The most prescient footnote ever

Back in 2004, who could have imagined Apple’s astonishing rise to overtake Microsoft as the most valuable tech company in the world?

At least one person.

Paul Graham wins the award for the most prescient parenthetical statement inside a footnote ever.

In footnote 14 of Chapter 5 (p. 228) of Graham’s classic Hackers and Painters, published in 2004, Graham asks “If the the Mac was so great why did it lose?”. His explanation ends with this caveat, in parentheses:

And it hasn’t lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.

Wow. Count me impressed.

To find this quote, search inside the book for “ipod cell”.

To get into a 2004 midset, look here and here.

25 thoughts on “The most prescient footnote ever”

  1. Haha – nice find. I was equally impressed with this when I read it about 6 months ago. The book had a number of “holy crap” moments like that actually.

  2. An interesting tidbit, but selective. Three footnotes down, note #17:
    “I would not even use Javascript, if I were you; Viaweb didn’t. Most of the Javascript I see on the Web isn’t necessary, and much of it breaks.”
    He was not prescient enough to see AJAX, jQuery, et al.

  3. @the Success Ladder: thanks for the compliments and for subscribing. Not sure if you were serious but I agree Suffusion is a fantastic theme: endlessly configurable, bug free, fast, and well designed. I happened upon it by accident when WP 3.0 broke my old theme and couldn’t be happier. Apparently written by a teenager, I donated to his beer, er, coffee fund.

    (Editor’s note: This is a reply to what I later realized was a spam comment that I have now deleted.)

  4. @FT: Graham says “Basically, what ‘Ajax’ means is ‘Javascript now works.”, but I don’t agree with this, and I belive there is many people who dont agree with this citation. JavaScript is really powerful client scripting language.

  5. P.G. is so opinionated on anything that he is bound to get some things right and some spectacular one at that, but if you had to tell the good ones from the bad ones in 2004, the value of his essays was I guess close to 0. Keep also in mind that In 2004 there was a thing called the Treo 650 that had a phone, music player and browser in it, it just was a lot clunkier to use than the iphone. So if one could Treo + iPod … And P.G. gets kudos even when he is wrong, like the Ajax quote. When he backpedals on it in 2005, he is again a visionary. I would have been called a flip flopper. It’s the teflon thing. Oh, and I am waiting for lisp/arc to take over the world.

  6. @Sean O: The statement on Javascript was not a prediction. It was a comment on the state of affairs as they were at that point in time. The statement on Apple was a prediction.

  7. TIME TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE! If it weren’t for the invention of time travel (at some point in the future), Paul Graham would not have been able to travel back in time, slip up and mention the idea for the iPhone, which apple would then run with to change the course of history… FOREVER (see butterfly effect). Thanks Paul.

  8. To me apple is the most over rated and over priced brand within the technology world.
    Firstly the Mac, this system forces you to stick with only the hardware you have been given, if you want an upgrade then go buy another newer Mac, not only that,
    but the Mac’s are wildly over priced, My PC at home runs with a 2012 graphics card and a processor I bought for 2k, And I can run everything fine, Mac can barely run a game.

    The Iphone is another huge over rated product, when compared to many android devices which can do exactly the same if not more, for a far lower price. I understand the reasoning behind the high prices, Marketing and brand names
    can do wonders for anything, but lets not confuse a well known brand for being technologically superior.

    I personally do enjoy the apple designs and the look of Apple products, the look smooth, clear and very professional, but looks aren’t everything.
    We play a game for the story not just the graphics, the Iphone has in my opinion kept up with other brands such Samsung purely due to it’s loyalty and not due to overall quality.

    Personally I would prefer anything other than something produced by Apple purely for the reason that it tries to present itself as the new wave of technology,
    sure in the past was on the very brink of vital technological discovery, but that milestone has passed and it’s time for apple to pull up it’s socks and lower it’s prices.

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