Chippewa Herald * October 9, 2011     Hit Counter by Digits

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Steve Jobs was a true revolutionary

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist


The passing of tech icon Steve Jobs last Wednesday marked the end of an era that will long be remembered in the history of technology.

Recent articles about the company he created, Apple Computer (renamed Apple, Incorporated a few years ago), have focused either on the first computers it made, the Apple-I and Apple-II, or about recent consumer gadgets, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

But the product that really altered the computer industry was the Macintosh. With its pioneering of the mouse, icons, windows, and pull-down menus, the Mac spearheaded the biggest change in computers ever, providing the "computer for the rest of us" (as their ad slogan went).

This despite the fact that only 100,000 were sold in its first year -- that's about how many iPads are now sold every day.

I was one of those first customers.

Beth and I bought an original Macintosh, sporting 128K (not gigabytes, not even megabytes, but KILObytes) of RAM, and a single 400 Kbyte floppy disk. It even had signatures of all its developers molded into the plastic on the inside of the case.

Best of all, it retailed for only $2500 -- about 1/10th of a young engineer's salary in 1984, or $5400 in today's dollars.

The Mac was no surprise to me. I had been reading about its development for years in the trade magazine "Electrical Engineering Times."

Back in 1982, computers required the user to type in commands and look at plain text output files. We did have one computer at Univac that had a mouse-like device called a "puck" that could control the cursor. But this was available only on the Calma, a high-end machine used to design integrated circuits (chips), that was the size of two refrigerators and cost $150,000.

To have that same technology in a home computer was the stuff of dreams. And the Macintosh was a dream come true.

I did everything with my Mac. It even made it into our family Christmas card photo in 1984, showing Beth and I posing with "baby Mac" nestled in a blanket in her arms. It was part of the family.

It took years for competitors to catch up. In fact, through most of the 1980s, PC snobs considered the Mac a "toy" computer because it was so easy to use. They refused to believe that some day all computers would have windows and icons and menus.

But when I brought my Mac into my office at Honeywell in Colorado Springs in 1985 and engineers actually saw it, they all wanted one. Our engineering department bought a few, and they were always in high demand.

I almost got myself fired when I had a very public confrontation in a crowded conference room with our Vice President, Carl, who was livid that someone sneaked this contraband into the company.

Carl offered to bet me that Apple would be out of business in five years. As soon as the words left his lips, I jumped up and whipped out my wallet and shouted "HOW MUCH?!"

Steve Jobs didn't even know me, yet here I was risking my job for him. My boss wisely grabbed me and escorted me out of the conference room to defuse the situation.

I left Honeywell in 1988 for Bipolar Integrated Technology (BIT), a chip design startup in Oregon, where they bought me a Macintosh II, with a 25 MHz processor, a 19-inch grayscale display, and an unheard-of 100 MEGABYTE hard drive. That setup cost the company over $10,000 ($19,000 in today's money), but provided a great return on their investment by doing things other computers still couldn't do.

One of Jobs' many brilliant decisions was to completely control the entire machine, both hardware and software. When Microsoft first tried to come up with windowing software, it was slow and kludgey, because they had to implement in software the commands that the Mac had built into its chips.

I loved Apple so much that I bought $1200 worth of their stock in 1987, the equivalent of 217 shares in 2011 (or 700 shares after the split in 2014).

It wasn't until Windows 95 that hardware was fast enough to enable Microsoft to finally have a usable windowing system. That's when Apple started declining, and of course Steve Jobs was long gone by then.

In the late nineties, I remember deciding to sell my Apple stock, which wasn't worth much. Fortunately, I never got around to pulling the trigger.

When Jobs returned to Apple after they purchased his "NeXT Computer" startup, the company took off by revolutionizing first the music industry with the iPod, then the cell phone industry with the iPhone, and most recently the "internet consuming" industry with the iPad.

But its revolutionary ways all started with that first Macintosh in 1984.

Steve Jobs, we will miss you.


You can reach Tom at tom@arneberg.com.


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