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Pirates of Silicon Valley


Pirates of Silicon Valley is a 1999 made-for-television film directed by Martyn Burke and based on the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. The film documents the impact on the development of the personal computer of the rivalry between Apple Computer and Microsoft. It spans the time period of the early 1970s to 1997, when Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) and Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall) develop a partnership after Jobs returns to Apple Computer.

It aired on Turner Network Television on April 6 & 7, 1999.[1]

Plot

The film opens with the creation of the 1984 commercial for Apple Computer, which introduced the first Macintosh.[2] Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) is speaking with director Ridley Scott (J. G. Hertzler), trying to convey his idea that “We’re creating a completely new consciousness.” Scott, however, is more concerned at the moment with the technical aspects of the commercial.

The film then flashes forward to 1997 as Jobs, who has returned to Apple, is announcing a new deal with Microsoft at the 1997 Macworld Expo. His partner, Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick), is introduced as one of the two central narrators of the story. Wozniak notes to the audience the resemblance between “Big Brother” and the image of Bill Gates (Anthony Hall) on the screen behind Jobs during this announcement. Asking how they “got from there to here,” the film turns to flashbacks of his youth with Jobs, prior to the forming of Apple.

The first flashback of the film takes place on the U.C. Berkeley campus during the period of the early seventies student movements. Jobs and Wozniak are shown caught on the campus during a riot between students and police. They flee and after finding safety, Jobs states to Wozniak, “Those guys think they’re revolutionaries. They’re not revolutionaries, we are.” Wozniak then comments that “Steve was never like you or me. He always saw things differently. Even when I was in Berkeley, I would see something and just see kilobytes or circuit boards while he’d see karma or the meaning of the universe.”

Using a similar structure, the film next turns to a young Bill Gates at Harvard University, in the early 1970s, with classmate Steve Ballmer (John DiMaggio), and Gates’ high school friend Paul Allen (Josh Hopkins). As with Wozniak in the earlier segment, Ballmer narrates Gates’ story, particularly the moment when Gates discovers the existence of Ed Roberts’ (Gailard Sartain) MITS Altair (causing him to drop out of Harvard). Gates’ and Allen’s early work with MITS is juxtaposed against the involvement of Jobs and Wozniak with the Homebrew Computer Club, eventually leading to the development of the Apple I in 1976 with the help of angel investor Mike Markkula (Jeffrey Nordling). The story follows the protagonists as they develop their technology and their businesses. At a San Francisco computer fair where the Apple II computer is introduced, Gates (the then-unknown Microsoft CEO), attempts to introduce himself to Jobs, who snubs him. This is followed by the development of the IBM-PC with the help of Gates and Microsoft in 1981.

It also follows Jobs’ relationship with his high school girlfriend (Gema Zamprogna) and the difficulties he had acknowledging the birth and existence of their daughter, Lisa. Around the time his daughter was born, Jobs unveiled his next computer, which he named, The Lisa. The Lisa was then followed in 1984 by the Macintosh, a computer inspired by the Xerox Alto. The main body of the film finally concludes with a birthday toast in 1985 to Steve Jobs shortly before he was fired by CEO John Sculley (Allan Royal) from Apple Computer.

It also includes a brief epilogue, noting what happened afterward in the lives of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The movie ends with Steve Jobs returning to Apple after its acquisition of NeXT Computer, and Bill Gates appearing live via satellite at a MacWorld Expo in 1997, during Jobs’ first Stevenote keynote address, to announce an alliance between Apple and Microsoft.

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