Posted on Thursday, October 6, 2011
in Tech Bytes
I quote lecti, a user on the news site BoingBoing, to sum up this evening for me:
Steve Jobs passed away today at the very young age of 56, and the web is filled with testaments to the life of a man who, quite literally, changed the world.
And it was his vision that, in part, changed mine.
I didn’t have any experience with Apple computers until after Jobs had left the company in 1985 — ironically, at almost the exact time he left. I started high school in West Vancouver that September, and had my first chance to use both an Apple IIe and and Macintosh that year.
See, up to that point, we’d been a Commodore 64 family. My parents’ home-based business was run on Commodores, an upgrade itself from when I used to listen to my father in his office, hammering away with two fingers on a typewriter. They ran a publishing company, and produced copy for their publications on the commodore, printed it out, and took it to the printer for typesetting and paste-up. (Oh my lord, you kids have no idea how good you have it now.) We used to spend evenings typing in numbers to generate charts and graphs for the newspapers (lottery statistics, in case you were wondering).
I’d been at school for a year, under the tutelage of our computer teacher, Gord Devito, and I saw how all the charts and graphs could be made so easily using what was (I think) Microsoft Works. (I also remember one of the teachers having this big, floppy bag that he lugged a Macintosh 256k back and forth from home to the school every day. Talk about portable computing.) and suggested to my parents that they should totally switch to Macs, so they could do these charts waaaaaaaay faster. They went and talked to Mr. Devito, who hooked them up with a real Mac nerd, and the rest, as we say, is history.
My parents’ company went on to become one of the first companies in North America to produce a weekly, full-colour magazine using desktop publishing. It was fraught with hair-pulling, yelling, late nights and a lot of money spent on hardware, but it eventually worked.
At that point, I didn’t have a ton on interest in the industry, but made spending money doing layout work in the evenings using Quark Xpress. I went away to university in 1991, and took a Commodore 64 and a huge daisy-wheel printer with me, because they weren’t being used any more. In my second year, I bought a Mac Classic II (9″ greyscale screen, $2300) to use, since I was going to have to do desktop publishing as part of my journalism degree. At the end of that year, I had had enough of journalism — but not my Mac.
After a summer spent painting houses, I ran out of work. I needed a job — and my parents found space for me in their office. And suddenly, I found a new passion for desktop publishing, and the Mac in particular. This was before the web had become anything more than a hobbyist’s space, and BBSs still ruled the roost. I still have the 9600 baud modem we used to send files to the printer. But I loved the technology. My new bible was the MacWorld Mac & Power Mac Secrets book. Thicker than a phone book, it detailed how Apple got started, the evolution of the hardware and software, the specifications on every Mac model released to date, every operating system, how the system functioned, obscure commands and key combinations to do obscure things, Easter eggs, and so much more. I read it every chance I had, and can still probably tell you what order the myriad of numbered PowerMacs were released in (oh, PowerMac 7100/66, you magnificent bastard). And a lot of the reason that I was so intrigued and so drawn to it, was because the Macintosh story was so…unique. So different. Grown from a garage, and inconceivably starting a revolution that we still have yet to see the end of.
When I moved to Emo, I took a brand-new Mac laptop with me, and continued to champion the Mac platform, despite increasing trouble for Apple and its users. I argued online, advocated to my friends and family, and fought as only a zealous 23-year-old can. But I was disheartened as I watched the company’s troubles increase, as the licensing program failed, and as the losses mounted.
And then, Steve came back.
I remember when I first realized that something special, something missing, came back to Apple with Steve, and in Steve. It was the November 10, 1997 introduction of the PowerMac G3, which had been teased ahead of time on the Apple web site. As I listened to the audio stream live over my dialup connection, I heard Steve, the consummate showman, introducing the new products, and realized that Apple finally had someone in the house who got it. Products need to easy to understand, and a bunch of meaningless model numbers did nothing to make that simpler. G3. New chip. Fast. Easy to understand.
The Think Different campaign. The Bondi blue iMac. The iPod. The sexy G3 towers. The G4 cube. They weren’t all successes, but damn, were they cool. And while I won’t give Steve all the credit for all the ideas, he was most certainly taking those ideas and making them better. Sexier. Friendlier. I loved his attention to detail; as someone for whom attention to detail in public shows and presentations is crucial, I completely empathized with his drive to make the best product possible. And, no one knew how to put on a show like Steve. Seeing how this skinny, kinda-geeky-looking guy could take people’s breath away with his showmanship was part of what inspired me to change my major to marketing; how awesome would it be to sell something awesome?
It’s late, and I could write for hours about this. I simply want to say this: thank you, Steve. I hold no illusion that you were always the nicest guy, or the easiest to get along with, but no one can fault your dedication to both your family and your vision of a better place. You showed the entire world that companies can make money making history, by making amazing products that change lives.
We’ll miss you — more than we probably know.