Ethics issue in “Pirates of Silicon Valley” Essay
Ethics Issues in “Pirates of Silicon Valley”
The film, “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” is a review of the building of both Apple Computer and Microsoft as told through the lens of people that worked with both Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft. The film addresses both the inner working of the two companies and the ethical issues that arise from their leaders, Jobs and Gates, desire to be the most important person in their chosen industry. While the film primarily focuses on Jobs and Gates, the workings of their respective companies and their rivalry play an integral role. Due to the fact that the film was produced in 1999, many issues have arisen in both companies in the years since that have changed the way the world uses computers. In an effort to address the films ethical issues, it will be necessary to address Steve Jobs and Apple and Bill Gates and Microsoft, while then moving on to the unique way in which the two men worked with and against one another, before finally concluding why their relationship changed the world. In this film, we are introduced to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as Berkley college students intent on creating something new and different for the computer world. We are lead to believe that Jobs was something of a free spirit, willing to experiment with drugs and take large risks, while Wozniak was somewhat more mainstream in the beginning of their relationship. We will see this change when money becomes an issue. One of the early ethical dilemmas presented in the film was the fact that Wozniak worked part time for Hewlett Packard and had apparently signed a non-compete clause which gave HP the first rights to any of Wozniak’s work. While the viewer understands that Wozniak must show the early computers to HP, the ethical dilemma presented is thus: is Wozniak required to show them his best efforts and sell his computer to them, or does he have the right to undersell the product. When HP turns down the computer, the viewer is left to ponder what might have happened has HP bought that early Apple prototype. Another ethical issue that presented itself in the early days was Jobs’ personal issues and the way in which they negatively impacted the company. As Apple was on the rise, the issue of Jobs’ first child and his treatment of the child’s mother provided negative publicity for the company. As the face of the corporation, his anger and maltreatment of employees also played a pivotal role in the way in which he was released from the company. As an ethical issue, one must be aware that private issues and anger can harm a company; regardless of the issues have a direct link to the company. While jobs was focusing on making better computers, he forgot to focus on the external forces, such as Gates and Microsoft which would have a major influence on Apple as a whole. In the film, we see Bill Gates as a Harvard student focused on computers language more than the actual computers themselves. Gates recognizes early on that computers will be worthless for the average person with the software needed to run them. Gates also realizes that the money to be made in computers lies more in licensing of software than in production of machines, a way in which he was far ahead of his time.
The issue that arises early in the Microsoft world is presented when Gates sells a DOS system to IBM, while never actually owning the product. Microsoft now works diligently to protect intellectual property, but it must be addressed that they started by selling someone else’s work as their own, only hoping that they could buy the product and follow through on the claims they had made to IBM. Another issue with Microsoft came from their desire to create a product that everyone would need but no one else could supply. While Gates makes a statement to this effect in the film, the United States actually sued Microsoft for Monopoly practices two years after this film was released, and much of the system (Windows) that Gates produced was based on information obtained from Apple, thus creating the odd dichotomy which proceeded between Microsoft and Apple in the years since this film was produced.
The largest ethical issue presented in the film deals with the fact that both Apple and Microsoft used unethical behavior to gain information from other companies which the then used to further their agendas. In the case of Apple, the used information obtained from Xerox to help create their graphic interface on their LISA system, while Microsoft used information from the LISA system to help create Windows. While Jobs was decidedly anti IBM, Gates used IBM to further his software business. While both Jobs and Gates lead the computer revolution, I venture that it can be agreed that both took steps along the way which would be seen as less than ethical. As I watched this film on my Windows based laptop using my Google account, and then typed this paper Microsoft Office 2010, it became more painfully obvious that both Apple and Microsoft own large portions of our lives. Almost everyone own a product made by one if not both companies. Does this mean that the unethical behavior should be condoned because it lead to benefits, or should the computer programmer that sold his system to Bill Gates for $50000 all those years ago have some recourse? While ethics in business may not always be easy, it is certainly the best approach, even if it is more costly or time consuming.