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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

First, let's give credit where credit is due. Steve Jobs? If you're up there in cyberheaven, sitting on a cloud in the Cloud someplace, let me say "thank you." From the heart.

For me, Apple computers created a personal revolution. Not quite so dramatic as the "Why 1984 won't be like 1984" commercial. But pretty dramatic. I was trapped in a shitty job. First-gen Apple computers got me out of that trap.

I learned on Apple Computers, courtesy the Sarasota Vo-Tech and Ringling College. I wound up teaching Pagemaker at a Vo-Tech class in 1989. For my Apple students, the class was a breeze. For my Windows students, it was a heaping helping of suck. I fumbled and struggled with the early Windows operating system. The interface looked like the Apple GUI. But that was lipstick on a pig. Windows was counterintuitive, kludgy, user-hateful. I couldn't wrap my mind around it, let alone teach people how to use a Windows application. My Windows students wound up hating me.

Apple taught me and nurtured me. Windows punished me. I'm a creative, right-brain dude. If anybody's a Mac person, it's me. My soul takes a bite outta the Apple. God bless the Apple. God bless the Mac. God bless Steven Jobs.

Now that I've got that out of the way, allow me to bash Steve Jobs.

In The Master Switch, Tim Wu wondered about Jobs' intentions. As Wu said in an interview --

What worries you about Apple?
As I discuss in the book, Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision and instincts of every great information emperor. The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it. His vision has an undeniable appeal, but he wants too much control.

Jobs was a great designer (or design evangelist, or whatever you want to call him). I'm all for elegant design. Jobs made good products, no question. But he made good products for an elite market. He priced them outside of the range of normal slobs. At the same time, he took the original PC revolution (which was generative) and replaced it with a top-down paradigm.

Bill Gates may look like a nerd; Jobs may have looked like a hippy. But Gates was the true hippy. His operating system -- as shitty as it was -- was open, like Woodstock or Ken Kesey's bus. Open source, in other words. Gates let other people write to his code. He let a thousand flowers bloom. Jobs didn't. As a result, there were a host of "PCs" -- cobbled together by HP, Dell, IBM, and scads of other companies. But Apple made the only "Apple."

Back in the 1990s, open source seemed to win the day. But -- after his celebrated return to Apple in 1997 -- Jobs courted educators, artists, designers and all the other cool kids. He gave Apple cachet. He made it cool. Apple came back -- from the serious ass-whipping that Windows had given it.

Jobs' cool company kicked the Man in the nuts. Then Jobs turned into the Man. He swiftly killed the open source paradigm. Yeah, he invented cool stuff. But the stuff was always HIS stuff. Boxes you couldn't open without permission.

The iPod and iPhone are what Jonathan Zittrain calls "tethered appliances." Cool design, yeah-- in the sense that a Herman Miller chair is cool design. There's a hefty price tag. It's cool design for the elite. Developers can design "apps" -- but Apple functions as the gatekeeper. The paradigm is hardly open source.

So, as the Internet moves from the wire to the cloud, it loses its openness. The range was open. Now it's strung with barbed wire. Really cool, elegantly designed, user-friendly (and very expensive) barbed wire. But barbed wire, nonetheless. For all his hippy-dippy righteousness, Jobs strung that wire. He turned the open range of the Internet into a system of top-down control.

Far be it from me to bash the dead. Give credit where credit was due. Steve Jobs was a visionary.

I'm not sure I like his vision.

Tim Wu on Steve Jobs