Swapnil: Steve Jobs passed away recently. Did you ever meet him?
Linus: I met him. I had actually a meeting with him fairly close to when I moved to US. That was when OS X was fairly new.
Swapnil: Did he ask you to join him, stop selling sugared water and change the world?
Linus: Basically. He was there with one of the technical chiefs Avie Tevanian. They said, hey OS X is the future and its UNIX, come and work on it, and I said ‘are you going to change the kernel to Linux?’ and they said no, no no, but we would like you to work on BSD and I said ‘whatever’.
I actually like a lot of things that Apple does. I think in other respects what Apple does is worse than what Microsoft ever did – the whole control of the media and support infrastructure is kind of disconcerting. But, I think they are successful for a good reason.
I think Steve Jobs is the rare example of a situation where the CEO really made a huge difference, and the decisions he made about where the company should go were huge. I am sure he took credit for stuff that his staff really did, but he was really good at taking credit in that case right!
Swapnil: How much of Apple’s success or ‘iron-grip’ is attributed to Steve Jobs? Is it in the DNA of Apple or Steve Jobs was driving it? Will anything change at Apple since Steve Jobs is now gone?
Linus: I really don’t know. I actually thought that Apple was dying. I was clearly not the only one to think so and Steve Jobs clearly was a huge driver of their revival. Apple had a person who was so respected inside of Apple and also had such a strong idea where to go and was able to actually push things through and make changes that they clearly needed.
What situation Apple is in now I don’t know. They are in a pretty good market position, maybe they don’t need Steve anymore. On the other hand they have done the iPhone. The iPod was clearly what kind of revived the Apple and iPod is something which is losing its significance. Eventually, iPhone will lose its significance too. Already if you look at the coolest phones a lot of them are Android – from the design perspective and a lot more. I am not going to dismiss Apple. But do they need Jobs, I don’t know!
It doesn’t really matter who does the work. To some degree getting it out to public and making the right strategic decisions is important. I actually don’t think that leadership is necessarily all that important most of the time, and I say that as a technical lead person.
I think CEO positions are often over-revered. It’s not that they are not worth their pay. A CEO kind of person in most situations can only do so much. Quite often he is more of a figurehead than anything else. Their success in a company is often about can they execute, can they get things right. I think Steve Jobs is the rare example of a situation where the CEO really made a huge difference, and the decisions he made about where the company should go were huge. I am sure he took credit for stuff that his staff really did, but he was really good at taking credit in that case right!