Valley of Genius | Adam Fisher

Summary of: Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom)
By: Adam Fisher

The Birth of Apple

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were the genius minds behind Apple. Before they started their tech company, they worked together building and selling illegal “blue boxes” that tricked the network exchange allowing users to make free calls. Jobs’ smart business mind saw an opportunity to sell the blue boxes, which was the start of their partnership, but it wasn’t clear if they would start a business together. Jobs then landed a job at Atari, but left to travel to India in search of a spiritual guru, and later returned with a shaved head and saffron robe. He worked the night shift at Atari, and brought Wozniak in to tinker with things. Jobs proposed creating a new game, Breakout, knowing full well that Wozniak would do the work. Afterward, Wozniak designed a personal computer named Apple I, and seeing a financial opportunity, Jobs suggested they form a company together. Thus, Apple Computers was born.

Introduction

Delve into the revolutionary history of Silicon Valley as Adam Fisher takes you on a whirlwind journey through the breakthroughs and cultural clashes that shaped this technological epicenter. ‘Valley of Genius’ uncovers the stories behind Atari and its founder Nolan Bushnell, the groundbreaking work at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, and the rise of Apple, eBay, and Google. Meet the personalities behind these computing giants and experience the mix of innovation, determination, and serendipity that propelled the Silicon Valley boom forward.

The Rise and Fall of Atari

Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, created a freewheeling business with like-minded techies that resulted in the invention of one of the first video game consoles. The company was thriving with their simple yet successful game, Pong, and their hedonistic culture. However, after Warner bought the company, they struggled to reinvent themselves, key engineers left, and a culture clash between corporate owners and the freewheeling company atmosphere caused problems that ultimately led to the company’s downfall in 1984.

Xerox’s Untapped Potential

Xerox’s potential in the computer industry was overlooked, which led to missed opportunities and the rise of another company.

Xerox, a company best known for photocopying, made a significant breakthrough in computing in the early 1970s when its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) built the first computer with a visual user interface. The Alto had features we recognize today such as overlapping windows, icons, fonts, and different menus – innovations that enabled painting, animation, and fonts on screens. It even had a poorly working mouse that allowed navigation on the screen. However, Xerox leadership was skeptical of PARC’s groundbreaking innovations. Researchers went against Xerox’s corporate culture of professionalism by creating hippie graphics on the Bravo, a machine with 256 different colors – something no one had seen on a computer before.

Xerox failed to capitalize on this untapped potential and returned to its core business of printing. Meanwhile, a young and slightly crazy Steve Jobs visited PARC and saw the potential these innovations had. He took inspiration from them and created the first Apple computer. Jobs saw that the future of computing was communications, and believed that personal computers would be on every desk. Apple’s early growth was partly due to Xerox’s untapped potential in the computer industry.

In conclusion, Xerox’s influence on the computer industry was significant, but unfortunately, its potential in computing was ultimately overlooked. This led to missed opportunities and the rise of another company – Apple.

Changing the Course of Computing

Steve Jobs’ visit to Xerox’s PARC research facility in 1979 changed the future of personal computers forever. Being inspired by the Alto’s graphical user interface, Jobs introduced it to Apple’s future computers, which later became known as the “desktop,” “icon,” and “mouse.” The Macintosh computer, released in 1984, delivered Jobs’ vision of an easy-to-use, consumer-friendly computer to the masses. With a marketing campaign directed by Blade Runner’s Ridley Scott, Jobs presented the Macintosh as a thoughtful challenger against IBM, the dominant computer corporation at the time. The revolutionary computer spoke for itself at its unveiling, and the world was enraptured by its capabilities.

The Story of General Magic

General Magic was a tech company that spun out of Apple in 1990, boasting a team that worked on the original Macintosh computer. They came up with an impressive product–a personal communicator that could perform tasks like email, phone calls, messaging, gaming, and even stocked an app store. General Magic had an idea of a smartphone, a full decade before Apple worked on one. The company had a slightly disorganized working environment, with offices in a building that was empty for ten years, feral dogs in the basement, pet rabbits that peed everywhere and an engineer who lived in the office. General Magic’s device was ahead of its time, with its visual interface, online games, and networking abilities, but it had its flaws, such as poor battery life. The dream failed, and the company shut down, but the engineers went on to play significant roles in developing the iPhone and Android Operating Systems.

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