Pirates of Silicon Valley is a 1999 film based on the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. It is a made-for-television docudrama written and directed by Martyn Burke which documents the rise of the home computer (personal computer) through the rivalry between Apple Computer and Microsoft.
The feature film opens with a monologue by Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) who appears to be talking directly to the audience about the film they are about to see. He states:
“ I don't want you to think of this as just a film, some process of converting electrons and magnetic impulses into shapes and figures and sounds. No. Listen to me. We're here to make a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why even be here? We're creating a completely new consciousness, like an artist or a poet. That's how you have to think of this. We're rewriting the history of human thought with what we're doing. ”
As the camera angle shifts, it is revealed that Jobs is actually talking to director Ridley Scott (J. G. Hertzler), who is in the process of creating the 1984 commercial for Apple Computer (which was released for a single airing in the United States on 22 January 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII and introduced the Macintosh personal computer to an American audience for the first time). In response, Scott tells Jobs, "Well, Steven, right now I'm a touch more worried about getting light on the actress, do you know what I mean?"
The film next jumps ahead to 1997, after Jobs has returned to Apple and announces a new deal with Microsoft at the '97 Macworld Expo. His partner, Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick), is introduced as one of the two central narrators of the story. Wozniak notes to the audience the resemblance between "Big Brother" and the image of Bill Gates (Anthony Hall) on the screen behind Jobs during this announcement. Asking how they "got from there to here," the film turns to flashbacks of his youth with Jobs, prior to the forming of Apple.
The first flashback takes place on the U.C. Berkeley campus during the period of the early seventies student movements. Jobs and Wozniak are shown caught on the campus during a riot between students and police (while Wozniak was a Berkeley student, Jobs was a Reed College student for a short period before dropping out, events which were omitted from the film). With the Moody Blues' song, "Question," in the background, the film turns to a slow motion sequence focusing on Jobs and Wozniak running (in the opposite direction of the students) away from the riots. After finding safety, Jobs states to Wozniak, "Those guys think they're revolutionaries. They're not revolutionaries, we are." Wozniak (as narrator) commenting on these events states,
“You know, Steve was never like you or me. He always saw things differently. Even when I was in Berkeley, I would see something and just see kilobytes or circuit boards while he'd see karma or the meaning of the universe.”
Using a similar structure, the film next turns to a young Bill Gates at Harvard University, in the early 1970s, with classmate Steve Ballmer (John Di Maggio), and Gates’ high school friend Paul Allen (Josh Hopkins). As with Wozniak in the earlier segment, Ballmer narrates Gates' story, particularly the moment when Gates discovers the existence of the MITS Altair (leading him to drop out of Harvard). Gates' and Allen's early work with MITS is juxtaposed against the involvement of Jobs and Wozniak with the Homebrew Computer Club, eventually leading to the development of the Apple I in 1976. Prior to the sequence which details the introduction of the Apple II at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, Wozniak's voiced-over narration comments,
“ Microsoft? Nobody I knew ever heard of Microsoft. Or Bill Gates. I mean, they were nobodies. But then we were all nobodies, which was perfect for us. Because all the respectable, straight-arrow guys were busy doing what they always do, which is be respectable. Which meant the rest of us could run around acting like crazies, which is what we did best. I miss those days. ”
Thus, when then-unknown Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, attempts to introduce himself to Jobs at the fair (among a huge crowd of people interested in the computer), he is snubbed by Jobs.
The film then follows the subsequent development of the IBM-PC with the help of Gates and Microsoft in 1981. Meanwhile, Apple has developed The Lisa and later, the Macintosh, computers which were inspired by the Xerox Alto (a computer which the Apple team viewed during a tour of Xerox PARC during the late 1970s). Gates would later refer to this event when he tells Jobs during an argument, "You and I are both like guys who had this rich neighbor—Xerox—who left the door open all the time. And you go sneakin' in to steal a TV set, only when you get there, you realize I got there first. And you're yelling? That's not fair? I wanted to try and steal it first!" (the director of the Xerox PARC research center, John Seely Brown, after seeing this clip stated in an interview that it was not entirely accurate as Steve Jobs was invited by PARC to view their technology in exchange for Apple shares).