This is an email I sent to my mailing list a year ago. We miss you, Steve.
I’ve been following Steve closely for more than a decade. Most folks don’t know this, but I ran a Mac-oriented news & opinion site from 1999 to about 2003. Before that, I was “just” a rabid fan.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that if I hadn’t had a Mac, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The Mac — thanks to Steve — taught me about how software should be. And how powerful it can be. And how few people are willing to do what it takes to make good on that potential.
During some of the rockiest times in my life, I got to make a (modest) living studying & writing about something that inspired me — the Mac OS.
I was paying attention when Steve came back to Apple, & I watched as everyone (including me) panned everything he did. I was in the crowd at MacWorld Boston in 1997, when Steve gave his first Stevenote. When the giant screen suddenly switched to Bill Gates’ face. When Steve announced the MS investment & patent sharing deal.
I thought the iMac was cool — but that it would fail. I thought the iPod was going to fail, too. You’d have thought that by 2007, when the iPhone came out, that I would have learned my lesson. But I hadn’t — not yet. I “knew” that the a touch screen keyboard was less usable and that people wouldn’t want it.
But I was wrong, again.
Steve taught me to be wrong.
He showed me what it’s like to do whatever is necessary to survive AND thrive — when nobody believes in you, when even the “rational” market will not recognize the cash value much less potential value of your work, when even your best customers think you are going to fail.
When absolutely everyone in your industry is against what you’re doing.
Steve taught me that to succeed, you have to start small, think different, and do things that seem counter-intuitive… even distasteful.
Microsoft had always been the enemy. Mac fans like me viewed the struggle as a kind of holy war.
And Steve was smart enough to see exactly how limiting that was. How it locked Apple into reacting to MS, instead of being its own creature.
So he bartered with MS… he changed the game from competition to co-opetition… he secured the support of Apple’s worst enemy, secured vital pieces of software for the Mac… and freed Apple to fulfill its larger destiny, beyond the petty “Apple vs Microsoft” dispute.
Steve was brutal. He axed a lot of products that we all loved, like the Newton. He cut out just about everything: the printers, the scanners, the edu models, the vast panoply of Apple products, and cut Apple down to the barest metal.
And rebuilt it.
He played the long game.
He taught me that it’s not only possible, but incredibly powerful to break the rules. Steve killed serial ports. Steve killed the floppy. Steve killed the PowerPC (as far as Apple was concerned). Steve killed CDs.
Steve has already begun the process of killing optical drives, period.
Steve brought us wireless internet for our homes. Before the AirPort, wireless access points were thousands of dollars. Steve made them $300.
Steve democratized pocket computers, and made them something we’d actually want to buy, and use.
Steve made video chatting something anyone could do.
Steve led the creation of a market for software which led to billions of dollars in revenue for dev shops of all sizes.
And those are just the more well-known stories. He also built NeXT. And grew Pixar into one of the best — and only — studios for telling & selling stories. And without Steve, we wouldn’t have such a modern and gorgeous OS. Building a major operating system practically from scratch was an incredibly risky move.
Plus, what about Safari? Without Apple pushing the envelope, the web would look very different today.
And on and on and on.
Did he do all this single-handedly? Of course not. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Would his lieutenants have done it all without him? No. His fingerprints are all over everything.
I’ve never had a proper in-real-life mentor, so what I’ve learned I’ve learned from reading & watching & analyzing.
And there’s nobody I’ve disagreed with, studied, obsessed over, & benefited from — or learned from, and been inspired by — more than Steve Jobs.
I can’t believe he’s truly gone.
But I am damned if I’m going to let those lessons sit on the shelf, gathering dust.
You might also enjoy The iPad, and the Staggering Work of Obviousness.
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