Books by Randall E. Stross

Released: Nov. 1, 1996

An offbeat overview of Microsoft, the Johnny-come-lately enterprise that dominates the widening world of PC programming and is now laying careful plans to make itself a force to be reckoned with in the as yet undefined field of multimedia. Granted open access to the company's files and staff, Stross (Steve Jobs and the Next Big Thing, 1993) eschewed a traditional corporate history in favor of a four-part audit that puts fast- growing Microsoft and the aspirations of Bill Gates (its quirky cofounder) in an appreciably clearer perspective than that to be found in the grumbling of green-eyed rivals or the clueless complaints of would-be trustbusters. The author (Business/San Jose State Univ.) first examines the company's personnel policies and operational practices; he concludes that hiring brainy people for financially rewarding as well as professionally challenging assignments, and a willingness to commit sizable sums to R&D, rank among the principal secrets of Microsoft's continuing success. Stross goes on to review how this Washington State firm with global reach has conducted a patient campaign to break into consumer outlets (most notably, with a CD-ROM encyclopedia dubbed Encarta), and the stiff competition it faces from Intuit in personal-finance software. Covered as well are Microsoft's efforts to develop a commercial stake in interactive TV (an endeavor the company's chief scientist likens to playing a game of 500-card stud), its late start in the Internet sweepstakes, and the unwelcome attention of Justice Department attorneys whose predecessors watched the high- tech marketplace do what they could not in over a decade of trying: downsize and dismember IBM. Stross finishes with a jarring chapter on the philanthropic purposes to which a still young Gates might eventually put his billions. Apart from this, a perceptive briefing on a consequential corporation that arguably qualifies as a national treasure. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 18, 1993

A searing portrait of Steve Jobs, the California boy wonder who—having co-founded Apple Computer in his garage in 1979—went on to make a ``bid of entrepreneurial history'' with a $600-million disaster of a high-end, high-tech company called NeXT. Stross (Business/San Jose State; Bulls in the China Shop, 1991—not reviewed) seems to have a passionate dislike for Jobs, whose stake in Apple won him widespread notoriety—and a great fortune. According to the author, college-dropout Jobs's main talent was self-promotion; in business, he was technically unskilled and was ``considered an incompetent manager of at best'' by Apple, where, in 1985, he was stripped of his duties by a CEO he himself had hired. After that debacle, Jobs sold his Apple stock and, in 1985, announced the formation of NeXT—whose purpose was no less than to ``build computers to change the world.'' Such was Jobs's aura of genius and infallibility that—without design specifications, a market, or any software for his promised new computer—he garnered significant backing from Ross Perot, IBM, and Canon. Jobs proceeded to make every management mistake Apple had made, and without producing the fabulous machines that had compensated at Apple: Instead of building a computer, he built lush new private offices, staffed them with 400 technicians and salespeople, and adopted a secretive, nearly paranoid, stance toward competitors and the press. By the time the pokey, limited, expensive, and not entirely reliable NeXT Cube computer appeared, two years behind schedule, in late 1988, the high-stakes technological race had gone to the swifter Sun Microsystem and IBM; a second generation of new and improved NeXT boxes did nothing to change the situation in 1991, when the company abandoned manufacturing. Stross's treatment of Jobs as a born megalomaniac and thoroughgoing devil leaches his narrative of the tension of a rise- and-fall tale. Nevertheless: a fascinating, though overlong, glimpse of glittering Silicon Valley in the 1980's. (Eight-page photo insert—not seen) Read full book review >