I’ve been using Apple computers since somewhere around 1987. My first computer was a Kaypro II. After that was no longer usable, I got a DOS machine. When it came time to replace it I got a Macintosh.
I have never owned a Windows machine and have only marginal familiarity with that environment. I don’t foresee every using anything but an Apple computer. “But Macs are so expensive,” some people will say.
Yeah, Macs are expensive. But they work well, are easy to use, and are relatively durable. And they are elegant, both physically and functionally. These qualities have value that’s worth paying for. As Guy Kawasaki writes here in “What I Learned from Steve Jobs”:
“Woe unto you if you decide everything based on price. Even more woe unto you if you compete solely on price. Price is not all that matters—what is important, at least to some people, is value. And value takes into account training, support, and the intrinsic joy of using the best tool that’s made. It’s pretty safe to say that no one buys Apple products because of their low price.”
So I’m an Apple fan.
And like everyone else in the world, I’ve been hearing and reading about what a innovative and visionary genius Steve Jobs was. All over the Internet are stories about and lists of how he changed the way people use computers, communicate, and buy and listen to music.
I wish I could be more like Jobs: innovative, persuasive, brilliant. Don’t you?
Yet there is something unsettling to me about all the praise that has been heaped upon him since he died last Wednesday. It’s unsettling because according to things I’ve heard over the years and especially what I’ve been reading recently (for example here and here), Steve Jobs was not a nice guy. Here’s what Rob Long writes in National Review Online, just two days before Jobs’s death:
“The stories of Steve’s temper are passed around Silicon Valley like business cards. Steve tossing a chair when a prototype wasn’t thin enough. Steve firing an engineer in an elevator when the engineer told him about the battery life of a new iPhone. Steve scrapping an entire product line because it wasn’t perfect, and had no hope of becoming perfect. Steve demanding more features. Steve insisting on better syncing. Steve shouting for thinner. Steve screaming for lighter. Steve terrifying his employees, his vendors, his business partners. Steve, engaged in furious e-mail exchanges with journalists, bloggers, and random customers who happened to e-mail him at the right moment, when he was taking a break from making his employees sweat and from engineering even higher standards.”
So why did employees (those who were not fired) put up with such things? The pay, either in cash or stock options, must have been great. But it was more than that. I think people at Apple knew they were on the edge of something great, and they believed Jobs would take them there. That thinking was part of the culture of Apple. As Kawasaki put it:
“I lived in fear that Steve would tell me that I, or my work, was crap. In public. This fear was a big challenge. Competing with IBM and then Microsoft was a big challenge. Changing the world was a big challenge. I, and Apple employees before me and after me, did our best work because we had to do our best work to meet the big challenges.”
A visionary like Jobs would get nowhere and accomplish nothing unless he could attract very talented people who could tolerate his mercurial behavior for their own gain and convince venture capitalists that his ideas would make them all the wealthier. Perhaps that was his greatest strength.
So, yeah, Jobs had an impact on the world. And he was, until last Wednesday, a living legend. Now he’s ranked with Edison and Einstein and Ford for his accomplishments. Yet I think care should be taken in praising too much a tantrum thrower who treated people so poorly and allowed less-than-ethical business practices when it came to stock options.
I will continue to use Apple products because I, too, believe they great value for the money, both functionally and aesthetically.