When I got my first computer, I knew that the revolution had arrived. But from day one, I knew that the way my brain was wired and the way most computers were wired just didn’t sync up.
Microsoft and the PC revolution was a revolution of numbers and data. PCs made screens that were full of boxes and numbers, and gaudy colors like blue and red. In order to manage a PC you had to think like one, embrace the blue screen of death, and frankly be able to turn off your esthetic sensibility. This wasn’t a big deal at the time, as computers were there to manage pages of numbers in VisiCalc.
But the early Mac SE II was the first hint that the future of computing wouldn’t be reserved for the left-brain crowd. The team of Jobs and Woz were building computers that embraced the hand rather than the numeric keyboard, and thought about icons and pictures rather than pages of often harshly worded text. Simply put, Apple was building a computer that was programmed to work with my brain.
So even as the PC revolution continued, and more and more machines found their way on to the desktops of the office and workplace, Apple was building an alternative universe of tools that embraced pictures, music, and the creation of content.
At first the Mac was a toy, a graphical interloper in a world of math. Then, it began to make in roads in the world of content creation. Graphic designers, video editors, and other creative types found that the Mac just did a better job of connecting with them. Even then, back in 1985, I suspected that the Mac did a better job of connecting with people rather than “work,” but Apple was more expensive, and less embraced by business, so it lived in the shadow of the PC.
And so it continued, with the Apple Mac being the fun alternative to the more stodgy, but also more ubiquitous, PC. But the Apple folks continued to embrace a new way to compute, a more intuitive interface, and programming languages like hypercard that were driven by visual stories and a way to engage humans on their most human level.
What Apple invented, innovated, and shared was a story-telling device, with programming being a way to invite users to share stories that might well have never emerged otherwise. Certainly Xerox was in part responsible for the invention of the mouse, and the initial language of Smalltalk. But they didn’t have the drive or passion to move it from the labs to the public. It took Jobs and Woz to do that.
And it wasn’t until the iPod that Jobs found a way to push his vision out of the edge of the computer world and to center stage. How did he do that? By understanding that things like music, stories, and images were core to human computing–and really could be the next evolution of the computer revolution.
What would the web look like today without Jobs? It’s almost hard to imagine.
What he understood in a way that no one else did was that it wasn’t possible to create a revolution with either software or hardware. The revolution required innovation of both the physical computer and the ideas that powered it. So while Microsoft focused on software, and companies like Dell, HP, and Compaq built hardware, Apple continued to toil in the world of both consumer hardware and software.
The reason why Apple has such a passionate community of fanboys (and girls) is that for a very long time those of us who works with images and sounds and video were essentially ignored by the mainstream computer world while Apple loved us, and expressed their love in insanely awesome products.
Jobs has said that a computer is a bicycle of the mind. What many forget is that a bicycle is tool that is used by everyone from children to adults, around the world, and with no language barrier. Yes, it’s a tool that gives people the ability to get places faster, but it’s also democratic. It is open to users from old to young. It speaks in a language that embraces rather than excludes. And, it’s fun to use.
As Apple moves to a new chapter in its history, it’s worth taking a moment to ask, what would the Web be like without the Macintosh computer? Without the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad? What would content be like without Final Cut Pro, without H264 video, without the ability to capture, create, and share images and sounds and ideas seamlessly?
It’s easy to credit Jobs and the Apple team for the devices they’ve created. But the impact of the nexus of software and hardware they’ve created is far more powerful. The iTunes store is the first truly functional micro-payment ecosystem for content. The App Store is creating an opportunity for thousands of web developers to create applications and make a living creating and selling software.
When you look at all the pieces, and how they’re knit together, you can see how the web as we have come to use it in our daily lives is the vision of Steve Jobs, and his tools and platforms and software are the underpinnings of its very nature.
That, I believe, will be his legacy.
UPDATE: Friend @matthewsimon on Twitter reminds me that Tim Berners-Lee (TimBL) wrote the very first web browser and web server using NeXT computers in 1989-1990. TimBL credited the power of the NeXTStep platform (Job’s software venture outside of Apple) for making that difficult problem something a small team could really accomplish. Further confirming my thinking that Job’s was critical in the creation of the web. Thanks Simon 🙂
[Image: Flickr user nimboo]