In the mid 80s I joined a company called Vickers Shipbuilding as a draughtsman – my first proper job after art school. To be honest my colleagues soon realised I was a round peg in a square hole, so I ended up getting involved in all the slightly new and weird things in the office that no-one else could be bothered with.
One of these was a brand new computer, complete with a hard disk (20mb – pretty cutting edge at the time), a green screen with a flickering thing in the top left hand corner and, of course, MS-DOS 3.2. I’d been fooling about with little computers at home, which ran various versions of BASIC and whose only data storage facility was a cassette tape, so this was a great advance for me.
Then, a few months later, someone further down the office got a new computer too. It was a small cream coloured box with a very small black and white (white, mark you) screen enclosed in the same case, and this thing on the end of a wire – which seemed to be essential for it’s operation – called a mouse. It was an Apple Macintosh. Most people laughed at it, and shook their heads at yet another indication of the foolishness of the Vickers procurement department, who couldn’t even buy a proper computer.
Eventually the new machine’s owner let me play around with it. It was astounding. It said “hello” when you switched it on. You did everything inside little boxes called windows, which you could drag about by clicking and moving the mouse. You could actually see all the applications you could use, and you launched them by, once again, clicking the mouse. To delete things you actually grabbed hold of them with the mouse and dragged them into a little dustbin.
(Interestingly this dustbin was called “Wastebasket”, since the Mac had been told it was in England and not the US, where the same dustbin was called “Trash”. An early example of Apple’s sensitivity to it’s international markets.)
And you could use this mouse to draw with. You could make shapes and shade them and move them around. But the most fabulous thing was, from a former design student’s point of view, that you could actually recognise the typefaces on the screen. I could choose Times Roman, or Helvetica, or Univers – names that were soon to become familiar to everyone as fonts, but which up to that point had been known only to people involved in print.
It was the first modern computer.
A few years later I’d had enough of the defence industry and wanted to go back to design. I bought my own Macintosh – a Mac IIcx, since you’re interested, and a LaserWriter printer. I had to re-mortgage my flat to raise the £10,000 (yes, that’s ten thousand pounds) it cost me. And that was when £10,000 was a lot of money. And it was only that cheap because I bought it from a dodgy “grey importer” – if I’d gone to an AppleCenter it would have cost £16,000.
I have often speculated how things would have turned out if, instead of buying the IIcx, I’d bought £10,000 of Apple stock in 1990. I have a feeling I would by now be living on my yacht. I try not to think about this too much.
So I’ve been living with Apple products for over 25 years. I had no idea they’d turn out to be computers in my pocket, with which I could call the world or look-up any piece of information I could imagine.
And the driving force behind all that, the man whose will and personality made it happen, died last night.
I’m not so surprised by the sneering nature of so many of the media comments this morning. There seems to be a belief that Steve Job’s business, his success, was all just smoke and mirrors. That he was just Bill Gates with hyperbole. That Apple is just Microsoft, but cooler.
I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed. Jobs was far from a saint, but he was an extraordinary, creative, intuitive individual, who has changed my life for the better. There was simply no-one in the technology world who led him, but there are so many followers.
There’s a story that always sticks in my mind about Jobs. In an interview he gave during his years of exile from Apple (when he was busy adding his wit and will to the film industry, resulting in Toy Story). Somehow the interview got onto the subject of washing machines, and he described how he and his wife had just bought a new machine for their home in California.
He talked about how they’d looked at everything on the market, from the huge American machines that could do everything, to small European models that took a smaller load but used a lot less energy. He laid out the arguments for and against each alternative. He knew all the details.
At this point Jobs was a very rich man. He could buy all the washing machines he could want, and use as much energy as he liked, but he’d studied the subject. How many billionaires would do that?