The Practical Mac

The Jobs Legacy: Nearly Problem-Free Computing

- 2011.10.06 - Tip Jar

I was sitting in a temporary office in Bagram, Afghanistan. I would hopefully be going home in a few days, and I was passing the time reading the news on my iPhone while my replacement was learning the ropes.

Then I saw it, a short, simple headline that belied the gravity of the news it conveyed: Steve Jobs Is Dead.

Steve Jobs changed my life. I was a lawyer living a comfortable life and making a good living in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the early 1990s. In addition to being a partner, I was also the IT Director of the law firm. I bought a few books, studied on my own, and became a MCSE (Microsoft) and CNE (Novell). I eventually received a job offer to become the VP of IT at a large bank in Atlanta, and it was an offer I could not refuse.

Overnight, what had previously been my hobby became my livelihood. In those days, companies were throwing obscene amounts of money at anyone who appeared to have a little knowledge and any sort of track record in IT in an attempt to hire the "best" people - "best" being anyone who was remotely qualified as opposed to the companies on the lower rungs that had to be satisfied to hire people with no actual knowledge or experience in IT, but rather just an interest and willingness to learn.

After my career change, I was managing a staff supporting hundreds of users on Windows 95 connected to Novell servers. The Novell servers were solid enough, but it was the Windows desktops that gave us real job security.

When my wife's home computer crashed, taking with it much irreplaceable data, we decided to replace it with a Tangerine iMac. As time went by, I replaced my Windows desktop with a Mac (a used Power Mac 7500), having used a Mac Classic in law school and having had a few of them at the law firm.

This was in 1999, and Windows never graced my desktop (either the physical or electronic one) again.

...users quickly saw that the Macs had none of the problems their previous Windows PCs had.

A couple of years after returning to the Mac full-time, I began having doubts about my day job. Even though I was on top of the world in my still relatively new career field, I became increasingly frustrated at the unnecessary problems we spent all day fixing (and then fixing again and again), in contrast to the trouble-free experience I had at home on my Mac. This was magnified by the fact that we had replaced a number of computers at work with Macs (in fact, we had replaced every PC we could, the remainder being required to run a proprietary piece of Windows software), and users quickly saw that the Macs had none of the problems their previous Windows PCs had.

It was around this time that I penned my first column for Low End Mac, The Mac as a Business Solution.

Then Sept 11 happened. My part-time gig as a Judge Advocate in the Army Reserve became increasingly full-time. I bought my wife the original iPod when it came out. Using our Macs at home while being forced to use Windows in the Army convinced me that there was a better way. Computers should not work against you (Windows); they should work for you (Macs).

This epiphany came about because of the Macs that Steve Jobs designed and built. Of course, he did neither personally, but he was single-handedly responsible for creating and fostering the corporate (counter?) culture and climate that caused all this, and more, to occur.

As the advancement of technology passed our Macs by, we bought new ones, never even considering anything else. We bought iPhones, more iPods, PowerBooks, iBooks, MacBooks, and an iPad. Even AirPorts and a Cube.

Eventually, I forgot what it was like to fix computers - literally. No longer able to rely on my memory due to disuse, when friends and relatives ask me for help fixing their Windows PCs today, I have to use Google or Cnet or some other resource to refresh my memory, then get back to them. Ten years ago, I could do it over the phone the minute they called. Some things are nice to forget. Thank you, Apple; thank you, Steve.

President Obama paid one of the greatest tributes to Steve's success when he noted that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. As I sat down to collect my thoughts to write this, it hit me. How remarkable. Not remarkable - how astounding is it that I learned of Steve's passing, not only on a device he invented, but on a device he invented that allowed me to learn of his passing while sitting in a war zone in the middle of the fifth least-developed country in the world.

One of Steve's first ad campaigns upon his return to Apple was the "Think Different" series. We had one of the posters (John Lennon) in our server room at the bank for years. Steve cultivated an image of Apple as being elite - and outside (and definitely above) the mainstream back then. However, it was just the first step in the restoration of Apple. Eventually "Think Different" gave way to the "Switch" series (for my take on this, see Are Mac Users Losers?).

No longer a niche for the elite, Apple was now beckoning and welcoming the masses. And the masses were coming.

Steve made different mainstream.

Rest in peace. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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