Apple reflections

The web is full of tributes to Steve Jobs since his death October 5. I can't say I met him, although I would have liked to. Like most others, my encounters with Jobs came through the products he helped create.

I first met the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) through the Apple ][+. The computer lab in my junior high school was still a relatively new concept, and stocked with around 20 (then) state of the art Apple ][+ with 64kB RAM, 5.25" floppy disk drives and 10" monitors. The first thing everybody in the computer class had to do was become proficient in touch typing, so Typing Tutor occupied most of the class time. There was also a lot of game playing and I remember a game based on the Olympics was particularly popular. I still hear the echoes of frantic key mashing in my head.

When I was in high school, dad surprised us by bringing home an Apple //e with the green screen monitor. Using money I made from delivering papers, I augmented it over time with an 80 column/128kB RAM expansion card, printer, joystick and a second 5.25" floppy drive. I put my touch typing skills to work entering in programs from Nibble magazine. I never really became much of a programmer (I could do it, just not well) but I did learn how to read assembly language. I did a lot of game playing too, with Ultima and Wizardry occupying much of my time.

My high school computer lab was equipped with a bunch of Apple //gs' and eventually Macintoshes, although I never got a chance to play with them much. I enjoyed playing on computers and going through code to see how programs worked, but I was never as into them as some of my other computer friends were.

My next encounter with Jobs came in my last year of undergrad. It came in the form of seeing a NeXT Cube. It was love at first sight. After working in the IBM and MS DOS world for the past few years, the NeXT Cube and NeXTSTEP was nothing short of a revelation. The next few years saw me administering a network of NeXTstations (grayscale and colour) and eventually NeXTSTEP running on Intel machines. To me, NeXTSTEP was the absolute pinnacle of computer operating systems and GUIs. MS Windows was a sad third rate product and the Macintosh OS looked old and primitive by comparison.

After Jobs' return to Apple, and the disappearance of NeXTSTEP (which was eventually reincarnated as MacOS X) into the bowels of Apple, we parted ways. Since then my encounters with Jobs via Apple products have been few and far between, usually limited to handling other people's Apple products. It's not that I ever had anything against them. I've always admired the beauty and ingenuity of post-Jobs Apple 2.0 products. I even came pretty close to replacing my old PC with a 27" iMac (which I still mildly lust after).

For me, Steve Jobs will always be associated with the original Apple, the Apple ][ line and NeXT/NeXTSTEP. To me, that is where his true genius lay. Not Apple 2.0, or the i* products that everybody else has associated with him but with the cutting edge products he helped develop. He was truly visionary with the Apple ][ and NeXT. They were all ahead of their time, but eventually grew into or morphed into huge successes.

That's the Steve Jobs I remember.