Eventually, years later Microsoft managed to come up with a new operating system called Windows, that copied everything the Mac did, only badly. Steve Jobs, whom I had the privilege of knowing, always said, and he meant it, that he had nothing but the hugest respect for Bill Gates’s business acumen, and nothing but the profoundest contempt for his taste.
From the very first the Apple Macintosh team included archeologists, classicists, and, famously, Steve’s passion for the print art of fonts was built into the very first Mac and was alone enough to make one fall entirely in love with the device. Steve liked to say that his vision for computing and other devices was a meeting of technology, science and what Americans call the liberal arts. In other words, function, innovation and aesthetic were equal. No other company had such a view. No other company had such a leader.
But, as I said, he was fired in 1985 just a year after leading the Macintosh into the marketplace. He didn’t keep still. He established NeXT computing, founded on his firm belief that the future wave of computing would mean networking, and he saw the multi-tasking, multi-user UNIX operating system as the means to the end of creating devices that could really communicate.
In one of the world’s most extraordinary missed meetings in industrial, commercial or any other kind of human history, a Henry Morton Stanley failed to encounter a Dr Livingston in the most dramatic and comical fashion.
In the early 90s a young British computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee had been tasked by CERN (Centre Européeen pour la Recherche Nucléaire the now famous large hardon collider that found the Higgs Boson or a tiny thing pretending to be it) to go in and see if he could find a way of getting the Tower of Babel of different computing platforms used by the hundreds of physicists at the plant to talk to each other. He came up with something that made use of metatextual techniques that he called The Information Mine. Being a very very modest man he realised that those initials spelled out his name, TIM, so he changed it at the last minute to the World Wide Web. He wrote a language HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), a set of communication protocols (chiefly htttp — the hypertext transfer protocol) and an application, as we would now say, on which all these could run, which he called a browser.
He planned, devised, programmed and completed this most revolutionary code in Geneva on one of Steve Jobs’s black cube NeXT computers. Hugging his close to him he took the train to Paris where Jobs was going to be present at a NeXT developers’ conference. Clutching the optical disc that contained the most important computer code in history he sat at a desk while Steve marched up and down looking at hopeful programs and applications. As in all of Steve’s judgments they either sucked or were insanely great. Like a Duchess inspecting a flower show he continued along the rows sniffing and frowning until he got two away from the man who had created the code which would change everything, everything in our world. “Sorry Steve, we need to be out of here if we’re going to catch that plane,” whispered an aide into Jobs’s ear. So, with an an encouraging wave Steve left, two footsteps away from being the first man outside CERN to see the World Wide Web. The two men never met and now, since Steve’s death, never can.
The rest of the story is pretty well known. Steve had taken on a group of incredibly talented Computer Graphic Imaging people who had left George Lucas and whom Steve set up as Pixar. By 1997 Apple was collapsing. Inventory was piled high, the share price was on the floor and all my PC friends mocked me to buggery. “Ha! You’re going to have to go to hobby shops to keep your Macs going,” they said. And truth to tell the outlook seemed bleak. As a last throw, Apple bought NeXT bringing in with it of course, its founder and Apple’s original co-founder Steve Jobs. He took a dollar a year as salary, some stock and complete power and authority over the company. Whole projects were closed. Apple went out of the printer making business, out of the camera making business. A young British designer trembled in his office and wrote out his own resignation letter, preparing at least to leave with dignity when he, as so many around him, was inevitably fired.