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Friday 7 October 2011

A Memory Of Steve Jobs

Much has already been written in memory of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs, who has passed way too early. Many will remember only the here and now, the iMac, iPod, iPad and iPhone, but the legend of Jobs and Apple starts some way back, with the genesis of personal computing, a concept at the time strange and alien in a world filled with mainframes and other time sharing computer systems.

And that was where I first encountered Apple’s products. Two of them I can commend as game changing, although largely forgotten. The first generation of Apple computers reached its arguably most successful and influential apotheosis in the Apple IIe, typically with no more than 64k of memory and using now largely forgotten operating systems like CP/M.

Despite scepticism from innately conservative IT departments, the Apple IIe could run word processing software, spreadsheets and database packages, all of which delivered real utility to the user – without having to summon specialist computing knowledge. And this was before IBM brought their PC to the marketplace, the name helping these machines to gain wider acceptance.

And even before the IBM PC took firm hold of many corporate desktops, Apple had brought us the icon driven desktop – controversially taking many of the ideas developed at Xerox PARC – initially in the shape of another now forgotten machine, the Lisa. The machine could be slow and clunky, and it wasn’t cheap, but the ideas that later drove the Apple Mac started here.

The Lisa came out years before Microsoft managed a half reliable Windows desktop, and even then, those of us who used (say) Windows 3.1 in a commercial environment knew to save work regularly and to be able to bring applications back up in the right sequence, for those all-too-regular occasions when the machine would crash – and invariably without warning.

So, while others look at what Apple has done in the recent past, my memories of the company, and of Steve Jobs, are those now forgotten machines that brought personal computing to the masses even before IBM arrived, and gave us the kind of desktop that many still use today.

Those alone justify the attention that Jobs’ memory is now attracting.

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