What I remember about Steve Jobs and Apple from way back when 30 years or so

I have been following the doings of Steve Jobs and Apple since the early 80s, before the Macintosh, even. I can recall the ads for the Apple II computers, as well as the first Macintosh ads (I still have them, stored away). Between the time when he started Apple and when he was fired is what I remember as Steve Jobs v1.0. The Steve Jobs that came back to Apple was to me Steve Jobs v2.0. Same guy, but things changed with him and with the company he founded in the years he was away.

Unlike Jobs 2.0, I don’t recall the same adulation and love for the first Jobs. If anything, it was the other Apple employees that felt that love. Woz, who was so important in the early days. Techies loved Woz. He was a geek like them. The engineers who worked on the Mac, they were admired. Steve was seen as “and Steve”. Techies loved the other guys, not Steve. That changed over time, but back then, the actual Apple technical people were the guys who were loved. And computers were mostly about technical people back then.

I think that changed as computers, especially Apple computers, became less devices for geeks and more devices for everyone. People wanted to use computers, and they were buying them, but hated dealing with them. (Ask anyone who had to install device drivers on Windows 3.1 or later, when the phrase “plug and play” changed to “plug and pray”). Apple computers made that all go away. They made computers usable. Apple had always made computers desirable for what they could do. Making them usable and user friendly made them even more desirable.

Since the early days, Apple and Steve Jobs were always “the other guys”. They were not IBM. They were not Windows. Heck, they weren’t even the homebrew – CP/M guys. They didn’t wear suits. If the motto of IBM was “Think”, the motto of Apple was “Think Different”. But though they were different, they weren’t always the underdog. When the first Mac ads came out, Bill Gates was just another guy along with Mitch Kapor (remember him?) who was stuck in the middle of the multipage ad for the product, offering praise for how good it was. And when IBM first starting making PCs, Apple was still the leader in alot of ways. But that changed, and in many ways, I think that suited Steve Jobs better. After he left, Apple tried to “fit in”, while he never did. When he came back, he came back on his terms, and Apple and Jobs stood out.

Steve Jobs was always a detail oriented guy. I remember the story of how he criticized the early Apple engineers, saying the boot up time for the Mac was too slow. It is a little thing, but it matters. And that’s the thing about Jobs: while there was always Woz and Ive and Cook and others who did the work, it was Jobs that drove them on. That wasn’t always apparent with Steve 1.0. If anything, it felt like he was stealing the glory from other people. Over time, though, it didn’t seem that way to me anymore, and Jobs often mentioned the work of others later in life. He was the catalyst that made people greater than they would be otherwise.

No one mentions Steve Jobs and the reality distortion field much anymore, but perhaps that is the strength of Steve Jobs that he made people forget about that. But if you talked to early Apple employees and others, it used to be mentioned alot. It was still there, of course. Even I feel it when I watch him talk. He was a great communicator, and he could make people excited about things like no one else could. I think that is one of the reasons Apple users came to love him: he convinced them that they too were special for using Apple technology. By using Apple products, you were smarter, more sophisticated, discriminating; you were a person that appreciated the finer things in life. Of course people aren’t stupid or naive, but that feeling that Apple and Jobs make you feel for using their products never goes away. (Ask a Dell user if they feel that.)

I never bought a new Apple computer, even though I always admired them. For one thing, I could never justify the cost. For another, I never cared for the cachet that came with having one: if anything, that turned me off. I love jalopies, and I love computers that are jalopies. Apple computers were always the opposite of that. I liked tinkering with computers, and I liked the openness of computers. Apple was not about that and never was. Apple and Jobs said: trust us, we know better. They’ve been that way since the beginning. I liked computers that said: you want to change that, go ahead, feel free. I liked that freedom. I was never going to be an Apple user. I use Windows because it is convenient and Unix / Ubuntu because I love it and what it allows me to do.

One thing that Jobs did, which is something I admirable greatly about him as a CEO, is that he learned how to make his devices cheaper while having them still excel. The prices of peripheral stuff when it comes to Apple products is still too high, but the main devices, the iMacs and the iPods and the iPhones, all came in at a smart price point. I think this is something that Apple with Steve Jobs 1.0 didn’t know or didn’t care to do. (Think: Apple tax.) Maybe he thought that Apple should be expensive because expensive means better. Same with NeXT computers: they were the best, so of course they cost alot. Steve Jobs 2.0 didn’t operate that way. Instead, he (and Cook and others) designed it so that Apple products were not just the best, but the best priced as well. They have never lost sales or marketshare to price since then, I don’t think. If anything, they win on price. (Ask HP and their tablet folks).

I liked this photo of Jobs taken in 1982. He reminds me of alot of Silicon Valley start up types in this picture, but he wasn’t. Computer people/users used to be divided up into geeks and hippies. People still try to put him in the hippie camp, but what I liked about him was that he was bigger than that. He liked all kinds of things outside those two stereotypes, and he allowed people like myself and many others to like and enjoy computers without feeling like I had to be one of those things. If Apple was closed in alot of ways, how it was most open was how it encouraged the rest of us to use computers, regardless of our background. This is a great thing, and I think that Steve Jobs was responsible for that.

Whatever his detractors might say (and I expect they will crop up in the months to come), Steve Jobs was a great man. Not perfect, but great. You may even say “insanely great”. R.I.P.

(Photo by Diana Walker, linked to from Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011) « Iconic Photos.)

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