You may love Apple computers and their devices including the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Or you may like Windows computers or perhaps Linux boxes. Whatever you like about your computer, whatever it may be, it was Steve Jobs and
Steve Wozniak’s abilities, vision, and salesmanship that has put one in your home.
Without Wozniak the engineer, and Jobs the guy with the vision, your computer would weigh half a ton and probably only be at your office. Back in the Homebrew Computer years the vision of a home computer was something that could display lights which if you could decode the binary message you would know the answer to 2 + 2. Bill Gates during those Homebrew years came up with the bright idea of selling and owning software starting with Basic. Not long after – it was licensing rather than owning software.
But Jobs had an idea that a computer could be more, and could be in many houses, not only in the homes of those who read Popular Electronics. IBM jumped on the bandwagon, but did not consider their PC market particularly important for several years. The hype in those early days made it difficult to determine what was going to be the best machine for business purposes. In those early years it was clear that IBM and DOS was more suitable for business rather than the Apple II. But still, it was Jobs that forced IBM’s hand to even making those smaller machines. Gates was clever enough to license both a DOS (disk operating system) and a Basic interpreter to
more than one computer manufacturer. He escaped an exclusive arrangement with IBM and every other hardware manufacturer that he dealt with.
In 1979 Jobs visited Xerox PARC and liked what he saw. He came away with the idea of creating a graphic user interface, a mouse for data input, fonts, an improved menu system, and an overall friendlier computer system.
Out of this came the overpriced and failed Lisa and the game changing Macintosh. With the advent of the graphic user interface, Gates saw that DOS had a finite life and worked on Windows. The first widely distributed Windows Beta showed it’s gaming strengths which led from Reversi to Solitaire. And later to Doom, Quake and Warcraft. OS X is still not a gaming platform, although a speedy iMac can run a number of game programs quite well.
Not long after the development of the Mac, the dapper soda pop expert, hired by Jobs as CEO, boasted he did not have a computer on his desk. He proceeded to force Steve Jobs out of his company. Steve Jobs then founded NEXT and purchased PIXAR which no one had a clue would ever amount to anything.
As Apple appeared headed to certain failure, Jobs returned as CEO and the operating system of NEXT grew into OS X. With innovations in portable devices in addition to a solid, crash “lite” operating system, Apple met with considerable success. Jobs always asked the near impossible of his engineers and designers. Smaller and smaller, thinner and thinner all things became. The Titanium Macbook Pro was the first Apple computer I used. Being less than 1 inch thick, with the first DVD drive, and OS X, which is an attractive shell over what is mostly BSD UNIX attracted me (after finding that I liked Linux as an alternative to dealing with the faults, flaws, and security weaknesses of Windows.) Using Intel processors brought Apple a long way and the ability to run Windows on the same machine was welcomed by many. Personally, I’ve decided I like my windows on it’s own machine.
The iPod changed the way we listen to music. In many ways the convenience is for the better. But in deference to the music geeks, I’ll admit that we find ourselves in a “low-fi” world. With the loss of the ability to hear all of the high tones, it matters less to me right now. After giving in to reason, allowing video on the small device was a big plus. The iPhone was a bold step and did work quite well the first day right out of the box. A fine interface, an attractive device, an interesting combination of apps that worked well was a different model than other companies had used. Yes, it was certainly and still is a relatively restrictive environment, closed, not user friendly to jailbreak and less friendly after being jail broken. But the trade off has been a reliable and fun to use device. The iPad is a good size for many older people and has caught on well as a tablet. It has caught on so well, that others, such as H-P have even given up trying to compete.
Starting with putting a friendlier face on computing and the concept of computers for everyone, Jobs thought different. Interface and design intersected in ways not before conceived of in the computing world. Computers, email, face-to-face communication via your cell phone or computer, ease of access to information, research, music, and software have changed the landscape of the world. Jobs played a role in this, as did many others. But I give Steve Jobs much credit for the role he played.
Since Jobs developed pancreatic cancer, which is often deadly within a year or so, and later had a liver transplant, his health has been shaky. Somehow he has still managed to bring enthusiasm and new products regularly to Apple. A biography of Jobs written by Walter Isaacson was originally scheduled to be published in March, 2012 and was to be called iSteve: The Book of Jobs. Publication has been moved up to November, 2011 and the title is now the more serious “Steve Jobs: A Biography”. I didn’t take that as a good sign.
I’m not sure what Apple will be like after Jobs. I’m sure it will be a solid company and will continue to be competitive. But, it will miss the driving vision and uncompromising principles of Jobs. The engineers will be able to relax a bit, but I’m sure the next 15 years will be much different than they would be in the absence of a healthy, strong, and visionary Steve Jobs at the helm. I send thanks and wish Steve Jobs well and as pleasant a transition as possible.