Back in the dawn of time, when dinosaurs still walked the earth and computers filled an entire room (i.e., 1977), I was a student at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, toting a big box of punch cards to FORTRAN class. In those days, most computers were mainframes or midranges (like the DEC VAX or IBM’s System/3x) and what few “personal computers” existed weren’t seen as much more than toys. That was also the year Apple Computers released the Apple IIC and it gained some popularity in secondary education, but no one would have based a career on using/supporting them. The more widely used Commodore Color Computer (known to the cogniscenti as the “CoCo”) and the Timex Sinclair wouldn’t come along until the early 1980s and the IBM PC wouldn’t be generally available until 1981.
That was then.
In 1985, I went to work at a company doing spreadsheets in Lotus 1-2-3 and Symphony. They had an early IBM PC with a monochrome (green) monitor, two 5 1/4″ floppy disk drives and no hard drives. Everything was stored on floppies and to start the computer, you inserted a DOS disk (3.1, if I recall correctly) and then put in a key disk to get Lotus to run. You used the other drive for the disks that stored your data. As much as a revelation as it was for accounting, it wasn’t much help for anything else. Word processing was done on a Wang system.
About three months after I started, the engineering department suddenly had this odd little oblong box, sitting upright. They told me it was a Mac Classic. I didn’t know what that meant, but it had an immediate impact on my professional life. Previously, making a bar chart meant using cardboard cutouts and rulers to draw what you needed, and if anything was wrong, or the numbers changed, you had to start over again. Very annoying. However, this “Mac Classic” had a piece of software on it called “MacChart”. With MacChart, you could build your graphs on the computer, and if anything changed, it took a couple of keystrokes to make the changes. At that point, you still had to leave space in your document, cut the chart out and paste it in (the origin of the term “cut and paste” :)). But not having to start over from scratch was a major breakthrough. These Macs were something else!
As I look back over the past twenty-plus (nearly 30!) years from the vantage point of the present, I see what a profound impact Steve Jobs’ vision for Apple and his subsequent successes had on all of us, but especially veterans of the IT industry. What ever you may think of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates personally, there is no doubt in my mind that their “anything you can do, I can do better” battles resulted in more, better and faster improvements to personal computer operating systems, hardware and apps than would have happened if either had stood alone. In my humble opinion, Windows (whatever its failings) would be as good as it is if Bill Gates didn’t have Steve Jobs upping the ante, as it were, by his ongoing improvements to Macintosh.
And then there are the changes provoked by the post-Mac iNnovations (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, and so on. Each of them kicked off new technology in their respective areas and spurred other innovators to create competitive products. Technology thrives best when there’s competition, and Apple provided plenty of that, due to Mr. Jobs’ ideas and forethought.
If you look at the current status and past history of personal technology, the road is littered with once-thriving companies who are barely more than peripheral these days (Lotus, WordPerfect); companies who had their day, weren’t willing or able to evolve, and died; companies that made a big splash and then sank without a trace; and the up-and-comers whose destiny has yet to be determined. Then, there are the survivors and major players: Microsoft, Adobe, Google — and Apple. I expect Apple to be a part of that select company for many years to come.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You had a major impact on the 20th and 21st centuries, bigger maybe than even you knew. You will be missed.