Steve Jobs and openness

The windows in the new Apple headquarters will not open. Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his New Yorker article. He quotes Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs.

The architects wanted the windows to open. Jobs said no. He had never liked the idea of people being able to open things. ‘That would just allow people to screw things up.”

Related post: Inside Steve Job’s brain

10 thoughts on “Steve Jobs and openness

  1. and of course the probabiltiy to employees jumping out of mentioned windows is much smaller this way.
    What I don’t understand: Why windows in the first place, as that surely just allow people to look around instead of doing their work?
    And by the way, as most followers of the JOBS will tell you: Windows is just not working ;)

  2. While I have nothing but respect for Malcolm Gladwell, I do wonder if that is actually correct?

    I used to work in a building with windows that wouldn’t open. As far as I am aware Steve Jobs had nothing to do with the company – the real reason was because open windows messed up the air conditioning.

    Surely that’s more likely?

  3. That’s a somewhat believable quote, but one of the things that attracted me to Apple products in the beginning was the ease of accessing the insides of the device (Apple IIe)…

  4. Inoperable windows are quite common in modern buildings. They improve energy efficiency. Jobs is absolutely correct: occupant behavior is one of the major factors in building energy use, and you want to take away, as much as possible, the ability of the building occupants to screw things up by leaving lights on or windows open.

    Sorry, you’ll have to find something else to criticize Jobs for today.

  5. It’s interesting that the architects wanted the windows to open. Often architects object to this because, for one thing, it can mess up the air conditioning, as you point out. But perhaps in this case the architects had a solution to this problem.

    In any case, I think this story is a good metaphor of what a control freak Jobs was. He not only opposed open platforms and open markets, he opposed opening physical things like iPod cases and office building windows.

  6. This rankles me. I understand that open windows can mess up the AC, but to say things should be closed because people shouldn’t be presented with the option to screw up is really irritating.

    I think this says something really sad about Apple/Job’s approach to building things – they are not really interested in empowering people.

    It’s depressing when a company designs something that works well, but deliberately tries to prevent anyone from getting at the insides. If it breaks, throw it out, because you can’t fix it. Have a great idea for something that would make it even better? Not a chance.

    When you prevent people from opening something up and potentially screwing it up, you are preventing them from learning from it, and you are depriving them of a quintessential part of the human experience: being able to investigate how things work. How many automotive engineers and mechanics do you think we’d have today if cars had been designed by this philosophy for the last 40 years?

  7. I’m interested in reading Isaacson’s biography on Jobs – if anything just to counter the recent media frenzy that attempted to promote him to near-diety status. If Isaacson’s premise that Jobs was a “tweaker”, not an inventor, is accurate (which I believe it is – all of his major “innovations” were slickly-packaged improvements on existing concepts), then is closed-case devices make sense as his life progressed. Jobs was afraid other people would do what he made a career of doing: taking someone else’s ideas, “tweaking” them, and marketing them as “new and novel”.

    (owner of two iPhones, an iMac, a Mac Mini, two iPods, and an Apple IIe)

  8. This explains a lot. Apple fans are typically gadget freaks, not hacker types. Apple, the closed, sick building model from bad1970s architecture applied to high-tech fashion. This really does explain things.

  9. This reminds me strongly of one of the funniest bit of English prose ever written, Chapter 13 of V. S. Naipaul’s book Miguel Street, entitled “The Mechanical Genius”.

  10. Uncle Bhakcu! Wow, I’d almost forgotten him. The chapter is reprinted in an anthology of humor (I forget the exact title) edited by Mordecai Richler.

    So when are we going to quit giving lunatics the keys to the store, just because they have a distinctive way of asking for them?

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