September 03, 2011, 8:57 AM — No sooner did Steve Jobs announce that he was stepping down as Apple 's CEO then a swarm of stories appeared singing his praises. Fair enough. Other stories pointed out that Jobs made mistakes. OK, I can see that too. What I don't get is all the people who are saying that Jobs wasn't that important. That is so wrong. If we could step into a parallel world without Jobs, I doubt you'd recognize it.
It's true that Jobs was never a great developer or engineer. He hired great developers and engineers. He also wasn't that original. Jobs' gifts were fourfold: He could recognize great technology when he saw it; he had a great design aesthetic; once he had a vision, he stuck with it and made it work; and he could persuade others to back it.
Doesn't sound like much? It was everything. Let's visit Jobs-less Earth, shall we?
First, we'll look in on Apple. Oh wait, what Apple? In this world, only tech geeks of a certain age (like me) even remember Apple and those other 1980s computer companies, such as Coleco, Sinclair and Kaypro. Some tech nostalgists recall the Apple IIe with the same kind of fondness that, in our world, is felt for the Commodore 64.
The Mac? Without Jobs to push it, there is no Mac. And no Lisa, the first business computer with a GUI and mouse. Well, you say, even Jobs-less Earth still has Xerox PARC, and therefore the GUI and mouse. Yes, but, without Jobs, years go by before they go mainstream.
Which means that over at Microsoft , DOS and the command-line interface survived many years longer. In our world, Bill Gates and friends got to know the WIMP (windows, icon, mouse, pointer) interface because of the work they did in the early '80s for Mac applications. Without Jobs, I estimate we're at least a decade behind in desktop design.
As a result, PCs are business tools. Consumers interested in computing tend to buy hobbyist kits. There is no mass market for PCs. For most people, they just aren't that useful. Lately, some people who have grown accustomed to using PCs at work have coughed up a couple of thousand dollars so they can have one in their home offices. But nobody's grandmother uses them to post pictures of her grandchildren, and no teenagers spend hours on Facebook . Oh, yeah, there is no Facebook.