With the passing of Apple’s iconic leader, Steve Jobs, I’ve come to realize how much history I’ve experienced over nearly 35 years with him.
My first experience with Jobs’ creations was back in high school, when we learned computer programming on the Apple II systems. I was never a big fan of the Apple II , especially their spongy keyboards and strange key placements (I was on the TRS-80 side of the fence), but I did some of my first color computer programming on them. Technology has not always been met with open arms, and I still chuckle remembering the day we came into the computer lab and found someone had stabbed a pencil into the computer, like a dagger.
In college, I was fortunate to be right at the front of the revolution of personal computing when Jobs turned out the very first Mac. It was absolutely revolutionary. In one year we went from typewriters to Word processing. The simple Windows interface with an intuitive design was extremely simple for us college kids to pick up. It certainly put my TRS-80 to shame. It all seems very stone age now: the original Mac systems had no hard drive so everything was run from floppy disks (insert one for Word Processing, then swap it out to insert another to save the file). And all in just 128K of memory.
As my senior project, I went back to the Apple II (by then a relic in college library), and wrote assembly code for booting and saving data to a floppy disk. Not particularly exciting, but I cut my teeth on machine instructions and low-level programming. I also did some my first hardware hacking with the Apple II, using it in a club science project to control and display a model train layout.
The next huge experience with Steve Jobs was the birth of the World Wide Web. My wife was in graduate school at the time when I learned of a new program called Mosaic, that was changing the way we accessed data online. Up until then, almost all online access was via dial up connections to bulletin board systems (think forums and file downloads). Mosaic was the first widely available web browser, and later become Netscape. I can still remember going into the graduate school to use their high-speed network on an Apple computer to download Mosaic for my home PC (so for even a diehard PC guy like me, it was the Mac that opened the door to the web).
We purchased our first Mac during those graduate school years. It was a Mac IIci, considered one of the first real workhorse Macs. It had a decent amount of memory and even a hard drive, and yes, cost a small fortune (we took a loan out!). My wife wrote her entire dissertation on that computer (and printed out on a HP Laserjet that we still use today!).
Like Steve, there was a number of years after that where I wasn’t involved in Apple products. My world was filled with mainframes and minicomputers, and lots of PCs. The Mac line-up seemed to flounder with the Mac OS 8 and 9 operating systems, and their designs weren’t drawing a huge following.
Jobs came back to me again roughly ten years ago when a person from our skiing community contacted me about problems with their PowerBook G3. The computer had died and the local repair technicians told them the data was a total loss. While I had had no recent experience with Mac systems, I offered my services. Working with that PowerBook gave me a renewed confidence in my tech skills as I was able to access the hard drive and recover all of the client data. That experience led to an every growing business of technical support and guidance, and eventually this web site.
I can still remember working with another client on Jobs first step outside the formal computer world, the iPod. I assisted the client with the set up of their brand-new iPod U2 special edition, a black and red 20GB unit pre-loaded with the entire U2 collection. An impressive device, and more so, a remarkable bit of foresight and salesmanship for Jobs to bring iTunes to reshape and dominant the music industry.
My revolutionary experience continued with Jobs’ mega-earthquake, the iPhone. I can still recall emailing friends to let them know this phone was absolutely a game changer, heads and tails above everything else on the market. The product almost immediately led to the collapse of Nokia and the counterstrike from Google, the Android phones.
In recent months, I’ve been back in the Jobs neighborhood again, this time reviewing and purchasing used MacBook Pro laptops for a number of clients. The solid laptop construction and beautifully integrated OS X software still has all the hallmarks of Steve Jobs quest for perfection and clean design.
These days I see Jobs handywork everywhere, from reading the morning news on an iPad to listening to some tunes on the iPod Touch while working in the kitchen.
I will always look back very fondly on my days with Steve Jobs. I know I have lived through the times with one who clearly will be viewed in history as a major founding father for much of the consumer technology progress of the last 40 years. And I look hopefully for another person to step up and lead the way as clearly as Jobs did.