Thursday, 6 October 2011

The boy Jobs is gone

Lamenting the late Steve Jobs

I do not own an Apple product. I do not like Apple products because currently they are over priced and technically dubious. That is my view and is worth a good deal more than you paid for it. So why is the world mourning (and if it isn't, it should be) the passing of a vegetarian Buddhist who had absolutely no environmental concerns what so ever?

Because he was there at the beginning?
Admittedly he was building computers before IBM built their PC, before MircoShaft wrote their rubbish and before His Royal Holiness Sir Tim Berners-Lee built the interweb. No, his contribution is far greater than just being there when it started. The Altair 8080 can quite rightly lay claim to being the very first home computer, even though it was only usable by the most serious of geeks. Jobs looked at that and decided what it needed was a keyboard and maybe a VDU. Sounds obvious now, but revolutionary thinking back in the 70's. Though he did set a certain standard with the Apple II. It had a simple flip top lid allowing easy access to the innards of the computer. The new standard being if you flipped it, you invalidated the warranty.

In 1981 IBM released the XT Personal Computer and within six months it was the industry standard. If it was not an IBM compatible PC, it was not worth having. Unlike the Apple, it was built of off the shelf parts so the average user could build it to their own configuration. Jobs looked at it and decided what it needed was that GUI stuff they invented over at Xerox PARC a few years ago. The result was expensive and did not bother your average office drones or home user much. Unless you worked in publishing where it became the de facto standard. Every journalist and type setter in the country chose the Macintosh as their tool of preference. Graphic designers started to follow suit. This gave Apple an admittedly niche, but vast and still existent, user base. Despite the Luddite oppression of middle managers and their evil, small minded, attempts to prevent the introduction of WIMPs into the work place, I imagine there are very few people left working on eighty by twenty five text screen terminals. Though Roger, a previous manager and total dick, preferred reading three and a half million lines of code through a VT420 machine rather than a graphical interface with True Type fonts. He could not see the point of a GUI, so nobody in the office was allowed to use one. After I killed him his obituary did not add up to much more than 'Gone, soon to be forgotten'. So, because of people like this, Apple sacked Jobs. A sentence that contains everything you need to know about management.

Here we come to Jobs' most important contribution to computing. Not all that iBollocks frippery that came later, they are just gewgaws and trinkets. Steve Wozniak said that Jobs developed products that people enjoyed using not just working on. The product that Jobs developed at this time was the NeXT computer. And who enjoyed using NeXTStep and the NeXT Cube? The characters over at id Software and His Royal Almightiness Sir Tim Berners-Lee to name just two.

There are certain cultural events whose importance it is difficult to overstate, especially as we peer back at them through the mists of time and consider them mundane. Heartbreak Hotel led the immortal John Lennon to pronounce that music had two time periods, Before Presley and After Presley. Similarly in the computing world there is Before Doom and Gaming Machines. By this time MicroShaft Windozes was a steam roller of a product, but even they had to delay the launch of 95 until they could prove that it could play Doom. As for the achievements of His Royal Supremeness Sir Tim Berners-Lee, well you are reading this aren't you? The NeXT Cube upon which he ran the first web server, developed HTTP and the first web browser are stored in a museum in Zurich where they are worshipped daily with ritual human sacrifice. And quite rightly so.

Would these two events have come about without Jobs? Of course. Also he had no direct involvement in their creation. Yet they used his machines, machines so successful that Apple bought the company for an amount of money that I cannot even begin to comprehend. Jobs was not only back in Apple, he was back running the company again.

Then he went all 'i'.

The iMac, a transparent computer that set new standards in design; it had a shit keyboard, a mouse that did not work, no floppy drive and a read only CD drive. And all for just three times the price of an XT compatible.

The iBook, a low spec. laptop aimed at the education market. No, I had never heard of it either.

The iPod, a stylish must have thing for people on the go; a machine for making your ears bleed using sound with all the quality of medium wave radio.

iTunes, every song ever recorded for 99p each; with the exception of every song that I want to hear, including the Beatles back catalogue. At a bandwidth that would make the cassette tape player in my dad's old Ford Cortina vomit with disgust. Installed iTunes on my pc last week. When it came to uninstalling I found three new services and four other products that it had somehow left behind and refused to remove.

The iPhone, does everything in one hand held device. Everything except record voice, customize ring tones with your own mp3s, send MMS messages, replace the battery, voice dialling, instant messaging and simple cut and paste. And all for more than you would pay for a desktop computer. (Some of these faults have been rectified in the later versions, but not all and at the expense of being able to make phone calls. Still more expensive than a desktop).

The iPad, a what ever, for pillocks with too much money. What has my netbook got that the iPad hasn't? Well, a keyboard, a USB port, a card reader and a hard drive for four. All for less than half the price. Apple are also currently suing every other manufacturer of computer hardware in the world, claiming they infringe copyright. This is what gave IBM such a bad name when they did the same thing with their software litigation.

These lumps of shit all sell well. So does crack cocaine. Sales are a pretty poor bench mark for quality. I do not allow them into my life so they cannot ruin my shit. Unlike the workers at his Foxconn factory in China. Conditions are so horrendous that there have been fourteen suicides in the sixteen months leading up to May 2011 (Apple addressed this problem by putting up jump proof netting). Twenty Chinese universities described the factories as labour camps and detailed worker abuse and illegal overtime. And let us not forget the child labour they employ. When the authorities in China accuse you of harsh practise, it must be the stuff of nightmares.

So why should we be mourning him? Because he set up the digital effects house Pixar, that's why.