Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Steve Jobs demonstrates a superpower at a party

In 1997, Apple was beleaguered and struggling. But Steve Jobs was back, and there was hope that things might change. Part of that hope came from arch-rival Microsoft, which had shockingly invested in Apple and was working on a sparkling new version of Microsoft Office that would give the Mac an instant shot of renewed credibility. I was working on the team that built Internet Explorer for Mac, which was closely related to the Mac Office team, and I knew that our new Mac software was pretty cool.

Microsoft called the new version Office 97, because there was already a Windows version by that name. But then Steve Jobs convinced Microsoft to change the Mac version name to Office 98 so it could be shinier and newer than what Windows had.

Microsoft rolled out Office 98 at Macworld Expo in January 1998. To celebrate, we held a massive party at the San Francisco Gift Center. The place was overflowing with people. Food and drinks were being served. There was loud music. And up on a balcony that overhung the party, people from Microsoft were trying to talk to the crowd about Office 98. Nobody was listening. The music stopped, but people kept partying, because it was a party. The speakers tried desperately to get everyone to quiet down and listen to them, but it wasn't working.

And then, suddenly, Steve Jobs arrived at the party with a small entourage. Steve walked out on the balcony to join the Microsoft folks who were running the show. Party-goers seemed to notice Steve's arrival, but it was a small distraction at best. The noise continued. Then something remarkable happened. Steve faced the crowd and held up his index fingers to his mouth. He said "shh". Turning his head side to side to reach the whole crowd, he said "shh" again. That was it. The room fell silent. Steve Jobs had turned off a party.

Steve spoke for a few minutes about how awesome Office 98 was and how it could only be done on the Mac. And then he was gone, and the party started up again.