Steve Jobs died yesterday, at the age of 56. That is a young age to die these days. Had he been healthy, we could have expected another thirty years of his influence… now he’s gone. Very sad.
I didn’t like Apple computers initially. They appealed mainly to stupid people who did not like to think and learn how things work. MacOS used a file system that made it a pain to share things with Mac users, corralling them off into a fenced in crippled world that was cut off from everyone else.
The number one promise of commodity computers, that they can be used to connect people, was broken with the old MacOS. On top of that, it instilled a counter productive siege mentality in its legions of irrational adherents.
That is an old Mac ad, perfectly exemplifying their bad attitude.
Then, everything changed.
Thanks to Steve Jobs returning to the company he started, Apple did something that very few companies have the guts to do; throw out their bedrock product that sucks and replace it entirely by starting again from scratch with something that is better. I am talking about NEXT/UNIX.
For years people like me had dreamed of a UNIX with an Apple quality interface. It would mean that we had all the stability and power of UNIX with the ease of use of Apple. It seemed like an impossible dream, because it would have meant that the entire existing user base of MacOS would need to change over to some new imaginary UNIX OS. It would mean developers like Adobe re-writing all their mac specific apps from the bottom up.
This is exactly what happened.
This is a BLOGDIAL post from Wednesday, January 26, 2005 about the advert above:
This advert is the perfect example of why I used to hate the Apple philosophy.
A philosophy that said, “You are too dumb to learn and thats OK”.
Apple was a company that use to sell computers whose selling point was that you didn’t have to learn in order to use them. In fact, this advert and many others made a virtue out of not having to learn. This was coming from a company that was selling itself as the makers of the best computers for education. Appalling and anti human in equal measure. Humans love to learn, they love challenges, they aspire, they collect knowledge – this is what is special about them. The Apple Macintosh was a tool that kept the user dumb; anathema to anyone with human curiosity about how things work.
Now of course, the anti learning OS that MacOS was has been completely dumped for a real OS, UNIX, ‘arcane’ command line and all, and lo and behold, its the best operating system ever, for the dumbest of the dumb and the highest of high evolutionaries and all in between.
You can ‘just do your work’ like the Apple devotees use to bleat, AND you can run Ruby (almost) straight out of the box; its the best of both worlds, and a miracle that Apple had the guts and foresight to completely abandon their previous OS for a completely fresh start. This is what sold me on Apple, and having finally bought one, it has performed as expected over the year that I have been running it. Perfectly.
I just had an uptime of 38 days, the restart due only to software update. It never fails. You can get into an uninterrupted workflow with it….you know the rest.
What Steve Jobs showed everyone, again and again, is that you do not have to put up with second best with whatever it is you are making. You can have the best of all possible worlds, and you can sell it.
This, for me, is his greatest contribution, on top of all the software directed and marshalled by him. People now imagine and expect things to be ‘Apple like’; powerful simple to use, stable and beautiful all at the same time.
What apple did to mobile phone interfaces, simply by existing, is a perfect example. Looking at the Sony/Ericsson P900 and the iPhone gives you a good idea what I am talking about. All mobile phone manufacturers are trying to catch up with Apple’s iPhone with their derivative, clunky mock Apple interfaces. The ideas that Steve Jobs expressed through Apple are the very definition of ‘raising the bar’.
Many people complain about the proprietary nature of Apple. I myself don’t like the idea of their completely un-private iCloud service. None of this is Apple’s problem, and you could have guaranteed that if Steve Jobs had lived, Apple would have radically changed direction to make what was broken not only fixed, but great.
People like Steve Jobs do not come along very often, and they are almost irreplaceable. In the field of technology, people with arts sensitivity and deep technical insight are rare. You mostly get wooden, high functioning autism spectrum types that don’t have real love for what they do because they do not understand love the way artists do. These people have their uses and their place, but to create magic, to inspire and fire the imagination, to take bold steps you need a person like Steve Jobs, who has a balance of characteristics. Then you need to have him in charge.
I have no doubt that there will be other neuro-typical people with great and broad strengths. What is not so clear is wether there will be a confluence of circumstances that will put them in a position to end up running a company like Apple. I do not know what people Apple have who could replace Jobs as the chief inspirationalist. Even if they had one, could he be put into control in a way that Steve Jobs was?
What we do know is that Steve Jobs is up there with Edison, Ford, Wang, Marconi, Crock, Wright, Bell, Hamming and others in the pantheon of inventors, entrepreneurs and thinkers that changed everything fundamentally.
Take a look at this:
People like this are what we need, in every sphere. People who are not frightened of making a mistake, people who do not instinctively think, “Why?”, but who always reflexively think, “Why not?”.
Its the people who think, “Why not?” that make the world better, that abolish evil, stupidity, broken things and the lies and base cowardice of the status quo.
What this man did, how he did it, his relentlessly high expectations and standards will live long after his death.
Its a great privilege to have been alive to see it.
Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond have both come out with statements condemning Steve Jobs because Apple has created a jail for its users. They are correct. Apple iPhone and its App ecosystem are closed, restricted and un-free. They stop you from doing exactly what you want on your own property, your mobile phone. I run an Apple iPhone, and its jailbroken. I also run Android on it with Bootlace I own what I buy, and no one can tell me what to do with my own property.
These two people, who are highly intelligent, suffer from a problem of their own reality distortion field, where what they think is right is what is true and the only truth, and everyone else is nothing more than a shadow on the wall of the cave.
This is why they think (by example) that everyone should be expected to use Emacs instead of Pages or Word to write letters, and that they are being defrauded and jailed by not using Emacs.
This is pure unadulterated autism on stilts. These people are incapable of understanding the big picture, or other people’s positions in the real world. Their attitude is what has hampered the adoption of free software. Their sour brand of blinkered, narrow, intolerant, unsympathetic, ridiculous, narrow minded, low horizon thinking kept the greatness of Linux away from millions, continues to allow the jail they despise so much to grow exponentially and doesn’t do anyone any favours at all.
They are not even able to sympathise with the death of a human being; how can you expect these same people to empathise with a computer user who just wants to type out her homework, print it and hand it in?
As I have said before, it takes well grounded people with functioning empathy to make software products great and accessible to the public. Debian would still be in autism jail if it were not for Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu; to this very day, Debian does not have a single screenshot on its site. Compare and contrast with Ubuntu. Which one do you think a person who wants out of computer jail is going to try?
At the end of the day, these people are illogical. On the one hand, they want everyone to be out of Apple’s jail. On the other they do everything they can to turn people off of their software. They refuse to polish it. They refuse to listen to anyone’s requirements. They even mistreat the people who collaborate on improving their software. Free Software is a success despite the sabotage acts of Richard Stallman.
Many years ago, the free software foundation ran a campaign called ‘defective by design‘ where they encouraged people to boycott Apple because it used DRM. You cannot play music on the best system available by boycotting it. You have two choices; write better software than Apple does, or write liberation tools that give people full control over their property.
Obviously the former is impossible for the FSF; it takes empathy to be able to write tools that ordinary people can use. Clearly the latter is the route to go, and lo and behold there are literally millions of people who have the best of both worlds on their i-devices through jailbreaking.
A very small number of incredibly clever developers have made it possible for millions of people to be able to run Emacs on their iPhones. And its legal.
It is a source of consistent amazement to me that people who understand how software works do not understand that software problems can be solved with software. The Apple jail problem is one that can be solved by writing applications that free the user. Rather than do this, they exhort people to boycott the best products ever developed so that they can use software that the developers will not even provide a preview image of… its so ridiculous its hard to imagine that its even true.
Consider this. Organisations like the Free Software Foundation need donations to survive. Irrational or not, noone will donate to an organization run by people who celebrate the death of men who have brought so much good to so many people.
Apple, even though its products are not perfect, has, as I say above, done much to raise our expectations and standards. They have unleashed the imaginations of millions of people, allowed them to communicage ←- I actually typed that – with each other despite using devices that run proprietary software.
The net effect of Apple and Steve Jobs has been positive. It means that the advocates of free software have to do better, write better software and start acting like neuro-typical people or they will simply be left behind forever in a niche as the cloud combined with trusted platform hardware completely eliminates any possibility of running what you want on your own hardware.
Without millions in backing to hire developers, and most importantly, communicators, the FSF is doomed. No one will mourn them, despite the amazing work they have done, the crucial software they have written and the philosophical framework and licenses they have developed.
These people simply must come to terms with their own limitations and start to behave in a way that will foster adoption of their systems. Either that, or leave it to the Mark Shuttleworth’s of this world who have the skill to do what they cannot do. Either way, as it stands now their beneficial movement needs to change if it is to reach the millions of ordinary users that need to be ‘freed’.
Consider also this. Nintendo produced computers that are the ultimate form of jail. They allow you to only run their cartridges on their hardware. You have no access whatsoever to the operating system, and indeed, no way to access anything with an alphanumeric keyboard. All you are given is a small controller. Who in their right mind would say that Nintendo has brought only bad into the world because they release computers that only ran programmes written by their partners.
Its completely insane.
Computing is not static. Its future remains unwritten. That future will be mediated by software. If the FSF and its adherents do not write the software that shapes the future, their arguments are meaningless. Software is the only thing that matters. If you do not write it, and people cannot run your software, you have no future, no matter how good your ideas are or how moral they are or noble your intentions.