By Amy Castor
Like many of us, I learned about Steve Job’s passing on an Apple device. I was having a glass of wine in Harvard Square, busily checking my Twitter feed on my iPhone, when there it was: “Steve Jobs is dead.”
I knew he was unwell but had no idea he was at death’s door.
I immediately alerted the bartender and any strangers sitting near me at the bar. “Steve Jobs died,” I said, maybe two or three times, so everyone got the message. A man next to me pulled out his MacBook Pro so we could read together the obituary in the New York Times. I motioned to the bartender for another drink. How was it this icon of the computer world and legacy of my youth could suddenly be no more?
Let’s be honest. Jobs had his faults. He could be demanding, brutal and ruthlessly unforgiving. He even parked in handicapped zones. Yet those character blemishes seemed to fall away when compared to the man’s accomplishments.
What I admire most about Jobs is that he was the ultimate marketer. He created a bridge between technology and the people who used it. He had this notion that computers did not have to be these bulky objects we lug around with us. They were meant to move us forward in our lives, not hold us back.
I bought my first Apple laptop, my first Apple product ever, in 2004. I had been shopping for a Windows machine, but gave up when I couldn’t find something stylish enough for my tastes. I wanted a computer I could live with, one that would become a seamless part of my life. I wanted an Apple.
Plus buying an Apple was so much less confusing to buy. Apple computers had real names, not numbers, and the big decision was whether you wanted a 13,” 15” or 17” screen. Jobs knew better than to overwhelm us with too many choices.
My love affair with technology began in the early 80s, when my father brought home a personal computer. A beast of a machine, it was this large metal contraption with a floppy disk drive that you booted the computer from. It was one of the earliest word processing systems, and it ran WordPerfect, which also came on a floppy.
It was the marvel of being able to edit a document on screen that captivated me. Suddenly you had this freedom to create real time.
“Computers are like a bicycle for our minds,” Jobs once said.
My first job out of college was as a Xerox sales rep. The year was 1987, and Xerox was pushing to get into the computer business, so in addition to selling photocopy machines, I also had to sell the Xerox Documenter, a system that consisted of a Xerox 6085 workstation and a 4045 laser printer.
Probably not too many people remember the Xerox 6085. It was an amazingly cool computer that used this new thing called a mouse. It had folders that appeared on a virtual desktop where you could keep files, and it had a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface, meaning your document appeared on screen exactly as it would in print.
The brain child of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the 6085 was years ahead of its time. Combined with a laser printer, it was touted as a complete desktop publishing system for use in creating brochures, newsletters, books, and other documents.
Impressive as the 6085 was, I and many other Xerox sales reps, never sold one. It was an overpriced piece of equipment that Xerox sold through its direct sales force, a troop who knew a lot about copiers and little about computers. Even if you were successful in selling a Documenter, your customer had to wait up to a month for delivery. But the biggest impediment was this: the Documenter simply could not compete with a similar, less expensive, off-the-shelf system known as Macintosh.
The Mac was similar to the Xerox computer for a reason.
In 1979, Jobs and his programmers visited PARC and got a first-hand view of an experimental system, the Xerox Alto. Jobs saw object-oriented programming. He saw Alto computers networked together and sending email. But when he saw the Alto’s mouse-driven graphic user interface with windows, icons, and pull-down menus, the future flashed before his eyes.
“It was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday,” he said in a later interview.
Xerox quite literally gave away its innovations to a 24-year-old.
“They were copier heads who had no clue about what a computer could do,” Jobs spoke candidly in a later interview, adding that “Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry.”
As a result of its mismarketing, Xerox “sold” more 6085s to itself than its customers. I recall a plethora of them around the Xerox offices, available for us sales reps to entertain ourselves with. I used the 6085 to create sales flyers and leave-behinds with beautiful graphics and fonts.
In 1987 after having ousted a 30-year-old Jobs from Apple two year before, John Sculley was helming the Apple ship and handing out to Apple employees (at Apple’s expense) copies of his autobiography “Odyssey,” which outlined his success at PepsiCo and Apple and why getting rid of the difficult Jobs was the best move possible.
For a while, Apple remained leader in the desktop publishing business. When I left Xerox in 1989 and moved on to work at graphic design and ad agencies, I recall the prevalence of Apple computers. Anyone serious about desktop publishing was doing it on a Mac.
But over time Apple seemed to fade into the background. Under the leadership of Sculley and a few other short-term CEOs, the company had stopped innovating, lost its focus and squandered nearly a billion dollars on a go-nowhere product called Newton.
By the mid-90s, Apple was taking on water. Its future looked dim and uncertain until it purchased NeXT, a company Jobs had created during his 11-year absence from Apple. The merger landed Jobs in the position of interim CEO of Apple.
Jobs quickly got the ailing company headed in the right direction. First by cutting R&D projects from 350 to less than 15. And next with the infamous “Think Different” ad campaign, which featured black-and-white photos of innovators through history and Richard Dreyfus narrating the poem “Here’s to the crazy ones.”
It was arguably one of the best ad campaigns of all time.
The last line of the poem, which was written by a copyeditor at Chiat/Day, goes like this: “While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
When iMac (“i” for Internet because it could load its operating system from the Internet) came out in late 1998, it became the best selling computer in the industry, putting Apple back on firm financial footing, and solidifying Job’s position as CEO.
Over the next 12 years, Apple launched a series of computer and consumer products, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad, each as innovative and game changing as the next.
Who would have thought technology could be so aesthetic and have such a profound effect on the way we interact with the world? And who could have imagined so much of it coming from one man’s dogged pursuit of a vision for how computing should be.
He thought he could change the world, and that he did. Here is to you, Steve Jobs.