Steve Jobs, the legacy

Personal, UX
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Today is a weird day. I just got the news, as I woke up, that Steve Jobs passed away last night. This news affected me more than I thought it would. I felt the need to write about these emotions, and about my history with Apple. This is probably more for myself than for the reader, so feel free to skip ahead if you don’t like this, but it felt appropriate to keep a few thoughts at this time.

I first used a computer at pre-university, probably when I was 15. It was an Apple Macintosh SE. Before that relatively “old” age, I had never touched a computer. This is rather unusual in our geeky community, but yeah as a kid I was not a geek. Or rather, I definitely was a geek, but not that kind of geek. I was rather in books all the time, and I had a vivid fantasy world, but I didn’t really touch or use technology much at the time. The Mac SE was pretty cool, mostly because everything was packed neatly together, and it was easy to carry around. It’s on this machine that I wrote my first code, and played my first game. I couldn’t tell you anymore what the name of the game was (I was really not too much into it) but I remember it was a quest game, happening in a fantasy world, and even though it was in black and white, it was enough to fuel the fantasy world I was living in. It is also at the time that I discovered fonts. I remember putting together crazy titles and texts, using various fonts and all kind of 3D effects, and being pretty fascinated by this. At the time I was very interested by logos and was drawing some by hand. I was considering becoming a graphics designer, and suddenly using a computer to do that was pretty fascinating. It was also kind of frustrating, because the attention to detail I had put in hand drawing these logos was suddenly not really necessary anymore. Anyone could come up with cool wording, using crazy font.

It’s also on this machine that I first wrote code. I can’t say I cared for it much, it was rather boring (we were using Logo) but I remember being excited the first time I managed to draw a circle on the screen. Again, I was really not very interested by technology at the time… though it is also at that time that I purchased my first PDA, a Casio “clamshell” design which couldn’t be synched with a computer, but on which I enthusiastically typed all my contacts, addresses, took notes, etc. It was the first in a very long line of PDAs (including pretty much all Palm devices) that culminated in today’s Windows Phone 7 that I use all the time.

An Apple fanboi

Later when I graduated, and considered going to engineer school, it became obvious that we needed a computer. My dad had, at the time, purchased a second hand PC from a colleague. It was running DOS only, and my first move when we got it home was to “clean up everything”. By that, I mean that I went ahead and deleted all the files I could find on it, thinking that it was old junk left by the previous owner. In the process I wiped out the whole OS, and needless to say, the computer didn’t really agree to start later. We had to call the guy who sold it to us, and he reinstalled it… Yeah that was not a great user experience. When we talked about buying a better computer, I pushed my parents to buy a Mac. It just seemed the right choice. At engineer school, I met a good friend who was a Mac fanatic, and I quickly became one too. The Mac we bought was an LCII, one of the low end models. I literally had no idea what I was buying at the time, and I didn’t really care. Quickly however I was spending hours on it (before you laugh, I *did* have a girlfriend at the time though Winking smile).

My friend Pascal was my dealer for pirated applications (installing an application for the Mac was as easy as copying it to the HDD and running it). At the time, my thinking was: I am broke now because I am a student, so I will just use these applications now because I need to learn them. Later when I make a living, I will always use legal applications – and I am proud to say that I do, I never used pirated applications anymore since I started earning money. Interestingly, I was really not into games at all. I used the Flight Simulator (I was a private pilot by then) but that was it, the rest was really databases (I loved to organize my items, books, videos, pictures, music in lists), some light coding, drawing and writing.

I was not all the time on the computer though. First, as I mentioned, I was in a relationship and we all know how time consuming that can be Winking smile Then, I was (and still am, although I have less time for it) a book worm. And I loved calligraphy, drawing, etc. So really not your typical computer geek. But I was, definitely, an Apple fanboi, even though we were running a low end model.

Being different

When I graduated, I did my whole thesis on the Apple. That included simulation (using Matlab), typing and typing and some typing, drawing schematics, etc. The thesis is a huge work that took us months, and the irony is that back then people were scowling at me for using a Mac. We were the misfits of the computer age. Everyone was saying how bad the Mac was, how much better a PC with Windows was, but we didn’t care. I actually enjoyed being and thinking different.

That is actually pretty funny and weird. I guess I never felt comfortable using the same stuff as everyone else (and in fact it is but one of the symptoms of my misanthropy). This continues today, with me rooting and coding and being an avid user of one of the least used mobile OS on the market (Windows Phone) when it would be just so much easier to do what everyone else does, and go with iPhone or Android. But the mere thought of that fills me with dread. It’s a sickness, really. I wonder what will happen when Windows Phone gets the popularity it deserves… will I move to iOS then? Probably not, but I guess I will just use the next newest thing that everyone scowls at Winking smile

The weaning

Everything has an end, and for me the end of the Apple fanboism came when I married. At the time, I was running a PC and a Mac at home, and it quickly became obvious that it was too much. I was doing most of my work on the PC, so we sold the Mac. I never really looked back. In retrospect it is interesting that most of my time as an Apple fan was pretty much at the same time that Jobs was out of Apple (1985 – 1996). It is not really surprising though, because I never really liked him. OK let’s face it, I didn’t like him at all as a person. And after he came back, I started to really dislike Apple as a firm. It bothers me that they are using legal actions to kill innovation in other firms. It bothers me that they are so secretive and paranoid about everything, that they became in fact the Big Brother they were criticizing in 1984. It bothers me that so many people using Apple products do so in a religious fashion, and are using proselytism to convince others to do so. It bothers me that being an Apple user is not about thinking different anymore, but about doing like the masses.

That sucked, because I really liked their products. But what can I say, I couldn’t see myself giving money to a firm I disliked. So I just stopped using Apple products, and never climbed on iOS, even though I of course use these devices from time to time for professional reasons. Then when .NET came out, and I started using it professionally, I also discovered a division within Microsoft (the DevDiv) that had an openness, a passion and a vision that were very appealing for me. I felt welcomed in that community, and this is when I turned, from an Apple fan, into a Microsoft enthusiast. I can’t say I am as much a fanboi for Microsoft than I was for Apple though, mostly because I grew older I guess, and more rational about all that tech stuff Winking smile. I am very aware of Microsoft’s shortcomings in many areas, but at the same time their technology and their UX vision appeals to me more than any other at this time. So I went from an Apple fanboi to a Microsoft enthusiast.

The legacy

I do however have a lot of respect for what Steve Jobs achieved, and his vision as a creator. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates changed the world, and their legacy pays for my kid’s food, education, clothes, for my house, for everything I have. Most importantly, they give me a (professional) purpose in life: Making the user experience better. Enabling everyone (not just us geeks) to use technology to make their own life easier and better. This is what I want to do with my life, and thanks to people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, this is what I can do.

In fact, I think that the reason why I am so affected but Steve Jobs’ death today is this: I always wanted to be an artist. Thanks to Jobs’ legacy, people like us who spend their life thinking about and working in user experience are not just geeks, not just engineers, not just technicians. We are also artists, and this is in great part thanks to Steve Jobs.

PS: This song and video are taken from my favorite movie ever: Itinéraire d’un enfant gâté. The actor is Jean-Paul Belmondo and the singer is Nicole Croisille. It’s an amazing movie.

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