Steve Jobs

I’m in Europe at the moment. I love visiting here, but the lack of easily accessible Internet access outside of my clients’ offices is frustrating. For example, this week I have the option of paying 5€ per hour for crappy hotel wi-fi limited to ports 80 and 443, or, thanks to my client, a somewhat okay connection via a Vodafone UMTS USB modem. Since I want to limit the amount of traffic that they get billed for, I only use it to check e-mail, and sporadically at that.

I just arrived at the office and learned that Steve Jobs has died.

I am saddened, of course. He was only 56, eleven years older than I am now.

I figured I’d try to capture my feelings while they are still fresh.

My first computer was a TRS-80 (model 1, ‘natch) which put me squarely in the camp opposite the Apple ][ fans. The reason I had a TRS-80 over an Apple was simple – there was a Radio Shack in my small town. I did have some exposure the the machine, and I especially liked the fact that the cover popped open and you could see inside it. While I spent a lot of time inside my TRS-80, I immediately voided the warranty when I did it.

My path did not cross Apple’s again for several years, when a friend of mine bought a Mac Plus. This would have been around 1986. He taught me how to use the interface, and I was impressed by the quality of the documents I could output from the machine. However, being a DOS/Windows user, I was often frustrated by the lack of a command line interface.

In 1988 I started working for Northern Telecom, which was a Mac shop. I think I had a Mac IIcx on my desk, but I forget the exact model. This was one of the first machines I used that was networked – not quite to the Internet but definitely to other machines within the company.

These were the twilight years for Apple. The machines were pretty, but they were expensive and prone to viruses. A friend of a friend was the Apple rep for Nortel, and I can remember that Terry came in one day to demo some new machines and he spent two hours disinfecting them.

Once I left Nortel, I didn’t work with Apple for a long while. I did date a woman with a (at the time) screamin’ SE/30, but I used it mainly to play games (Fool’s Errand, etc.).

Flash forward to January of 2003, and I started seeing all of these things called “Powerbooks” showing up at the local LUG. My company was doing well, so when the 12″ Powerbook was announced, I bought one along with an iPod.

I was hooked.

Here was a machine with a strong Unix base but an easy to use interface. Here was a machine that I could use to run all of my favorite open source software but I could also get a decent printer driver from the vendor. It even made me nostalgic for that old, original Mac, so when I saw one on its way to the dumpster, I rescued it and made it whole again.

Since then, I’ve been a Mac user and fanboy. None of this would have been possible without Steve Jobs.

He created great things, but what I like the most is that he showed it was possible for one person to make a difference. While my team doesn’t work along the dictatorial style he was known for, we are much smaller than the companies with which we compete. Steve showed that it was possible to successfully compete against giants. He took a company on the verge of bankruptcy and turned it in to the most profitable company in the world.

I couldn’t be honest with myself if I didn’t remind my three readers that I am parting ways with Apple. With its amazing success, Apple is moving in a direction that I don’t agree with. I am much more excited at the moment about the pending release of Ubuntu 11.10 (Onanistic Olifant) than I am about the iPhone 4S. I don’t like where Apple is going, but that should not take away from where they have been.

The best comment I’ve read so far is that Steve Jobs made it possible to have an emotional connection to technology. As I write this on a Macbook Air, I am not thinking about OS X or licensing, but I am imagining I am having a conversation with a few old, good friends about the passing of another. Steve, in part, made that possible.

I admire Steve Jobs, but despite his success, I would not have wanted to be him. Fifty-six is way too young. To quote Woody Allen, I don’t was to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying.

So long Steve, and thanks for all the tech.