Steve Jobs, Final Cut and iMovie

There are no ifs, buts or maybes 

Having delivered a keynote to the Mac faithful in January 1998, Steve Jobs presented the National Association of Broadcasters conference keynote address in Las Vegas.

We’re dying to work with you guys. We can bring some architecture to this Tower of Babel that’s happening today,

Jobs wanted to win back support for the Mac in the professional video market and pointed to QuickTime’s support for the GIF, JPEG, TIFF file formats, and video output standards like FireWire as proof.

QuickTime architect Peter Hoddie came on stage and introduced several applications based on QuickTime 3.0, and then handed the stage over to Randy Ubillos for what seemed to be Final Cut’s last appearance.

Ubillos recalls his chat with Jobs after the successful demonstration.

We spoke backstage about the possibility of Final Cut going to Apple and I’m glad I did, because it ended up being very good for everyone on the project. I mean initially most people within my group thought Why Apple? But I thought, this may just work.

In the days after Randy Ubillos’ Final Cut demonstration at the 1998 NAB, Macromedia’s stock climbed as analysts speculated on the company’s future. Computergram magazine signalled the first of many rumblings about Final Cut’s future.

Macromedia Inc hasn’t been saying very much about its next generation Final Cut digital video editing, compositing and effects tool since Compaq Computer first previewed it at NAB. But the hype machine is now beginning to build up for the tool, which is due to be launched during the first half of this year on Windows 95, Windows NT and Macintoshes. Rumours suggest that Apple Computer now very much focused on the digital content creation market, is very interested in the tool, which uses its QuickTime 3.0 technology, even to the extent that it was considering buying the tool outright. 

Final Cut’s product manager, Tim Myers recalls:

We were pretty unsure about whether a move to Apple at that time was going to be a good thing or a bad thing. It certainly wasn’t in its second wave of success, far from it and it was very questionable whether they were going to be able to pull it off. And a lot of us were thinking if Apple is struggling just selling computers right now why would they want to support and sell an editing product?

Project manager Will Stein had moved to Macromedia from Apple, and now it seemed he was headed back there.

I will be the first to admit that I was not crazy about the idea of going back. The Apple I left (under Gil Amelio) felt like it was going down fast. Apple under Steve (Jobs) felt like it had a chance, but the company had been severely damaged.

Over the ensuing weeks, Isaac Babbs and Andrew Baum spoke with Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller ( a former staffer at Macromedia) about the acquisition of the Final Cut intellectual property. It seemed that a one off payment from Apple would secure the Macromedia software assets, however for the project to be a success somebody needed to convince the Final Cut team to stay together, and continue coding and building the product. Andrew Baum recalls:

We agreed pretty quickly that we were going to make a deal on the software. Steve then asked to have all the engineers and other people involved with the project over to Apple to talk with him. 

Will Stein recalls:

I remember getting a call from Rob Burgess at home on a Saturday morning. Rob told me the deal with Apple looked like it would go through, but that getting a critical mass of the development team on board was going to be part of the package. Since some of our senior engineers were predominately Windows developers, we anticipated this being a tough sell. 

Baum continues:

Of course you have to remember that Apple itself at that stage was not in great shape, this was pre-iMac. But Steve talked us through some of his plans especially his ideas around FireWire, which involved the unreleased laptop code named Pismo. It would have FireWire on the motherboard and be released as the PowerBook G3.

A sale to Apple would allow Macromedia to recoup the $10m that it had spent creating Final Cut. Isaac Babbs recalls the deal:

There are no ifs, buts or maybes. Because Macromedia was now totally focused on the Web, it would sell Final Cut or shut it down. But the deal did seem to happen magically. Steve Jobs had decided he wanted to make sure people could edit video on a Mac and he wanted them using QuickTime. Serendipitously we had one of the best editing products in development and it was QuickTime based. 

Because Randy Ubillos had become good friends with Apple’s QuickTime leader Peter Hoddie, and Director of Engineering Tim Schaff over a number of years, Jobs probably knew more about it than anyone outside of Macromedia.

Baum is clear in his recollections of the sale.

If Apple hadn’t decided to buy Final Cut then, it would not exist today, it was that fine a line. 

Babbs adds:

Steve was smart enough to see the value in Final Cut, and he executed the desktop video-editing paradigm to perfection. It was a brilliant move by him.

Final Cut would be perfect to drive sales of larger and more expensive Macs, but Jobs had new consumer Macs in development that would use Firewire I/O for the first time. He knew that the technology would make for a paradigm shift in desktop editing so he decided to ship a video editing application with the new computers.

Jobs approached Adobe Systems, and asked them to create a consumer version of Premiere that Apple could bundle with the unreleased Mac code-named Kihei. With Apple’s future still uncertain, and Premiere sales growing on the Wintel platform, Adobe said no.

As a result Jobs decided to build the app with an in-house team, and he turned to Sina  Tamaddon. With the acquisition of NeXT Software, Tamaddon had joined Apple as the head of Worldwide Service and Support, then the Newton Group before Jobs asked him to lead a new division called Applications.

Another NeXT alum Glenn Reid had moved away from contract work to be VP of Engineering at Artifex Software. He returned to the office one day to find a surprise.

There was literally a message on my answering machine from Sina Tamaddon’s assistant at Apple, and when I called her back she wouldn’t say what it was about. I didn’t really want to go work at Apple. I said, ‘tell Sina that if he wants to hire me, forget it, because I’m happy with what I’m doing’. Sina at the time had a business card that stated his role simply as, ‘Office of the CEO’. He was indeed Steve’s right arm in creating what became the Applications Division, which is now many hundreds or thousands strong.

Reid decided to take the meeting.

The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s