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Tour of Computer History Museum Reveals Steve Jobs' Impact

For Apple Computer creators Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the consumer was always first.

An element that's always distinguished Apple Inc. products from everything else has been their slick, chic and compact design.

But over the years, even more importantly, Apple has developed a unique user experience, one that now dominates the marketplace.

The exhibit at the in Mountain View clearly shows the impact of Steve Jobs on the company he co-founded with his friend, Steve Wozniak, in a Los Altos garage—but also his impact on the entire personal computer and mobile device industry.

"Jobs has a strong opinion on how his computers should work," said Marc Weber, founding curator of the Internet History Program at the museum. "It's a tightly designed, thoroughly thought-out product for the consumer market. Jobs thought that it shouldn't be hard to use a computer."

from Cupertino-based Apple on Wednesday, and the and business community have been swift.

The announcement provides an opportunity to look closer at this museum, which takes people through the evolutionary journey of computers. And it's obvious from a stroll through the museum that they come a long way from the bulky and complicated machines that were too expensive for anyone without a science background to use or own.

The "Steves"—as Al Kossow, the software curator and Apple specialist at the museum calls them—belonged to the Homebrew Computer Club, and their aim was to create a smaller, cheaper home computer.

That challenge gave birth to the Apple I, which debuted in 1976 for $666.66. The trick? The consumers had to built it themselves and then buy the accessories, like a monitor, keyboard and power supply. Not very practical.

The introduction of the Apple II in 1977 changed the game and propelled the "Steves" and their company to success.

"Why did they succeed?" Weber asked Kossow.

"Well, they were all successful; Tandy and Commodore sold lots of machines," Kossow said. "But Apple gave schools a huge discount, and they did more to get into education."

While Wozniak designed the hardware, it was Jobs who promoted and branded Apple. He emphasized how simple the machine was to use anywhere by anyone.

From Weber's explanation of Jobs' contribution to computer history, its next manifestation came with the adoption of a friendlier user interface on the Macintosh.

According to Weber, Xerox Corporation—which by 1979 owned a stake in Apple Computer—allowed Jobs to look at an interface that they were working on at the Palo Alto Research Center. This "peak" turned into Macinstosh's "graphical user interface" that made computer use easier and simpler. Subsequent reincarnations of the Apple computers used it. It also influenced other software makers—like Microsoft—to adjust.

"Jobs always demanded that users make the adaptation," Weber said. "And everyone would like to do that, but when [Jobs] gets it right, it's just magic."

However, the 1984 price tag of the Macintosh at $2,499 with a memory size of 128K made the machine not very successful in the marketplace, and Jobs lost his job at Apple.

Apple continued on without him, and Jobs, meanwhile, founded NeXT Computer, the device credited with allowing Tim Berners-Lee to create the first Web browser in less than three month in 1990. NeXT also failed, because of the high cost, but its operating system (OS) became a valuable commodity to Apple. Apple purchased NeXT in 1997 from Jobs and brought him back on board.

In Jobs' absence, Microsoft Windows had caught up to the advantage that the Mac had, Kossow said. But armed with the new Mac OS, Jobs rebranded the company. He no longer allowed computer clones to run Apple's OS, which ate into company profits; he got rid of his advance technology group, and instead began to acquire startups, according to Kossow.

"What's going on now is the growth is no longer in PCs but in mobile devices," said Kossow. "Microsoft and Apple are trying to position themselves in that space to try and get a business advantage."

Jobs' design aesthetic for Apple took a surprise turn with the introduction of the iMacs in 1998 and with the launch of the iPod in 2000, which made searching for and playing music easier.

"Sony totally lost the consumer market in the past 10 to 15 years," Kossow said of the entertainment company that once dominated the music hardware space but has fallen behind. That's partly because of the iTunes software that not only made it easier to organize music but also made it legal to purchase online. "Apple took over."

Another impact of Jobs and Apple on computer history was the iPhone. Despite companies like Nokia, Motorola, Research in Motion and Ericsson being the first to create the mobile smart phones as early as 1993, "it wasn't obvious for computer companies to get into the phone market," Weber said.

But the Apple did just that when it presented the iPhone and the iPad.

"The tablet computer has had a long, mostly failed history," said Weber, calling the iPad "just a big phone." "The iPad came out of 40 years of thinking of a product that hadn't hit the mass market.

"Jobs took a product in a space that had been solidified and built a winner."

Throughout the years, Apple devices have gotten easier to use and sexier, and they've given consumers more battery life and memory for the price. Jobs raised the bar for hardware designers, and across the computer industry, he elicits admiration.

"From the earliest Macs, 'the computer for the rest of us,' to the iPad, Jobs has brought to his work vision and a fierce determination to change the world," said Dag Spicer, the computer museum's senior curator. "Jobs not only created great products; he made ecosystems for them to live in."

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