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Steve Jobs: Among the Crazy Ones

Let’s look at three stories today.

No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is that of the personal computer.

Not to diminish the many contributions from others, but it’s entirely possible to imagine that, without Steve Jobs, “personal computers” might never have entered the mainstream. HP dismissed the idea outright, and IBM took a relative eternity to participate after seeing the promise in the market that Jobs helped create. Without personal computers, the Internet as we know it might be unrecognizably restricted to soldiers and scholars, and who knows what inspiration Tim Berners-Lee might have lacked had he not been working on a NeXT machine at CERN.

The second story is about users.

Like Prometheus, Steve Jobs brought technology to the great unwashed masses, to “the rest of us.” Freeing great ideas from incubation in ivory towers and the unlit dens of hobbyists alike, Jobs was the harbinger of the future. Graphical user interfaces, USB, wireless connectivity, user-generated HD content, touchscreens, app stores. He brought to the wider world leading edge innovations in almost every iteration of Apple’s products. And he did so with impatience, with certitude, via transitions that were made with a firm gaze fixed on our shared future, not with a hesitant eye glancing backward to compatibility.

The third story is about connections.

Steve Jobs connected us. He gave disparate people a common language of movement and motion. Geeks and gurus. Techies and typographers. He fused together the sheer power of raw computation with entrancing beauty, forming a team that produced images that bring joy to children, while reminding adults of the big picture. He transformed how we experience music, movies, and books, and how we keep in touch as we roam through a hungry, foolish world.

I reminisce about more than three decades of using technologies gestated by Steve Jobs as I type this article in Pages, on my MacBook Pro, on my birthday. It has been a grand, electrifying road trip, but now we’ve lost one of our most prescient drivers.

Where were you when you heard the news? For me, it was a beautiful day in Hawaii, a place Jobs enjoyed visiting. The sun was bright and the clouds were light. It was strange to be told that something was amiss in the universe, and yet, like millions of others, I first received word of his passing via a news alert on my iPad.

Jobs might be amused to know that, even in his passing on, he generated tremendous goodwill and awareness for Apple. And, maybe underscoring the point of his Stanford speech just a tiny bit more, he has skated to where the puck ultimately will be for all of us.

I came across this unaired version of Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” ad, narrated by Jobs, which unwittingly eulogizes him in the kind of poignant, poetic way he probably would have initially hated, but ultimately approved of. “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world… are the ones who do.”

Glorify or vilify him, Steve Jobs was, and always will be, obviously and irreplaceably, insanely great.


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Comments about Steve Jobs: Among the Crazy Ones
(Comments are closed.)

Jim Rea  2011-10-11 23:49
The first Apple product I ever purchased was a 128k Mac in February 1984. But that was definitely not the first computer I ever purchased, by that time I had already purchased at least a half dozen over the preceding 9 years. While Steve Jobs is perhaps the leading figure in the PC revolution (only Bill Gates would compete) it's certainly over the top to imagine that mainstream personal computers would not exist without him. Back in the late 70's there were many companies pushing PC's toward the mainstream, including Commodore, Radio Shack, Processor Technology, and many more. In fact, many observers would give more credit to Steve Wozniak and Mike Markula for the original success of the Apple II - not to mention Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the inventors of VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet (at the time many thought that VisiCalc was the primary driver of Apple's early success). Steve's actual contributions are plenty without claiming that PC's wouldn't exist without him.
Angus Wong  2011-10-12 00:00
Hi Jim. As a child, I was fortunate enough to learn programming on a TRS-80, an Atari 800, and TI-99/4. Ironically, no Apple II. All those machines were responses to the market success of the Apple II. About the only "home computer" that preceded Apple was the Altair, which was a niche, hobbyist machine and certainly not for the mainstream. Maybe the Commodore PET counted as one of the early machines but it also never "validated" the market like Apple did, which then spurred software development such as VisiCalc.
Jim Rea  2011-10-12 15:04
The Apple II, TRS-80 and Commodore PET were all introduced within 3 months of each other in the summer of 1977. I don't see how you could say the TRS-80 and PET were "responses" to Apple. It took a while for Apple to gather steam - Radio Shack and Commodore were big mainstream players right out of the gate, and remained so for several years (until IBM knocked off everyone but Apple). There were also dozens of other smaller companies jockeying for position.

In 1977 I was active in local hobbyist groups, worked as a tech at a local computer shop, attended the West Coast Computer Faire, read Byte, KiloByte, and any other magazine I could get my hands on, and started a software company. The energy and excitement of that time was amazing -- everybody knew that we were on the cusp of something that was going to go mainstream big time, and everyone was trying to get in on the ground floor. Yes, Apple played a significant part, but this revolution was happening, no matter who got onboard.
Angus Wong  2011-10-12 21:39
It's great to get your insight into this, as a someone active in the industry at the time. I can only comment as a (consumer) observer but as I recall, the Apple I was a very well received prototype (sold in 1976) and the Apple II was way more popular than any other unit (TRS-80, PET, etc.). Anyway, all I'm saying is that it's possible to imagine that Jobs might have been the crucial catalyst, the change agent during this "strategic inflection point" of where the home computer market could have gone (and especially IBM's participation). Imagine no Apple I and no Apple II and maybe we have a clue of this alternate history.
Jim Rea  2011-10-12 15:30
Just to be clear, I think Jobs accomplishments are phenomenal, and that he will be remembered with Edison and Ford. Here's my (very) short list:

* Turned Steve Wozniak's Apple II design into a shippable product (huge)
* Recruited Mike Markula
* Fostered development of Xerox Parc research software into a shippable product (Macintosh)
* Fostered Pixar from a research toy into a blockbuster studio
* Fostered creation of first commercial object oriented operating system (NeXT/OSX/iOS)
* Fostered creation of iPod, iTunes Music Store, iPhone & iPad
* Fostered creation of great teams at Apple, Pixar, NeXT and Apple (again)

Very few people could claim to have accomplished as much as even one of these items. But for me, at least, "created the mainstream personal computer market" is a bridge too far.