlus with an etherbox. This was certainly not available from LOS.

Mentioned the 20 questions Filer and the over the weekend Desktop Manager rewrite by Frank Ludolph and Dan Smith - but he said it was Bill Atkinson "and a few others" rather than naming Frank and Dan.

Mentions pretty error messages "rather than error 45256" but this isn't true. Both the Boot ROM and LOS do throw numeric errors in most cases, especially at boot time.

Mentions service mode could be used by end users to run diagnostics.  But this isn't true. Service mode is hidden and meant for use by technicians. LisaTest also had a hidden mode that provided extra detailed testing.

Mentioned Extreme DRM.

Mentioned twiggy drives and the Mac guys reaching out to Sony behind Steve back - the "Quick hide in this closet" folklore.org story

Mentioned Steve was leaking hints to the press about the Mac that it would have a GUI and mouse but be a fraction of the price of the Lisa. "It's a stage ship that leaks from the top." (Most likely Steve did this to lionize the Mac and slow sales of the Lisa but he didn't say that.)

Mentions having developed the LOS suite and apps including Terminal. (Did terminal ship with 1.0 - I'm under the impression it showed up around LOS 2.0 hence the whole marketing 7/7 stuff they were pushing?)

Mentioned the environments window, and that a user could boot into the text mode Lisa Workshop which later was rewritten as Monitor. (Oops that's wrong it was the other way around! Monitor was written first, and THEN LOS and LPW, and LPW is based on LOS, not Monitor, though the menus look like Monitor.)

Under the corporate jewels section mentioned that Steve reached out to have BillG write word for Macintosh rather than use Lisa office apps. John warned him he was giving away the family jewels but Steve didn't listen. (Again Mac vs Lisa here, though it's not stated.)

Mentions a 1982 visit from BillG where 6 Lisa were in a room, each with different apps (this confirms the missing LisaTerminal indirectly) and BillG asking John Couch to slow down and show him again and how did they do/implement this or that feature? And that this is how this eventually led to MSFT copying it for Windows and even creating the Microsoft mouse. (If Steve hadn't showed off to BillG as he did, Windows would not exist.)

Ch 7 "Lisa's Legacy"

Goes over the Jan 19 1983 intro at the Boston Computer Society and mentions MSFT took 3 years to develop Windows, same as the amount Apple took to build Lisa and that it's surprising that it took them so long rather than reverse engineer and tweak what they saw.

Mentions a list of headlines from that event. The first has a typo "A Hugh Tech Bombshell" ?

Then mentions the Kevin Costner commercial.followed by the print ad campaigns, and how Sculley joined Apple.
 

Was Lisa a failure? - here he reiterates the 100K units sold though there's questions around that as we see at most 13K.

Said: Lisa shipped in June 1983. Short term goal was 10,000 units. Even with a small 50 person team sold 13k in the half of the year (edited) surpassing expectations.

Remember the ship that leaks from the top? (Steve Jobs)People wanted Lisa's but at $10k vs $2500 they waited for the Mac. In 84 sold 40k Lisa's.  Much less the 1st half of 85 which led to the discontinuation. (So again, Steve is leaking to the press to undermine the Lisa.)

John also said that on average 4500 Lisa's sold per month over 2 years, selling just over 100,000 units at $10K each netting Apple $1B ($2.6B in 2020 dollars) for $50M in R&D. (p90-93)


Chapter 8 John Couch leaves apple in 1983 to be CEO of Lightyear and then a school. By the end of the chapter Sculley and Steve had a falling out, Steve attempted and failed at a coup and then resigned and started NeXT. (I wonder, was Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story named after this company?)

Chapter 9 ends with John returning to Apple in March 2002.

That's as far as I got as of today. :)

Edit 2021.07.18:

Chapter 9 ends with John returning to Apple in March 2002.

Various education oriented things.


Ch 13 the visionary.
"If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't need to be pushed. The vision pulls you." - Steve Jobs

I agree with this entire chapter. It's good assessment of Jobs and what qualities he brought to the table.

Most of this book, through example, analogy, and parable, is a good guide for how to and not-to run a business like Apple and how to look at technology and invent the future. I was in it for the history of the Lisa, which is somewhat incomplete for various reasons, but there are other books that do better there. Still it did reveal some details others did not.

Steve: "People who know what they're talking about don't need PowePoint"


He was saying that if Steve didn't burst out and show BillG - someone he initially saw as in the same class as himself (in the technology sense) and had he not wanted wanted to control the universe so badly that he was willing to kill the Lisa in favor of the inferior Mac 128 that Apple would have done much better. At some point he asked John how to find a wife and the issue wasn't where but much rather, how would he know if the woman was interested in him but not because she knew who he was. So the whole lonely at the top kind of thing, where if you're at the top of the company, you don't have others to relate to as friends, so perhaps he saw BillG as a friend, but then, as expected, got betrayed....

P221 final days ch16 indicates John wanted to make sure he didn't portray Apple in a bad light and went over the book with Apple execs and legal before writing a single word. This would explain the negative Steve omissions.

And just finished the book... Pretty good!
« Last Edit: July 18, 2021, 08:27:19 pm by rayarachelian »
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When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say. - GRRM

stepleton

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Re: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2021, 08:13:47 pm »

Thanks for these notes!

In re LisaTerminal, my recollection (from reading, not from being concerned about it personally as a toddler at the time) is that 1.0 didn't support LisaTerminal owing to deficiencies in the serial I/O driver, and that this improved support was something that was added with minor version increments like LOS 1.2.

I thought I remembered reading some detail in the Lisa Pascal Workshop 1.0 documentation that discussed limitations in the OS serial support to be fixed in a later release, but I'm having trouble finding anything like that now.

Ah, but then here you go: http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/apple/lisa/office_system/LisaTerminal_Installation_Instructions.pdf
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Al Kossow

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Re: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2021, 02:43:24 pm »

got my copy.
I'm surprised they let him print pgs 221 and 222
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DAVID CRAIG

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Re: John Couch book "My Life at Apple And the Steve I Knew"
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2021, 09:44:37 pm »

Hi all,

I too received my copy of Couch's book from Amazon recently (it was back ordered for a long time). Interesting reading so far.

Ray's review comments relating to the Lisa computer and POSD division are very good, thanks for your effort here.

I too noticed several Couch technical recollections with the Lisa's software development effort and key project personnel names. I will provide my own technical review clarifications when I finish the book (hopefully in a week or two). I used the Lisa Workshop for both Lisa and Macintosh development from 1984-1986 (I used the Macintosh Programmer's Workshop [MPW] when it became available on the Macintosh Plus). Given Couch's POSD position (General Manager), his recollections of Lisa technical minutiae are very good, but his lack of access to technical Lisa materials today is understandable since he had a lot on his Lisa plate during his 1978-1983 Apple tenure to remember and the source materials are rather rare today.

Overall, I think Couch provided an excellent overview of his time at Apple and admirably described the key Apple projects that he was involved with and how these projects helped Apple become a serious technical company. I wish he had mentioned more about his HP days which involved several very innovative systems including the 3000 and ALPHA systems which provided several important lessons-learned for HP (mostly in a negative way -- see http://www.3kranger.com/HP3000/hp3000_history.shtm and http://www.3kranger.com/HP3000/History/AE1995-11.pdf).

I also have several interesting letters I received from Couch after his Apple days that I can provide to this group which provide insight into the Lisa's technology and how internal Apple events limited the technology POSD could enhance the Lisa software foundation.

Great comments from this LisaList group for both Couch's book and the other many list topics.

~ David Craig
~ Cochiti Lake, New Mexico, USA
~ dtc.bayern@gmail.com
« Last Edit: July 26, 2021, 09:46:36 pm by DAVID CRAIG »
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