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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 Computermarker and Microsoft. The film stars Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates and Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs.


In 1984, Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) is speaking to director Ridley Scott (J. G. Hertzler), who is in the process of creating the 1984 commercial for Apple Computermarker which introduced the Macintosh personal computer to an Americanmarker audience for the first time. Jobs sees the commercial as a poetic statement of consciousness-raising, but Scott is more concerned at the moment with its technical aspects.

Flashing forward 1997, 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.marker Berkeleymarker 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. Jobs and Wozniak flee the riot, and after finding safety, Jobs states to Wozniak that is they, not the protesters, who are the true revolutionaries. Despite spiritual dimension in which Jobs views their work, Wozniak simply sees their computer work in terms of kilobytes and circuit boards.

Meanwhile, a young Bill Gates at Harvard Universitymarker, his classmate Steve Ballmer (John Di Maggio), and Gates’ high school friend Paul Allen (Josh Hopkins) are conducting their early work with MITS, which 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. At a computer fair, Gates, the then-unknown Microsoft CEO, attempts to introduce himself to Jobs, who snubs him.

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 PARCmarker 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!"

In 1985, Steve Jobs is given a birthday toast shortly before he is fired by CEO John Sculley from Apple Computermarker. A brief epilogue notes what happened afterward Jobs' and Wozniak's lives.

In 1997, Jobs returns to Apple after its acquisition of NeXT, and Bill Gates appears live via satellite at a MacWorld Expo, during Jobs' first Stevenote keynote address, to announce an alliance between Apple and Microsoft. It notes at the end that Gates, at that time, was the richest man in the world.



One of the central thematic aspects of the screenplay is the representation of a young Steve Jobs, who while participating in aspects of the Counterculture of the 1960s, interprets his role in it differently. Actor Noah Wyle who portrays Jobs stated in an interview with CNN, "These kids grew up 30 miles south of the (University of California) Berkeley campus, which was ripe with revolution [...] and they couldn't have cared less about the politics going on. They were in the garage tinkering with their electronics and starting a revolution that was a thousand times greater than anything that was going on the college campuses, politically." Director Martyn Burke also noted in an interview that, "Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the true revolutionaries of our time. Not the students who occupied the dean’s office in the late ’60s. Not the anti-war marchers who were determined to overthrow the establishment. Jobs and Gates are the ones who changed the way the world thinks, acts and communicates." In developing the characters themselves, Burke also stated that he chose not to speak with any of the central figures portrayed in the film:

Both Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs responded to the film, though in different ways. Wozniak was one of the few who gave interviews on questions concerning the storyline. He commented in one that, "when the movie opened with [a scene of] tear gas and riots [...] I thought, 'My God! That's just how it was.' He also dedicated part of his personal website to fanmail with questions concerning the film:

Steve Jobs indirectly commented on the film during a practical joke at the 1999 Macworld Expo. This involved actor Noah Wyle (who portrays Jobs in the film). Wyle impersonates Jobs during the keynote speech, something which only becomes apparent when Jobs himself appears on the stage (to the wild applause of the audience). He corrects Wyle's interpretation of him and tells the audience that he "invited [Wyle] here today so he could see how I really act and plus because he's a better me than me." Wyle responds, "Thank you, thank you, I'm just glad you're not mad about the movie." Jobs laughs and states, "What? Me upset? Hey it's just a movie. But you know if you do want to make things right you could get me a little part on E.R." Then as Noah Wyle goes away, he turns and asks Steve "Are you still a virgin?" quoting a part of the film where Steve asks this to a guy who is being interviewed.



The Apollo Guide commented that, "Over less than 30 years, a band of shaggy nerds rose to become the richest people on Earth. They were the pioneers of the computer industry [...] While you might think that a story about the creation of computer companies might be as thrilling as your university Pascal course, think again. Seeing this history played out is thoroughly entertaining [...] Jobs, played by Noah Wyle, is a child of the ‘60s: an advocate of peace and spirituality who places art on a higher pedestal than commerce. Jobs' charisma, drive and ideology form a dangerous cocktail. He pushes Apple designers into such a frenzy that they work 90-hour weeks and intensely compete with each other. Anthony Michael Hall does an impressive job mimicking Bill Gates. Gates is portrayed as obsessed and impossibly nerdy." Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argued that the film is, "a fascinating drama filled with Shakespearean twists and betrayals as viewers come to know the geniuses who transformed not only the way we communicate, but the way we live. You're looking at the proof: This review was written using a program created by Gates' Microsoft, and TV Week is designed using one of Jobs' Macintosh computers." John Leonard of NY Magazine, described the film as "a hoot."

The film received an 86% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (6 fresh and 1 rotten reviews).

The director of the Xerox PARCmarker research center, John Seely Brown, after seeing a clip of the scene in which Gates and Jobs argue, 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).

Awards and nominations

  • 2000: American Cinema Editors, USA, Eddie for Best Edited Motion Picture Movie for Commercial Television (Richard Halsey)
  • 1999 Emmy Awards - Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or a Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie


The soundtrack is made up of classic rock, disco and new wave from the 1970s and early 1980s.

Song list



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