Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011. RIP.

The passing of Steve Jobs yesterday had more of an effect on me than I would have expected. Although he was not (apparently) the easiest of people to work for, he was a driven perfectionist with a unique talent for exquisitely Zen-like design and marketing. While he was just the visible part of Apple (on and off) for many years, his influence was and is unmistakable.

For some reason I get the urge to write about the rise, fall, and triumph of Apple, all of which happened on my watch, in terms of my own experiences over the years.

I was a recent computer science graduate when microcomputers started appearing on the market. Being on the other side of the planet from where it was all happening, we were all six months out of date by the time the issue of Popular Electronics with the announcement about the Altair microcomputer kit hit the streets. I had been looking at trying to match an Intel 4004 microprocessor (if you could call it that) with some ancient core memory, but the funds and expertise required were beyond me. Fellow travellers created a computer club in the hopes that we would gather enough expertise actually to construct a computer of our own. During this period the two Steves started work in a garage in Silicon Valley.

In those days only a few folk could afford to import and purchase “professional” microcomputers. I saw my first Apple II and was impressed only by the crude colour graphics being displayed on a TV. However, the writing was on the wall. I decided to leave industry and go back to university to do a postgraduate degree, with an emphasis on microcomputer operating systems. That left me with a need to support myself, so I eased myself into the population of the local Apple store, and managed to make a few bucks writing business software for a computer (Apple II) that plainly wasn’t designed for business.

In early 1984 I was invited to the launch of a mysterious new Apple computer with a weird name: the Macintosh. I took one look at this and my life was changed forever. I knew that (a) I had to have one of these, and (b) I had to write software to run on it. That posed several problems. Firstly, the computer was very expensive (it represented about a year’s income at the time). Secondly, you needed another Apple computer (a Lisa) to develop the software, and that was several times more expensive than the Macintosh.

I was desperate. I created a mini-business plan and offered to write Mac software for (another) local Apple dealer if they would supply me with a Mac, a Lisa, a hard disk (5MB, the size of a shoe box, and took 10 minutes before you could use it after power up), and development software. To my eternal surprise and gratitude they delivered the goods, including photocopied developer documentation with pencilled-in corrections.

I have been developing software for the Mac (almost) continuously for the ensuing 26 years.

To cut a long story short, I eventually relocated to the USA in the early 1990s, and was no longer the only Mac developer in the country I was living in. Nirvana. However, during the 1990s, Apple started to slip towards the abyss, mainly from lack of vision (IMHO). I was forced to write software for Windows, on a succession of PCs.

Then Steve came back to Apple, and it was as if the entire company was jabbed repeated with a giant cattle prod. Things started to happen, the clutter of almost identical products was culled and, after the initially bleating died down, suddenly everyone wanted a Mac.

Apple has gone from being a company that Michael Dell suggested should be dissolved and the few dollars it was worth given back to the shareholders, to arguably the most successful company on the planet, that could buy Dell with pocket change (perish the thought). Apple has gone from a 2% share of the market to a 23% share of new computer sales in the USA. Not to mention completely ruling the roost with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

While much of that success is attributable to the brilliant staff at Apple, they in turn were heavily influenced by Steve Jobs. I hope they continue to be.

RIP, Steve.