Late, I know, but worth a few words.

Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple, has had a huge impact on my life. Since grade six, when I found an Apple IIe (sorry: Apple //e) and discovered the joys of programming in AppleSoft BASIC, my die was cast. I hung around Apple resellers in high school, wishing I could afford a Mac; I looked through Mac magazines and picked my favourite fonts from font ads (Claude Sans I liked at the time). My father shared this passion for technology with me. We’d look over these things together, and he wanted a Mac too. We did have a CAT, an Apple II clone, which I had used all through high school for assignments, but it was time to upgrade.

Eventually, my parents bought a Mac LC, on paper for the family but (of course) mostly for me. Much discussion was had about the configuration we’d choose: with two floppy drives or with a single floppy drive and a 40MB hard drive? With a larger 640×480 monitor in 256 (8-bit) colours, or a smaller 512×384 monitor and 16-bit colour? Those 16MHz were pushed to their limits, and eventually I installed a video output card (the screensaver Satori played at a club one night) or a maths co-processor that I used to render 3D models a frame at a time. That one was fun: the render was controlled by a text file, full of all the instructions for the scene. During ad breaks in the Friday 13th movie I was watching, I’d uncomment a single line, set the render off, then head back down to the TV. Next break, I’d come back up, re-comment the previous line, and uncomment the next one before setting it off again. This was not a simple project; the animation was of a bubble rising from a sink in front of two mirrors with a camera swooping around in front (using sine waves for smoothness). It’s all a little easier now.

Since then, I’ve owned:

  • A Mac SE which sat at the end of my bed which I wrote my Honours thesis on (in Nisus Writer)
  • A Power Macintosh (7300/140?) which I created some multimedia projects with)
  • A PowerBook G3 (bronze keyboard, 400MHz) which could play DVDs and cost about $7000
  • A sunflower iMac G4, utterly awesome for the time
  • A PowerBook G4 12″ (2004) which was small, cute, and useful
  • A white iMac 17″ which seems a long time ago
  • A MacBook Pro (2006) which was my primary Mac for some time
  • A Mac mini (2009) which sits under the TV as a media centre
  • A Mac Pro (2009) which I’m typing on now
  • A MacBook Pro 13″ (2011) which is an awesome, portable  training box
  • And of course a succession of iPhones and iPads, though not a 3GS.

The first Macs I had weren’t made while Steve was in charge, but he set them in motion. The changes he brought in 1984 to the general computing world are still with us, and the continuation of that with the iPad in 2010 (just last year!) will spur more changes to the otherwise mostly stagnant desktop environment. Lion has changed things already. In a few years time, Macs will have touch screens and will likely function in a similar way to iPads for much of the time. The distinction will blur, and Windows 8 is going the same way, with a tablet interface front and centre.

As anyone who’s worked in a large organisation knows, committees have a tough time changing things. Big change comes from above, without warning. Steve did that, famously dismissing focus groups: “If Henry Ford had asked consumers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse” and simply making what he wanted to use. No committee forced the inclusion of some “vital” feature (like a “call” button, or a hardware keyboard, or F-keys on the earliest Macs), and the result upturned industries. That single-minded focus doesn’t make friends with everyone — but it does make the majority happy. Of course, we’re all part of minorities too, and won’t like every choice.

(Side note regarding openness: I’m happy knowing that there’s no malware in the App Store, but disappointed that I can’t exercise my own judgement regarding apps that contain nudity, swearing or anything else that’s deemed objectionable. On balance? The web is still open, web apps can be saved to the home screen just like App Store apps, and I’d rather not need antivirus software on my phone.)

What Steve also did was to bring a sense of the importance of design to technology. It defined my career. I could create and edit videos on my Mac, so I did. I could design on my Mac, so I did. Every creative thing I’ve done since school has been done on a Mac, or an iPhone. Something Steve invented. It’s absolutely remarkable for one man, who I never met, to have such an influence on so much of my life.

All I can say is thank you, and rest in peace.