Steve Jobs ★★★

It was 1982, and I was starting a basement hardware / software company; principally to build automation and graphic display systems for television channels, the field I worked in. I was a tech for a cable company at that point, and our master control department was responsible for playing back over 20 channels and taking care of at least another 25 ‘alpha numeric’ channels. I came from being a playback operator, and the workload was tremendous as the number of channels we were responsible for grew, and after I graduated to being a tech, wanted to create something that would make things easier for my playback op mates. In those early days, I could afford neither an Apple II or the brand new IBM PC, so my hardware of choice was from an obscure little company back in those days that produced a sub $500 all-in-one board called, uniquely enough, the ‘superboard’ and built my first product, a device that would allow a cable operator to input ( skim from TV Guide magazine ) program listings and display them on a cable channel. I came up with the brilliantly creative name TVG-1

The OSI Superboard II was great because the hardware and firmware was totally open and the schematics and assembly language BIOS published, and more importantly there was a local ‘computer club’ where we all could get together and share hardware designs and custom ROM’s. This was much the same community that Jobs and Wozniak and Gates flourish in on the sunny shores of California.

Making the TV Listings machines was a pain, though, as ( you can see from the photo ) there was a lot of monkeying around fabricating the case and wire-wrapping the I/O boards. I now needed to move on to a computer that actually had its own case, and offered expansion ‘slots’ that I could make boards for ( my photo etching printed circuit board skillz had recently been blossoming ). This was the way of the future.

It was late ’83 by now, and although it was still the Wild West, it was coming down to the now venerable Apple II vs. the IBM PC. IBM captured a lot of attention with its Charlie Chaplin Little Tramp ads, its detachable keyboard, and their incredible legacy as the giant of the computer industry. Apple, on the other hand, was the feisty little company that emerged from the home-brew computer clubs to first define to the public was a personal computer was. IBM had copied everything that Apple, or rather Wozniak, had done right with the Apple II. A motherboard with a bunch of expansion slots, published schematics and hardware design guides for building cards, and published firmware. I spent a lot of time studying both architectures, and Wosniak’s was the better; it had an elegance that the workman like IBM didn’t. Even though companies like Zenith were jumping on IBM’s open architecture, and Bill Gates nonpartisan OS, DOS, Apple was from my roots, and the hardware more elegant. I began developing for the Apple II.

I was still working for a cable company at the time, and a management friend of mine told me about this Apple product launch he had been invited to, and asked me if I wanted to come. It was the Macintosh launch at the McGill club ( trez exclusive ). The presenter went through the demo, which I think included drawing a sneaker with MacPaint, and it was pretty impressive. ( At the time I didn’t know anything about the Xerox Star, from which the tech was purloined ). I was excited, I was sure I backed the right horse. After the presentation, I went up to the team that was there, told them how I was developing TV automation products for the Apple II, and how I could get the API’s, expansion slot hardware schematics, etc, to start developing for the Macintosh. Their answer .. you can’t. Of course I asked why, and they responded that the Macintosh was a closed system, and only fortune 500 technology companies would be able to participate in their Macintosh development program. I asked them about the huge grass roots development community that made the Apple II what it was, and the response was, basically, we don’t care. This is different. Yes, different. I decided to go for the same. I then bet on IBM and Bill Gates, and have continued to do so for the past 34 years.

The first 15 minutes of Steve Jobs neatly outlined exactly my experience. The broadest stroke of the film outlines a confident and arrogant leader who didn’t give a shit about anything other than his vision. As it turns out, his vision was pretty on the mark, as Apple is now the most valuable company on the planet. His tutelage, not his skill, ( which the film, and Jobs himself always admitted ) made a team who made great things out of technology that was already all around them. Apple was never ground-breaking, they were just like Sony in the 70’s. They made something that was already common place, better … better to such a degree that people flocked to them.

My biggest problem with Steve Jobs the film was his vilification based on his personal life. I don’t give a shit that Boyle and Sorkin were going after the ‘personal angle’. It has no place in this story. The legacy of this man is what he did in business and technology, and if they wanted him to look like a prick, but a complex and brilliant prick, there were many business avenues to do so. There was no need to bring in probably mostly circumstantial accounts.

I still won’t use his products, but I respect how he changed and advanced the landscape of technology.

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