“I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.”
    Steve Jobs, in his August, 2011, resignation letter to Apple, Inc.'s board of directors.

I'm not a celebrity chaser. Most of the time I don't care what the rich and famous are up to. I rarely get emotional about the passing of people I don't know or never met. I may be surprised by the death of a notable person; this is usually because I've not paid attention to their status, didn't know they were ailing, or was unaware of whatever issue brought them down. There are exceptions, of course. Like millions of us, I know where I was and what I was doing when I heard President Kennedy was shot, when Princess Di died, and a few others. Mostly, though, when I hear of the death of someone famous I'll think, “Who?”, or “Oh, I didn't realize she was still alive.”

Sad Mac

Naturally, my reaction may be different when I learn of the passing of someone who's left a mark on my life. The death of an actor, musician, artist, or author whose work I've particularly enjoyed may result in a few moments of introspection. Peter Sellers, John Lennon, Galen Rowell, Arthur C. Clarke; I'll think about their work, perhaps remember a book or movie or perhaps a live concert. I'll no doubt feel a little sad that there will be no more such work.

Very rarely, the loss of one of these people will have a greater affect; the death of Steve Jobs on 5 October, 2011, was one of those cases. The print and on-line media were full of praise, quotes, cartoons, Jobs interviews, brief biographies, timelines, ad nauseam, so I won't repeat any of that here. This article isn't about Jobs's life; it's about Jobs's impact on the lives of millions, and in particular, mine.

Insanely Great?

I got my first Macintosh, an SE with internal hard drive, in 1988. This was three years after Jobs had been booted out of Apple. My wife, Pat, and I both used Macs and Apple LaserWriter printers at work, so the choice made sense. The SE was small, reasonably portable, came equipped with a suite of useful programs, was great-looking, and was very easy to use. With it I wrote the software that would help run the business Pat would start later that year. In 1991 I bought a Mac IIsi. The press was highly critical of the IIsi, but it worked well for me. With it I did technical writing, wrote software, and did graphic design for clients for several years.

In 1996 I got a job working for a small tech company in Ohio. (Later that year Jobs returned to Apple and began its transformation into the company it is today). I worked there for over 12 years, becoming the Engineering Manager, and later the Software Quality Assurance Manager. I was hired because I had experience as a Macintosh user and programmer; the company had several peripheral products for the Mac, but had no one on staff with any Mac experience. When I was hired they had a single, much abused Mac Classic, used for testing all of their Mac products.

While many people at Apple had a hand in the creation of these machines, I believe it was Jobs's vision and marketing savvy that led to their development and to the quality of the experience of using them. Without Jobs there may have been an Apple Computer (now Apple, Inc.), and there may have been something like the Mac. But it's certain we got the products we did from Apple because of Jobs's drive, attention to detail, and knowledge of what we wanted, whether we knew it or not. It's because of Jobs these products were great looking, capable, highly integrated (that is, they didn't behave like collections of hardware and software invented on different planets), easy to use, and built to last.

Jobs called the universe of Mac products "Insanely great." I never did, but I loved using them, and made a good living with them in my toolbox.

That's not to say there weren't problems, that some Apple products weren't flops. But Jobs had a remarkable ratio of successes to failures; he did things no one else would have done, in a way no one else would have done them. Apple's successes changed the world.

Full Circle

Fast forward a decade-plus. For most of that period I'd made my living thanks to Microsoft. I'd given away my last Mac; we had Windows computers at home. I'd worked with DOS, a couple of unusable early versions of Windows, and then all versions of Windows operating systems from 3.1 through Vista (some of which were also notoriously challenging to use), including Windows Server. I'd done hundreds of OS installs on all manner of hardware, spent thousands of hours of troubleshooting, and had done a fair amount of hacking to make my (and my employers', and my employers' customers') computers perform as needed. I'd built and administered servers, networks, and automated deployment systems. I'd used many of Microsoft's software development tools, some extensively. I hadn't seen or touched a Mac in years, didn't know much about Apple products, and had no reason to care. Life was good. Except when it wasn't. Viruses and malware, OS and application updates going wrong, random (and not infrequent) system crashes and BSODs, nastiness within the ever-growing complexity of the Windows registry, and the occasional hardware failure led to the endless need to troubleshoot computers rather than work on my engineering projects. My work life, and to some degree my personal life, felt like a constant immersion in all things Windows. I was happy enough with this. I'm a “techie” by nature, love tinkering with things, and have a need to know how and why things work. Windows was a playground, if a frequently frustrating one, and I was being paid to play.

In early 2007 Windows Vista arrived, promising to be more stable and more secure. It surely was, but at a high cost: it was annoying to use, required far too much user interaction, and didn't work with some popular peripheral products, most especially printers. It had high storage, memory, and processor power requirements compared to the OS it replaced (XP). I won't beat that dead horse; it's been done, and Vista has long since been replaced by an operating system people seem to like.

By this time I'd immersed myself in photography, and used a Windows XP computer for film scanning, all image processing, and printing. The computer was old and slow; a modern replacement was needed. I've described my decision-making process elsewhere—please give that a read to learn why I now use a Mac for my image processing and printing. We still have several Windows XP computers in regular use here, but only one, my storage server, has any connection to my photography business.

The Legacy

The Mac Pro is a workstation-class machine: large, heavy, all metal construction, high-capacity power supply, plenty of room in the chassis for expansion, built like a tank. It was expensive, but insignificantly more than a similarly well-built and equipped Windows system. It's nice looking, in my opinion, but mine sits on the floor between a desk and a file cabinet, so appearance isn't critical. It's extremely quiet, which is important. It has more connectivity options than I can use. Importantly, it works well with my storage server (as mentioned, a Windows machine), and it also works with all three printers here, including a 1999 vintage HP “kitchen table” type of color printer. This printer also works fine with the Windows XP computers here, but both HP and Microsoft dropped support for it when Vista was released. This printer is over ten years old and is rarely used, but it was a nice surprise to discover the Mac OS included adequate drivers for it.

Here's where Steve Jobs's influence affects what I do every day: I don't have to tinker with the Mac. I've never had to resolve a failed Apple Software update installation. I've never had a corrupted file. I don't have to deal with system lock ups, BSODs, or system slow-downs. Perhaps I'm just lucky so far—I know there are plenty of Mac users who have had these problems. In a sense, I don't use the Mac. Instead, I use the applications I need to get things done: e-mail, Web browsing, FTP client and programming editor (for Web site maintenance), “office” application suite, Photoshop and associated applications, address book and calendar, page layout program, and others I use less often. While none of these programs is bug-free and a couple are outright annoying to use, Jobs's legacy is in the simple fact that the Mac “just works” (a much ridiculed phrase, I know), letting me do the work I need to do without thinking about the computer, without any real need to know how it works or what's going on under the hood. I may fight with some application or other, but never with the computer or its operating system. For most of us, and perhaps most of all for artists and other creative people, a computer that gets out of the way so we can create is priceless.

Sunset panorama, Ninepipe NWR, Moise, Montana, U.S.

A September sunset at the Ninepipe NWR near Moise, Montana. This was made from nine frames, assembled using Photoshop's PhotoMerge application, with final optimization for printing in Photoshop. The Mac Pro never makes me wait for anything, including the processing of 60+ megapixel images such as this.

One has to wonder what will happen to Apple now that Jobs is gone. I want to believe what he said in his resignation letter. The company has new products in the pipeline, enough to cover the next several years. Jobs was a significant contributor to those. Product planning, development, and release are on-going processes, of course. It won't be long before we'll see products created without Jobs. But I think his influence will live on. I've no doubt "What would Steve do?" will be asked in the halls of Apple's Engineering and Marketing departs for many years to come.

October, 2011

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