It’s quite safe for me to say, without Steve Jobs, I couldn’t do the work I do.
Lets get one thing straight, I don’t use a Mac at work, however without Steve, the software I use wouldn’t exist.
For an explanation, lets go back in time to the seventies.
In 1972, an employee at Xerox PARC, Butler Lampson wrote a memo that led to the design of the Alto Computer. This was notable in that it was the first use of the Graphical User Interface in a form similar to how we know it today. However Xerox were not interested in marketing the idea.
In 1976, High school friends Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne founded Apple to sell kits of the Apple Computer (now known as the Apple 1) that was designed by Wozniak. Two weeks later, Wayne sold his stake in the partnership back to the two Steves and in 1977 Mark Markula provided investment capital and Apple was incorporated as a company.
Apple went on to produce the Apple II which was for a time the worlds best selling computer.
Around the same time, two students Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded a company Microsoft who made a version of BASIC for the Altair computer. They subsequently ported this version of BASIC to the Apple II at Apple’s request as Apple needed a version of BASIC that could do floating point maths.
We’ll return to Microsoft later.
In 1978 Xerox and Apple reached an agreement that led to an exchange of shares between the 2 companies and a chance for a delegation from Apple to visit Xerox PARC.
There was a lot of stuff that you would recognise today there. For example,
- Laser Printers
- Object Oriented Programming languages.
But what really caught Steve Jobs’ eye was the Alto. He was sold on the GUI and decided to bring it to his then current project (LISA).
In 1981 IBM announced the PC, and of interest was the fact that one of the operating systems available for it (in fact the cheapest and therefore the most popular) was called PC-DOS and was licensed from a company called Microsoft. By licensing DOS to IBM Gates had pulled off a masterstroke. He was able to license it to other companies as MS-DOS. The PC and the clones running DOS quickly became the dominant players in the Personal Computer industry.
LISA was a failure, it was far too expensive. However another project within Apple (Macintosh) was in progress with the aim to provide a computer that could compete with IBM on price. Jobs took the project over from Jef Raskin and looked to put the GUI into the Mac. Thus began Steve’s mission to make technology accessible to all. Before Steve’s decision to do this, the GUI was of marginal interest. Nowadays it is completely mainstream.
The Mac was introduced in 1984 marketed as “The computer for the rest of us” due to it being easy to use. Initially there wasn’t much software for it, except that produced by Apple themselves and Microsoft. (we’ll come back to MS in the next paragraph) and sales were slow. This caused a boardroom war within Apple and Steve Jobs found himself sidelined. He left shortly afterwards. The Mac eventually found its niche in that the GUI and it’s simplicity and WYSIWYG interface (initially unique in the commercial market) were ideal for design and publishing.
Microsoft were approached by Apple prior to the release of the Macintosh to produce some new software for it and were loaned a Mac prototype. They produced Excel, a spreadsheet, as Lotus were not interested in producing 1-2-3 for the Mac.
Bill Gates recognised the game was changing and decided to produce a graphical environment that sat on top of DOS to compete with the Mac. This graphical environment was called Windows and continued to evolve in competition with the Mac.
After another project (OS/2) within Microsoft (where they were partners with IBM) was formally dropped, MS’ strategy became focussed on Windows. They released a differing version that didn’t run on DOS known as Windows NT, which became Windows XP in 2001 when the versions that ran on DOS were finally superseded. This is the basis of the software the world works on.
Steve wasn’t idle after leaving Apple. He founded 2 companies. The first called NeXT was a computer company that evolved the GUI concept, initially on its own hardware, on top of the UNIX operating system using technology called Display Postscript and whilst the company was a failure, it was bought by Apple for it’s OS technology.
The other was formed from part of LucasFilm and was called PIXAR. This company was the one that brought CGI animation into the mainstream for films with Toy Story.
In 1996 Apple was in trouble, it’s sales were tanking, and it was desperately looking for a new operating system.
They eventually purchased NeXT. Jobs was back. Gil Amelio was ousted as CEO in a boardroom coup and Jobs stepped in as interim CEO. Under his leadership the design team were given greater freedoms and this showed in the introduction of the iMac. Meanwhile, the NeXTStep operating system was developed into Mac OS X. Apple soon refocussed and returned to prosperity and have re-invented themselves many times.
Steve Jobs has affected the way everyone in business works. He really did achieve his goal of making technology accessible to all, and both Apple’s and their competitors’ products are a testament to that.
He leaves this world with an amazing legacy.
RIP Steve Jobs 1955-2011