I’ll be far from alone in creating a blog post to mark the sad and untimely death of one Mr Steven Paul Jobs. But I thought I’d comment on the different ways in which people have attempted to sum up his inimitable legacy.
It’s pretty easy to get carried away with what Jobs actually achieved. I’m not one for gushing at all (even though this article is fairly inspiring with it). Nevertheless, being the main “Mac head” at work a few people did wonder whether I would be mourning the loss.
The answer was no. Not really. I started with Apple stuff pretty early – I remember using the Mac Classic at college and also remember quite clearly the furore over System 7 when it came out. The funny thing is though, almost all my experience with computers has been WIMP based. I didn’t really appreciate the value of the Mac interface until I came into contact with Windows 3.1 in about 1995. But then the benefit was clear.
However I have always been persuaded by the unsung heroes of the Mac GUI that really the basis of the Mac’s interface is more defined by its constraints than what it can do. Even Jakob Nielsen, the much derided usability guru of NN/g Group, wrote a paper in 1996 explaining how the notion of a desktop, a disk drive and files is basically derived from an out of date metaphor that certainly had very little place in today’s “connected society”. (Note for young-uns: in 1996 the sound of a dial-up modem stood between you and the Interweb).
For each of Jobs’ heralded revolutionary steps forward over the past 20 years (iMac, OSX, iPod & iTunes, MacBook, iPhone, iPad), there has always been the naysayers who said this or that could have been done better, pushed further, or (critically) priced more sensibly. And yet the fact remains that no one single person or commercial organisation can claim to achieve as much as he and Apple have done to change the paradigm of modern computing. Even though ironically that paradigm is largely the same as 20 years ago.
So there are two ways you can look at the Jobs legacy (that is if you’re not being as emptily sarcastic as The Onion). He is either the crazed genius inventor with a personal vision to create products that change the world. Or he is the smart marketer with a control freak’s eye for industry verticals that are ripe for the taking.
Either way, he will be a hard act to follow. Which will make watching what Apple come up with next even more interesting. Steve’s gone now, we’re going to have to do his job for him.