The Daring Fireball Power 1 List

The fourth annual MDJ Power 25 compendium of the most powerful‍/‍influential people in the Mac industry is out.

Like any such list, the MDJ Power 25 is inherently and utterly subjective. There’s no way to prove, in a scientific sense, who’s more powerful or influential — the list is simply a reflection of the opinion of those who voted. I disagree with some of the results, and you probably will too, but overall I think it’s pretty accurate.

The simple ordinal nature of the list makes it easy to grasp, but it obscures just how influential each person on the list is. Better would be an ordinal ranking, along with a score, so that we can see just how much more influential #14 is from #15, etc.

And more importantly, how much more influential #1 is than everyone else.

Steve Jobs, of course, is #1. According to MDJ, 70 percent of the voters this year listed him in that position on their ballots. As I wrote on my own ballot (see below), “Anyone who doesn’t rank Jobs first doesn’t have enough of a clue to deserve a vote in the poll.” (Which criterion would flag TidBITS publisher Adam Engst, who voted for himself in that position; Engst ended up ranked fourth overall.)

It’s easy to dismiss Jobs’s #1 ranking as the result of his position as CEO of Apple Computer, but that’s too simplistic. If the poll had been conducted throughout the ’90s, former Apple CEOs Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio surely would have made the list, but quite possibly not in the top spot.

I tend not to write much about Jobs, because there’s not much about him to say or speculate. Despite the fact that he’s the very public face of the company, he’s almost pathologically secretive. But make no mistake, Jobs does not run Apple via hand-waving and delegation — he is a micro-manager with an unrivaled attention to detail.

His strengths are obvious. Since his return as CEO in 1997, Apple’s computers have gotten better (and better looking), their product line has been simplified, their software has gotten better, and the company has successfully entered new markets. He has impeccable taste, and an amazing gift for defining new products that people will crave.

His biggest fault is equally obvious: he is oblivious to any of his weaknesses. He may be right 95 percent of the time, but when he’s wrong, he stays wrong. An obvious example is Apple’s ever-growing list of applications sporting the textured (a.k.a. metallic) theme. Critics rightly point to the HIG, which clearly states that applications like Safari and the Finder should not be using textured windows. But the HIG is no longer the ultimate authority on UI design at Apple — Jobs is. And when Jobs says, “metal”, apps go metallic. To Jobs, looking good is more important than consistency.

We should count ourselves fortunate he doesn’t have a penchant for chartreuse.

In both 2000 and 2001, there were 10 Apple employees in the MDJ Power 25. Last year there were 14, and this year it’s up to 16. Apple’s growing dominance is largely attributable to Jobs’s leadership. The single biggest change in Apple’s strategy since Jobs’s return is that the company is no longer reluctant to compete as an application developer. Other than Filemaker and AppleWorks (née ClarisWorks), I can’t think of any important Mac apps that came from Apple in 1996. Today, Apple dominates the Mac consumer market with its iLife lineup, and professional software like Final Cut and Keynote competes directly against high-end software from Adobe and Microsoft.

In terms of power and influence, no one else is even within an order of magnitude of Jobs. Numbers 2, 3, and 5 on the list are Avie Tevanian, Bertrand Serlet, and Jonathan Ive, each of whom report directly to Jobs, and each of whom Jobs could have locked out of the building come Monday morning, if he so chose.

The highest ranking people who aren’t under Jobs’s thumb are Adam Engst (#4), David Pogue (#6), and Tim O’Reilly (#7). But as writers/publishers, their work is mostly about the Mac industry, rather than driving it. They’re influential, yes, but not powerful. Comparing them to Jobs is like comparing Roger Ebert to Steven Spielberg.

The only representative from another hardware company is IBM’s John E. Kelly III (#16). Deservedly so, given the importance of the G5 to Apple’s future. The only representives from third-party software developers are Bill Gates (#9) and Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen (#25). (Gates’s high ranking is one of my biggest beefs with the results; the Mac industry is almost completely off his radar these days.)

The truth is, you could shuffle positions 2 through 25 just about any way you wanted, and the overall accuracy of the list would be equally valid. There’s an old story (apocryphal, perhaps) from the early days of Apple, that when the company first assigned employee numbers, Woz ended up with #1. In response, Jobs assigned himself #0.

Perhaps that’s where he belongs on the Power 25: at number zero, off the chart.

Paging Martha Burk

Everyone in this year’s Power 25 is male, and in four years, the lone woman to make the list was Shaan Pruden, Director of Partnership Management at Apple, who was listed at #21 in 2002. The absense of women on the list is clearly a reflection of the unfortunate sparsity of women in the industry, not misogyny on the part of Power 25 voters.

Further notable, however, is that if the Power 25 had been conducted during the ’90s, a handful of women certainly would have made the list in very high positions. E.g., Ellen Hancock (Apple’s chief technology officer in the Amelio regime) and Heidi Roizen (former vice president of developer relations at Apple). This year, however, the only woman who even came close to making the list was Roz Ho, head of Microsoft’s MacBU. (Her predecessor, Kevin Browne, was ranked #7 on last year’s list; Browne now works in the Xbox division.)

My Ballot

As an occasional contributor to MDJ, I was invited to vote in this year’s poll. The balloting is simple: vote for five people, in order. Voters’ selections and comments are allowed to be made off-the-record, which is necessary to allow for participation from Apple employees — or at least those who wish to remain Apple employees. The only exceptions are votes for your boss or yourself, which must be made on-the-record (which is how I know Adam Engst voted for himself).

Here’s how I voted:

  1. Steve Jobs

    Anyone who doesn’t rank Jobs first doesn’t have enough of a clue to deserve a vote in the poll. Jobs dominates both the hardware and software coming out of Apple; his influence on the platform can’t be overstated.

    The iPod and the ITMS have Jobs’s fingerprints all over them: both display an incredible focus on usability, elegance, and consistency — and put competing products to shame.

    Jobs’s attention seems to be binary — it’s either completely on or off. And so the areas where he’s not interested are the areas where Apple’s products are most likely to suffer from un-Jobsian traits like clunkiness and inelegance. His interest the last few years seems focused almost solely on hardware and the so-called “digital hub”.

  2. Jon Rubinstein

    While Jonathan Ive gets a ton of credit and glory (deservedly so), it’s Rubinstein who’s ultimately responsible for turning Ive’s designs into shipping machines. Assuming the PowerMac G5 lives up to its billing, every single product in Apple’s line-up is a winner. I could complain all day about Apple’s software; I can’t think of a single serious complaint about their hardware.

  3. Avie Tevanian

    I don’t even know where to start. I could just quote the entirety of this.

  4. Dave Hyatt

    Safari is neither revolutionary nor all that important, but WebKit, Safari’s underlying rendering engine, is. Judged by features other than the renderer, Safari is mediocre at best. But WebKit is simply outstanding, and it makes Safari the platform’s leading browser by far. It’s great for users, because it’s very fast and its output looks very good. It’s great for developers, because it’s easy to hook up to third-party applications.

    The lack of a good, system-wide HTML renderer was one of the biggest holes in the Mac OS. Now, the Mac OS has arguably the best system-wide HTML rendering engine anywhere.

    Dave Hyatt deserves a tremendous amount of credit for WebKit. He certainly isn’t the only person working on it, but his influence is magnified greatly by his online presence — his Surfin’ Safari weblog is well-written and widely-read. He solicits feedback, acknowledges bugs (and their fixes), and offers insight behind design decisions. In short, he’s working on one of the most important and exciting components of Mac OS X, and he’s letting us watch.

  5. Brent Simmons

    Simmons’s NetNewsWire is the first killer app that’s only available on Mac OS X. There’s simply nothing like it for Mac OS 9. It’s great Mac software, with an intuitive interface, and robust support for things like AppleScript, drag-and-drop, and Services. Once you get used to it, you can’t do without it.

    NetNewsWire changes the way people read, and changes what they read. Simmons also publishes two good weblogs, both of which are widely-read: his personal Inessential.com, and his company’s Ranchero.com.

With the exception of Brent Simmons, everyone I voted for finished in the top 10. Simmons didn’t make the list (and didn’t even garner an honorable mention). Now, do I honestly believe Brent Simmons is the fifth-most influential figure in the Mac industry? Well, no. But I do believe he deserves a spot in the top 25, and I only had five votes to cast.

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