A brief history of computers – the role of Steve Jobs and the Mac vs. PC wars
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An incredibly condensed summary of Steve Jobs career highlights
In case you haven’t read two biographies of Steve Jobs – or you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years! – Steve Jobs is one of the co-founders of Apple Computers, one of the first (Apple would say “the first”) personal computer companies. As the company grew and Jobs was in charge of a couple of business failures, the Apple III and the LISA, he found himself kicked out of the company he founded. He went on to try his hand at another computer company, NeXT. He also bought Pixar and carried them through until they found success with Disney. Then in a twist of events, a flailing Apple bought NeXT, Jobs once again was in charge of Apple and was highly influential in turning that company around with the successes of the ipod, iphone, and ipad.
Following the history of Apple computers and PC was particularly interesting because my husband Tim, a software engineer, has always been an avid PC (personal computers, or IBM clone) fan. I know that people who don’t have much to do with computers find the PC vs. Apple wars baffling, but in light of the history timeline, Tim’s extreme partiality to PCs makes sense to me now. Apple first made it’s appearance and dominated during the mid 1970s. My husband got his computer education during the 80s and early 90s, when Apple computers really were inferior to PCs and impossible for software engineers. I remember him telling me again and again that there was no way to get to a command line on a Mac, so they were useless for computer programmers. (Remember those days? Probably not. Yes, I know I’m showing my age with that.)
By the time Apple started improving its computers, we were at a point where we certainly weren’t going to pay more for a product that was “just as good” as a PC. Part of Jobs turning Apple around was to study how luxury brands, like Gucci, got their customers to pay more for their products. Well, we’ve never bought a Gucci, or anything like it, so we certainly weren’t going to pay more for an Mac, even if I had been complaining for years that computers were ugly, and now the Mac laptops came in range of colors. I wished, but I didn’t open up my pocketbook.
Enter the ipod.
I got the idea, as a children’s author interested in ebooks, that we should get our kids ereaders. I decided to let Tim, as the technical expert, decide which one. At the time there were three main contenders for ereaders: the Kindle, the Nook, and the ipod. I think it’s safe to say that our kids have never been more shocked than when they opened their ipods on Christmas day. In fact, when they had the wrapper off and could only see the box, they thought it was a joke!
I’m not sure quite how to explain how my decision to get the kids ereaders led to Tim deciding they “needed” ipods, other than to say that Apple had released a product amazing enough to tempt even the staunchest PC advocate. The price wasn’t too far off from the other ereaders of the time, and it could do so much more. Meanwhile, our youngest, who has a good sense of design, now really wants and iphone and thinks android phones are, quite frankly, ugly. (She doesn’t have either, yet.)
And Steve Jobs was a big part of the design and release of the ipod.
So how did he pull it off? How did he, a college dropout, go on to found a computer company, get kicked out, help steer the success of Pixar, and make his way back to Apple and phenomenal success? Because it’s fairly safe to say that if he was a college dropout, it wasn’t from something he learned in college. I decided to look at Jobs’ characteristics that were important to his success that were the opposite of what he would have learned in school. I’ll look at those characteristics in my next post.