Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Tribute to Steve Jobs, co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc. who passed away at the age of 56.

Steve Jobs passed away on Oct 5, 2011 at the age of 56, and the world lost a visionary and a genius who accomplished in one life time what many can only dream of achieving in one, that too if they are lucky. If you look for the reasons how he could achieve so much, you merely have to read his commencement address at Stanford University on June 12, 2005 or watch it at a number of places on the Internet, including YouTube or TED.

Here are a few of his outstanding achievements:
  • Apple Computers (1976 - 1985): Developed ground breaking products like Apple II, Macintosh
  • NeXT Computer Inc. and NeXT Software (1985 - 1998): Developed a series of products and technologies including NeXTCube workstation, NeXTSTEP operating system (which replaced Mac OS when Apple purchased NeXT).
  • Pixar Animation (1986 onwards): Jobs purchased the Graphics Group from Lucasfilm Limited from George Lucas (maker of Star Wars movies). Pixar has made such films as Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and WALL-E.
  • Apple Inc. (1998 onwards): Developed ubiquitous products such as iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV
But running through all these products and technologies is his passion for aesthetics and design, attention to detail and always finding the opportunity to improve upon what he had already accomplished. Many have attempted to imitate Apple but to this day there is no one who has come anywhere near.

What is amazing is that many of the products and services that have made Apple what it is today were out there in the open, for anyone to see, and exploit their potential. Here are some examples:
  • The GUI in Macintosh computer was inspired by work done at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). But Xerox PARC themselves didn't see the potential in their own invention.
  • Apple's Mac OS X and iOs are derivatives of NeXTSTEP operating system, which is based on BSD Unix. Thus, it was available to anyone but what Steve Jobs thought it could do is what has made Apple what it is.
  • Pixar Animation has achieved several milestones while Lucasfilm, which continues to exist, will find hard to match.
  • With iPod, iPhone and iPad, almost the whole world has come to recognize his genius. But portable music players, tablet PCs and touchscreens and user interfaces are not Apple inventions, they existed before, but no one could bring together hardware, software and user interfaces together in such simplicity and elegance like Apple.
The fact that a college drop out with no education or background in engineering and technology could achieve these heights only goes to show the importance of what Stephen Covey has said "Everything we do is created twice, once in our mind and a second time in reality". As engineers, we are taught to learn and focus only on the second step (creating in reality after it has been created in someone's mind) and are never trained to do the first (creating in the mind). That is the genius of Steve Jobs, the ability to create things in the mind, so clearly and in such great detail that everyone says "Why didn't someone think of it before?" 

I just saw on Google Buzz someone say "Steve Jobs the man who took out fun and freedom out from computers...". It may be true, to some extent, that Mac OS is not free software, an open source version (Darwin) exists and he certainly did not take fun out of computers. Instead he helped millions discover how fun technology could be. Technologies and software like WebObjects, ObjectiveC, Xcode have helped create a vibrant developer community. Obviously it is from an open source enthusiast, but the enthusiasm I think, is entirely misplaced and extremely sad. I am a free software enthusiast myself, but that does not blind me to what Steve Jobs has done. Everyone has their philosophies and the reason to believe in them. 

So here is to the genius of Steve Jobs, world will have to wait a long time until another such visionary comes along.

Quotes from Stanford Commencement Address in June 2005 by Steve Jobs
  • You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
  • The heaviness of being successful was replaced by by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. (About starting over after he resigned from Apple in 1985).
  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. ... Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
  • Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. (Quoting from final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog in the mid 70's).

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