Friday, January 24, 2014

30 years of changing the world

Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh. I didn’t see it live, but I bought the Time magazine report and put myself on the waiting list later that week.

It wasn’t much of a computer. At $2500, the Mac 128 was an overpriced and underpowered toy that didn’t do much other that matrix-print doodles. As I showed in my dissertation, it was another three years before Apple had something that could compete credibly with the IBM AT, and by that point the wheels were falling off of Apple as an organization as a series of mediocre CEOs replaced Jobs.

That said, Apple Computer changed the world — not once, but several times over. And nearly all these breakthroughs occurred when Steve Jobs was in charge.

Other firms changed the world, too. From the PC era, that would include IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Compaq, Visicorp and Lotus Development. When cellphones became smartphones, Nokia, Symbian and Research in Motion helped define the category before Apple released its first phone in 2007.

Some companies did a better job of created a technology (or product category) than a sustainable business. The first Palm PDA was an incredible breakthrough, but in the end, the world didn’t want a PDA, it wanted an all-in-one communication and computing device.

Just like aerospace engineers during the space race, I’m pleased to have lived through this era with a front-row seat. I’m also pleased to (so far) never have owned a Windows machine, which (given the PC industry’s ongoing decline) is a record that I’m likely to sustain to the end (Windows or mine).

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