Steve Jobs is Dead and I Miss Him

As much as I dislike Apple’s walled garden, I don’t impose my will on my teammates. If they are more productive using Apple equipment, so be it.

On Friday Seth mentioned that his laptop had been having issues since upgrading to Mavericks. Snow Leopard was fine, but now it would crash frequently, especially when it was cold (i.e. had not been running for awhile). Now the policy at OpenNMS is that everyone gets a brand new laptop when they come on as an employee and we always buy three years of service, so if anything goes wrong in those three years it gets fixed for free and then it’s time for a new laptop.

I asked Seth if he had taken it to the “Genius Bar” and he had, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it running the test disk and since it was 30 days outside of Applecare so they wouldn’t explore it further without charging us for it. I hadn’t realized that his laptop was that old, so it was time to get him a new one.

We visited and configured a new one. Nothing special, just a 15-inch Macbook Pro with retina display, 16GB of RAM and the 512GB SSD (it’s ridiculous to pay an extra $500 for the 1TB disk). Unfortunately, it wasn’t scheduled to ship until November 22nd, and looking at availability at the stores nearby it also showed a November 22nd date.

This struck me as odd since the laptop had been out for awhile, so I called the Apple Store at Southpoint Shopping Center and talked to Christoph (not Chris – Christoph). I mentioned that I was a business owner and I needed a new laptop for one of my guys as soon as possible and what did he have in stock. Turns out the online store was wrong and they had several of the laptops Seth wanted on hand. Cool. I told him I was on my way and that I’d be there in about 30 minutes.

Now, I hadn’t been in an Apple Store in a long time, even longer since I’d made a purchase, and the first thing I noticed was the counter was gone. There used to be one counter about 20 feet from the door where you could run in, make a purchase and run out. After wandering around for a few minutes, I found a lady in a blue Apple shirt holding an iPad. I told her I had called ahead and talked to Christoph about a laptop I needed for one of my employees. She smiled, took my name, typed it into the iPad and said that there were a number of people in front of me so could I just “wait over there by the Macbook display”.

So for forty minutes or so I loitered near the counter listening to all of the people in front of me ask questions like “How does Facetime work?” when I knew exactly what I wanted and was ready to make a purchase. Luckily, there were a number of Ingress portals within range so at least I could hack them while I waited (and answer questions from Apple fanboys such as “What game is that?” with “it’s not for you”).

Finally it was my turn to get a sales associate. This is when it gets worse. He couldn’t find “OpenNMS” in the system and so he insisted on collecting all of my business information.

I asked “will this get me a discount?” No.

I asked “can you just you my Apple ID?” No.


Fifteen minutes later I was walking out of the store, fuming, with Seth’s new laptop. The whole process should have taken less than five minutes. Not only does it gall me that I had to waste an hour of my time just to turn over $3000 to a company I dislike, I couldn’t help but think that this wouldn’t have happened under Steve Jobs. He was a devotee of “form follows function” and he would have never let some fashion whim such as “no Apple Store shall have a counter” interfere with the purchasing process.

Now my hope is that I’ll never have to buy another Apple product for my team, but if I do, it surely won’t be through a walk-in store. This was one of the worst shopping experiences of my life, and definitely the worst one at that level of spend.

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.