“Focusing is about saying no.” -Steve Jobs, WWDC ‘97

As sad as it was, Steve Jobs was right to “put a bullet in OpenDoc’s head”.

Don Hopkins
6 min readNov 9, 2018

Jobs explained (and performed) his side of the story in this fascinating and classic WWDC’97 video: “Focusing is about saying no.”

“Focusing is about saying no.” -Steve Jobs


Q: What about OpenDoc?

Jobs: What about OpenDoc??! (nods)

Q: Yeah.

Jobs: Yeah. (sips) (smirks) (leans) What about it? (laughter)

Q: (laughs) Ooooh nooo!!!

Jobs: It’s dead, right?

Q: Huh??!

Jobs: It’s dead, right? (nods)

Q: Oh, I don’t know, I spent a lot of time working on it. And it kind of makes me sad.

Jobs: (shakes) Yeah? (stands) Well, let me say something that’s sort of generic. (paces and gestures) I know a lot of you spent a lot of time working on stuff that we put a bullet in the head of. I apologize. (opens hands) I feel your pain. (genuflects)

(prays) But Apple suffered for several years from no, from lousy engineering management, I have to say it. (applause)

There were people who were going off in eighteen different directions, doing arguable interesting things in each one of them. Good engineers. Lousy management. (slouches)

And what happened is you look at the farm that has been created with all these different animals going in different directions (crucifies arms), and it doesn’t add up (bends over). The total is less than the sum of the parts.

(prays) So we had to decide what are the fundamental directions we’re going in, and what makes sense, and what doesn’t. And there were a bunch of things that didn’t. And microcosmically they might have made sense, macrocosmically they made no sense. (waves arms)

(prays) And you know the hardest thing is, when you think about focusing (fists), right, focusing is saying yes! No. (palms out) Focusing is about saying no. (palms down) Focusing is about saying no. (emphasizes)

And you’ve got to say no, no, no. (chops) And when you say no, you piss off people. (points finger) And they go talk to the San Jose Mercury, and they write a shitty article about you, you know? (spreads hands) And it’s really a pisser.

Because you want to be nice, you don’t want to tell the San Jose Mercury the person who’s telling you this (holds out hand), you know, just was asked to leave, or this or that, it was that, so you take the lumps.

And Apple’s been taking their lumps for the last six months (chops), in a very unfair way (spreads hands). And it’s been taking them, you know (fists), like an adult. And I’m proud of that (pulls up sleeves). And there’s more to come (spreads arms), I’m sure. There’s more to come.

Some of these — I read these articles about some of these people who have left. I know some of these people. They haven’t done anything in seven years. And you know, they leave (waves hand), and it’s like the company’s going to fall apart the next day (shrugs).

And so I think (hands on hips) there’ll be stories like that that come and go (pulls up pants), but focus is about saying no (Clinton thumb).

And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products, where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts (chops).

And OpenDoc… I was for putting a bullet in the head of OpenDoc. A: I didn’t think it was great technology. But B: it didn’t fit (shrugs). The rest of the world wasn’t going to use OpenDoc.

And I think as a container strategy (hand on chin), there’s some stuff in the Java space that’s much better. And even the OpenDoc guys were trying to were trying to basically rewrite the whole thing in Java anyway (waves hands), which was a restart (shrugs). So it didn’t make sense (hands on hips).


Steve’s spectacular performance gesturing his arms all around and akimbo on stage reminds me of bob Bishop’s original dancing APPLE-VISION character:



Don Hopkins

User interface flower child. Pie menus, PizzaTool, SimCity, The Sims, Visual Programming, VR, AR, Unity3D / JavaScript bridge.