Friday, October 7, 2011

Thank You, Mr. Jobs

I listened with sadness to the news the other day about the passing of a visionary innovator, Steve Jobs. Even though I never met the man, he was a huge influence in my life. From the Apple ][+ and the Macintosh to the iPad and the MacBook, and of course all of the Pixar movies, his work has been a big part of my life.

In the summer of 1983, I got my first computer job as a salesman of the early microcomputers. It was the year Apple introduced the 2e. The next winter, I was fortunate enough to be able to play with the very first Macintosh computer in my town. The stories of how the Apple 2's and then the Mac came into being were legendary. Steve Wozniak put together a kit for hobbyists to build their own computers, and Steve Jobs saw the potential. Wozniak and Jobs started marketing the kit to hobbyists, and it was a smash hit. It grew quickly into the Apple 2, in the early 80's, and the company they started became a huge success, almost overnight. Steve Jobs immediately saw the day when the Apple 2 would not be able to grow in the market, so Apple started development of the Lisa computer, and then the Macintosh.

Jobs was just into his twenties, and suddenly a millionaire. He realized that the business of Apple would grow larger than he could manage, so he recruited John Sculley from Pepsi Corporation to run the company. This freed him so he could work on his Macintosh and other projects. The Macintosh group took over a building on the Apple campus and raised the pirate flag over it. A huge amount of  effort was put into the most innovative computer of its time, which really set the standard for nearly all of the things computers run on today: mouse movement, windowing, graphical fonts, pull-down menus and multi-tasking. Clicking and dragging, shift-clicking, and the drop-down menu that computers use now and people take so much for granted were first seen on the Lisa and Macintosh computers as far back as 1982. Of course, some of the research and development was done at Xerox, but Apple was the one to bring it to the market.

I worked in the Apple sales business for several years. I learned to expand the Apple 2 with add-in boards, and I learned to connect all sorts of peripherals. I remember the first time I saw a Macintosh. It was a real joy, almost transcendent. The way the mouse moved, the little icons and the way they opened when you clicked them. You could select text and change fonts. You could open and close windows. You could copy files by dragging them. You could cut and paste. It was amazing.

They had the first Macworld Exposition in San Francisco. I was there, and I still have my first issue of Macworld Magazine with Jobs on the cover, which was given away free for all of the people who went. The vendors were few, and the turnout was moderate, but the energy was electric. Apple introduced the LaserWriter, which was the printer that started the Desktop Publishing craze. Jobs described it as a printer that would "knock your socks off." Aldus Pagemaker came out at Macworld Expo, and Adobe, with Apple investment, created the postscript language, which drove the LaserWriter. Now, anyone could make flyers and create newsletters, things which had always required outside services.

An interesting fact is that both the Apple name and the Macintosh name had to be liSculley saw Apple's core product line, the cash cow, to be the Apple 2 series, and Jobs saw the Macintosh as the future of Apple. The difference of opinion caused a rift and the Board of Directors at the time fired Jobs from the company he started. He went off and started Pixar and NeXt and worked in relative obscurity. Pixar is still a very successful entity, now owned by Disney. NeXt was bought by IBM, and somehow Jobs came back to Apple. Jobs developed the concept of the iPod and iTunes, and soon after that, the iPhone and then the iPad. These are all products that were probably logical extensions of existing technologies, but it was the Apple branding that made them so successful. And they helped build the brand.

Apple has long ago ceased producing Apple 2's, and the Macintosh line has gone through many changes. Very shortly after Jobs was ousted, the Macintosh actually became Apple's cash cow. Eventually, Jobs made a comeback, and in 1998, he introduced the iMac, at the Macworld Expo. Since then, Jobs has always had something new and exciting to introduce. He was a really good marketer, and he captured people's imaginations. His life story has always been inspiring.

When I bought my very first computer, it was the Mac 512. It cost me over 2000 dollars, and it was worth every cent. I had it for several years, and later bought a Mac Plus. My children learned computers on Macs. I was a Mac Guru in my town, and I made many friends among other Mac users. I was called MacBert, and worked selling and supporting Macs in consumer and education markets for ten years, before leaving the sales business. This was well before Jobs came back, but I saw every single Pixar movie at the theater in the meantime. They were truly movies for kids of all ages. They made me laugh and they made me cry, and who would think that a cartoon would make a grown man cry? Even now, I use an iPod and an iPad, and a Macbook Pro, and I work with Macintosh computers as an IT person.

Anyway, none of it would have been possible were it not for Steve Jobs. I feel like the world has lost a great asset, one which can never be replaced. I have a personal gratitude for the things which have made my life so interesting, and for the sheer enjoyment which could come from a machine which was once envisioned as only a business tool, the personal computer. Steve Jobs made it fun. For that I say, thank you, Steve Jobs.

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