Steve Jobs’ passing has caused me to reflect on just how much of my life is directly or indirectly influenced by his work. Although the first computer we had in the house growing up was an Imsai 8080 (you may not recognize the name, but you’ve seen one in War Games with Matthew Broderick), the first computer that was “mine” was an Apple ][. My dad bought a used one for me for Christmas when I was 11 or 12, meaning it was already a couple of years old. But at the the time, a computer could be two years old and still be state of the art. That computer stayed on my desk through high school, and it’s still in a box in my mom’s garage. I got online, on BBSes, for the first time on that computer, using a modem and an I/O card that I think cost my dad about $20, and which were so generic we had to write our own “drivers” (I’m not sure that’s what we called drivers back then, but that’s what they were) to get them to work at all.
At the time, Wozniak was more of an idol to me than Jobs, being the geeky hacker who made it all possible. I didn’t have anything against Jobs of course, but to a kid like me, the Woz was the awesome one. As an adult, I see how important Jobs really was in actually getting that computer onto my desk. I have no doubt that Woz would have made the same computer with or without jobs, and then sold a few dozen as kits to people around Silicon Valley.
I jumped ship to Amiga when that came out. I never had an early Mac. But when I got to college, there was a room full of NeXT computers, so once again I was using Jobs’ creations. Although we had Sun workstations too, the NeXTs were my favorite. I even used them remotely for homework when dialing in by modem from home during the hours the lab was closed (and occasionally when it was open, probably annoying whoever was sitting at the console, most likely wondering why things were so slow that day!), because no one said I couldn’t, and I got a whole machine to myself that way rather than sharing time on the Sun server we were “supposed” to use.
Out of college, my first professional game industry job involved writing the network layer for Close Combat, which ran on both Macs and PCs. That was the first time I really used a Mac, and I actually hated it, but that had a lot to do with how non-standard the network stack on pre-OS X Macs was, since that’s what I was mainly dealing with. Also, the machine I had was a prototype on “loan” from Apple, which I believe my boss eventually told Apple they lost because they didn’t want to spend money on a new one. It had a flaky video connector I had to prop up with a book, and I seem to remember I had the case off of it due to heat problems too. But I never held that against Apple, just my boss, it was not a production machine after all.
My next experience with Apple was inheriting the iBook my dad bought not long before he died. It was his first Apple product since he’d bought me that Apple ][, and I think his favorite computer he’d had in a long time. That was right after OS X had come out, and like me, he’d spent a lot of years on Unix systems. Although I didn’t use that computer as “intended” very much, I did use it as a little low power mail server for a few years, and the few times I did use it like a Mac made me realize Apple was definitely on to something. It was just a little underpowered for actually running OS X. But it was only a few more years before I had a PowerBook of my own. Plus an iPod a couple of years after those came out. I’ve had at least one Apple product in daily use ever since. Right now, there are four within arm’s reach (MacBook, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV remote!). There is almost never a moment I’m without my iPhone. Even if I was using Android phones, I’d still have a lot to thank Steve for.
So although there are significant gaps in there, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve used Jobs’ various products daily for the majority of time I’ve been using computers, and I’ve spent a lot of time on computers. There are other tech industry figures I might admire more than Jobs, but none that have had anywhere near the impact on my life that he did, nor will there ever be anyone else who can match his influence.
Here’s to the crazy ones.