I had never met Steve Jobs or even seen him speak ‘live’, so I cannot pretend I feel a particular personal loss at his death, but it is still sad to see him die, for the loss to his friends and family, for the reminder of personal mortality – not much more than ten years older than me – and for the loss of another one of the great “Heroes of the Computer Revolution“.
But what of his personal contribution to computing? Well Jobs was plainly a greater marketeer, a great populariser, though he also has his name on 313 patents, so he was something more.
He was central in making people feel computers could be helpful to them in their everyday lives. The Macintosh and the NeXT profoundly changed people’s expectations of what using a computer was about and made them feel much more accessible to millions.
(The NeXT also showed that powerful computers doing high-end computations could be placed on the desktop. In some ways that may have been an evolutionary dead end – the network was neglected until the internet conquered all – but it was certainly the path taken.)
Many Linux people – myself included – can find it hard not to feel superior as we hack away at the command line while others use the “point and drool” interface. But history will judge that – so far at least – we have lost the argument.
And the facts is that Jobs was the guy that made Unix popular and widely used, not us.