The story of Steve Jobs poses a conundrum: were he a fictional character, the scale of his accomplishments would defy plausibility. Sure, he changed the way we buy and play music, before proceeding to transform what had been mere portable phones into pocket-sized connections to the networked world. Then, in what turned out to be his closing act, he created a new computer category, the tablet, whose story is still early on in its unfolding.
It’s worth remembering, though, that those are just his accomplishments of the last decade or so. The recent tour de force almost eclipses those other little things he did, like introduce the general public to the notion of the personal computer in 1976, and then to the concept of the GUI in 1984. On the Macintosh’s heels came the LaserWriter, and suddenly one could produce what looked like professional print in the comfort of one’s home. As Wired notes, the LaserWriter, like many another Apple product, wasn’t the first in its category to market. It was just the one that dazzled nearly all who crossed paths with it, and in so doing changed the game.
Somewhere in between his two rounds at Apple, Jobs spun up NeXT. Relatively few people ever had the chance to use one of the company’s sleek black boxes, or their advanced development tools, but John Carmack did when he created Doom, the game that rewrote players’ notions of the possible. Tim Berners-Lee used them to implement a system that let physicists share hypertext documents over the network, but which in short order spread to use by a non-physicist or two.
These things were not solely the work of Steve Jobs, and they would probably have happened without him. Eventually. But he was the one who saw what could be, and who, with all the unvarnished glee of an excited child, grabbed our hands to tug us into a future we hadn’t known we’d been aching for, well before we thought we’d see it.
Farewell, Steve Jobs. You will be sorely missed.