OS Ascendant

Here are two books that warrant the attention of serious Low End Mac readers: The Second Coming of Steve Jobs and Free For All.

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

Second Coming of Steve Jobs

You probably know about the first, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. This book, by journalist Alan Deutschman, got a lot of attention a couple of months back.

Second Coming is the story of Steve Jobs’s fall and rise. It begins with Jobs getting kicked out of Apple back in 1985, and ends, more or less, with his triumphant return.

For my money, the best parts in the book concern NeXT, the computer company Jobs formed after Apple, and Pixar, the Toy Story/Bug’s Life folks. Deutschman got a lot of insider stuff I hadn’t seen in print before.

The book is scrupulously fair but utterly clear-eyed, and the Steve Jobs described in Second Coming is very much a mixed blessing. If you’re like me, you won’t find yourself rooting for him.

Free For All

Free For All

On the other hand, I found lots of people to root for in Free For All.

Free For All is the story of Linux and the free software movement. Reporter Peter Wayner does a thorough job oflaying out the divisions within the free software world, and Wayner also doesn’t stop the story at Linux; much of the book (the best part, I think) is devoted to the various free BSD distributions of Unix.

(Bonus: there is a surprising amount about Apple and its clouded relationship to free software in Wayner’s book.)

I read the books back-to-back over the holidays and was struck by the contrast between them.

One is the story of someone who demands everything his way; the other is the story of a worldwide collaboration in which the “way” emerges through trial and error.

The question you’re left with is: Which way is better? Free software is very, very good and very hardy, but it’s not brilliant in the way the Mac is. On the other hand, is “brilliant” more important than openness and generosity of spirit?

Taken together, these books raise big issues about what we want from our computers, and what we have to give up to get it.

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