Jobs’s colleagues frequently talked about his “reality distortion field.” The term apparently came from Star Trek, and in Jobs’s case was used by colleagues to describe his reaction when told something in his visionary plans for the future couldn’t be done. Isaacson tells us that one of his closest colleagues, Joanna Hoffman, “later lamented, ‘The reality distortion field can serve as a spur, but then reality itself hits.'” And this brings up an interesting point for two reasons.
When the hype died down, the reaction to the NeXT computer was muted, especially since it was not yet commercially available. Bill Joy, the brilliant and wry chief scientist at rival Sun Microsystems, called it “the first Yuppie workstation,” which was not an unalloyed compliment. Bill Gates, as might be expected, continued to be publicly dismissive. “Frankly, I’m disappointed,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Back in 1981, we were truly excited by the Macintosh when Steve showed it to us, because when you put it side-by-side with another computer, it was unlike anything anybody had ever seen before.” The NeXT machine was not like that. “In the grand scope of things, most of these features are truly trivial.” He said that Microsoft would continue its plans not to write software for the NeXT. Right after the announcement event, Gates wrote a parody email to his staff. “All reality has been completely suspended,” it began. Looking back at it, Gates laughs that it may have been “the best email I ever wrote.”
When the NeXT computer finally went on sale in mid-1989, the factory was primed to churn out ten thousand units a month. As it turned out, sales were about four hundred a month. The beautiful factory robots, so nicely painted, remained mostly idle, and NeXT continued to hemorrhage cash.