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Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Just read the sad news that Steve Jobs is dead of cancer at 56.

Steve Jobs probably did more to make my life better than any stranger I can think of. I've been a Mac person since before there were Macs; I programmed on the Apple II+. I've had iPods and iPhones and now I even have an iPad.

It's worth remembering that Jobs and Wozniak made the first personal computer that really scored. There were personal computers before the Apple II, but you had to solder them together. There might have been others that you could buy off the shelf, but you didn't. And then, suddenly, there was a computer that you didn't need to have a computer science degree to use. (I actually did have a computer science degree, but I was never a hardcore hacker.)

It's worth remembering that before the Apple II, IBM didn't think anyone needed or wanted a personal computer. The Apple II forced them to go build the IBM PC, and license a crappy operating system called DOS from a guy named Bill Gates, who'd bought it from somebody else. It turned out everyone wanted a PC, of course, and the IBM name put an IBM, and not an Apple, in everybody's office. (No one ever got fired for buying IBM.) But before the Apple II, there was no IBM PC.

And then, the Mac. I remember the 1984 Olympics ad for the Mac, and then buying a Mac. Before the Mac, you had to know an awful lot of stuff to use a personal computer. Before, you had to know the exact name of a file in order to open it, and the exact name of the program you wanted to open it with; after, you just pointed at it on your desktop and double-clicked, and the Mac knew what program would open it. If you wanted to do something, you had to know the name of the command for what you wanted to do; after Mac, you had menus at the top of the screen. Jobs didn't invent the mouse, or drop-and-drag, or the trash bin, or the graphic user interface. Jobs and Wozniak more or less lifted that from Xerox PARC. But the boys at Xerox PARC weren't marketing it. Jobs and Woz put it in a computer anyone could buy.

Before the Mac, you had to print things out to see what they would look like printed out. Usually quite a few times. After Mac, you could see on the screen exactly what it looked like, and there was suddenly this thing called "desktop publishing."

Can you imagine?

A little later (after taking time out to found Pixar and redefine animated movies), Jobs and his company invented the iPod and iTunes, before which it was almost impossible to carry your entire music collection around in your pocket, and after which, it was a thing that every college student considers the bare minimum that her phone should do.

I don't think I have to tell you what the iPhone does. I'm not even sure anyone knows what the iPad will do.

Jobs didn't invent anything that couldn't have been invented sooner or later, maybe not as cleverly or as elegantly. (Windows is the proof of that: Gates took the Mac OS and had a version of it crafted that was less elegant and more user-abusive; he's now worth $56 billion.) What he did was shape the connectivity of our lives into something seamless and fun, by making electronics that were, in his famous phrase, "insanely great."

Every day, I sit in front of a Mac. If I go out, I carry my iPhone. There are so many things I don't have to think about; they just happen. My iPhone syncs with my computer. I can shoot a picture of someone I meet and attach it to their number and email in my address book, and somehow when they send me an email, I get that picture of them on the email. When I get in my car, it talks to my phone, so that if someone calls me, the car knows to kill the music I'm listening to (which is probably on my phone) and put the call through to the car's speakers.

Jobs didn't do all of that. But he pushed my world in that direction. He wanted everything to work smoothly and seemlessly. He had an esthetic that a hacker would enjoy. There's a story that, early in the design of the Apple II, Jobs spent a night redesigning the entire motherboard so that there would be half as many things to solder. It wasn't because soldering adds cost. It was because it would be more elegant to have fewer solder points.

Steve Jobs made technology cool. He brought the future to me, first in beige, then in black, then in polished aluminum, and finally on a glass touchscreen.

I love that man. I love his work. I'll miss him a little bit every time I flip my computer open to start my day.

2 Comments:

My first computer (that I owned myself) was the Mac Classic. It had no colour, the screen was tiny and it only had a 40 MB hard drive (yes, MB). But it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Now, I have a MacBook and iPod Touch (I'm one of the few humans left on the planet without a cell phone), my wife has an iPad and my two kids have iPod Nanos. I think it's safe to say Steve Jobs has made a big impact on our lives.

Despite his health struggle and knowing stepping down from Apple meant the end was possibly near, I was still shocked to hear the sad news. Why, I don't know.

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:31 AM  

Another thing Jobs did for us: Any young, creative person in our society has to endure a lot of scoffing from "practical" types who think design and art and good writing are just fluff. But you could always point to Apple and the Mac as an example of how those things mattered, and it shut people up.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 11:30 AM  

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