Steve Jobs was to tech like John Lennon was to music _ changed the game, launched a new era, had vision and integrity, was an inspiration to people.
The Apple II was pretty incredible, although Woz was the real genius _ he designed the hardware, wrote the operating system, and the Basic interpreter. He also pioneered the floppy drive and bit-mapped graphics. In those days, you had to be a superman _ guys like Bill Joy, Kernighan and Richie, we’re still living off their legacy. The Google guys are in the same category. (Facebook is a PHP high school project by comparison.)
Woz might have had the genius, but without Steve’s vision, personality, and drive, Apple wouldn’t have happened. (Maybe the same goes for Paul, John and the Beatles.) And Apple was the first time a startup captured the public imagination. Sure, there were Fairchild and Intel and HP before, but no one knew what the hell they did. With Apple, anyone could see there was a brave new world dawning. Hard to remember that in the early days, Apple dwarfed Microsoft (hell, even Lotus dwarfed Microsoft until the Windows 3.1 and Office bundle masterstrokes).
Then there was the Macintosh (and LaserWriter). It’s hard to remember how far ahead of its time it was _ not until Windows 95 could Microsoft plausibly claim to have approached it. The original Mac was expensive, underpowered (128K?), and the OS was a mess to write software for. And yet in 1984-1986 that distinctive ImageWriter Geneva font started appearing on bulletin boards all over the Columbia campus. In 1990 I bought all the Inside Macintosh books in a bookstore in Connaught Place in New Delhi and tried my hand at writing crappy software in Pascal, C and Smalltalk. By then I think it was up to a 4MB SE, and it was still a hairy mess.
Then there was Next _ a technical success, but commercial failure. In 1989 I saw Steve demo the Next environment at a Salomon tech conference before it was released. Didn’t sell, although JP Morgan and a few other places ran on it. But that was the OS that eventually saved Apple. How different would things have been if Gil Amelio had picked BeOS and Jean-Louis Gassée instead?
Then there was Pixar _ who would have guessed Steve would reinvent animation? And after Katzenberg left Disney, Pixar would crush all the other studios and leave Disney with no choice but to pay a big premium to buy them out?
Then he came back to Apple, and Michael Dell said he should just shut it down and give the cash back to shareholders. Who would have guessed he would help make Dell and Microsoft obsolete, lead the post-PC era, and challenge for the most valuable company in the world?
The iPod _ the technology is one thing, but to get the music industry on board with iTunes? Impossible.
Then the iPhone _ remember Ballmer and the BlackBerry guys saying Apple would never be more than a niche player? Become the leading mobile phone vendor? Impossible.
Then, the iPad _ probably the future form factor of computing in the mobile/cloud world.
Most of all, I think about being a kid messing around with an Apple II in the McGraw-Hill bookstore, reading in Byte about the guys in California dreaming up the future and making it happen.
Thanks for the dream, for making those dreams come alive, and may the dream never die.