The times we are talking about, late 70's to early 80's, were crazy with new uses for technology. Nobody understood it fully. Looking back today, it is easy to see that computers were valuable to business. It is easy to spot the uses and advantages. In fact, as time passed, they became indispensable to successful business endeavors.
I was young then, but I lived through this special time. When I was 8 years old, I wrote my first program. It was a simple 'hello
world' with some geometry calculations added in. Then I wrote programs
on the first IBM PC. I wrote programs on the Apple II. My dad was a
computer science professor and had introduced me to the punchcards,
the air conditioned tombs with loud printers and whirling tape, and
the precious scrolls of knowledge that were the new program listings.
I used to read the college textbooks when I was 12. My dad gave me a great gift, a wonderful advantage in life. I wrote code in BASIC,
assembler, FORTRAN, Pascal, C, and others. I watched the news. I went
with my dad on his side consulting calls to businesses. I knew what
was happening at the college. I felt the pulse of the industry from
its birth. There were no computers ... until there were. There was no
internet ... until there was. I feel privileged to have been a part of
it and I continue to be amazed to this day.
The trends were never in Apple's favor, honestly, but I'm typing this on a Macbook, I have an iPad in my bag, and even my music collection is on Apple. The Apple of Steve Jobs made the best software and hardware in the world for personal use, created with love and intended for the most discerning and innovative people in the world. But it isn't works of art that big business seeks, it is efficient tools that do the job and have service techs available in case of issues.
There are several factors that play into this situation that probably aren't obvious from a distant point of view:
- Steve Jobs was a hippie. He was completely unconventional. He had peculiar bathing and grooming habits. He had strange schedules and unusual plans. I'm not bashing him. I think he was a visionary. I am quite unconventional myself and I count him as a role model. But ... he was so different from the typical 'businessman' that it was anything but natural for the average business to accept him seriously. It was also completely within his character to avoid fraternizing with big business.
- Steve Jobs was a visionary. His vision was of a personal computer for the creative souls of the world. He saw himself serving artists, teachers, inventors, writers, and any number of other creative people. Sure, there was business software, tax software, etc. available, but it was not the first priority. It was not part of the mission statement of Apple.
- The business of creativity was something Steve Jobs saw coming, but it took a while getting here. Even today, you can see the results of this strong sense of mission: the people who use apple products are much more likely to be creatives. Artists, developers, teachers, content producers, entrepreneurs, etc. make up a remarkably high percentage of Mac and 'iStuff' users. As the demand for creative workers has risen over the last 30 years, the lucky (or visionary - depending on how we look at it) side effect for Apple was that the creative people are the rich ones now, not the 'starving artists' of the 70s.
- The installed base of 'business' computers in the 1970s was made up of a of mainframes, some 'mini' computers, typewriters, calculators, and other technology from the previous generation. In addition, It took a long time before the marvelous devices that were the first personal computers were actually competitive with the less glamorous business class hardware. Even though they were amazing to home users, they were thoroughly unimpressive to big business for quite a while. I would venture a guess that most businesses would have preferred to keep the mainframes and terminals to this day, with regular technology updates as time passed, of course.
- The businesses that were first to adopt were the ones who either had a tremendous need or had high operating budgets. These were businesses that had very high standards and were less likely to adopt 'personal' computers that needed finicky operating procedures, had questionable longevity, and had no reliable software (not in BASIC, but in COBOL, which is still the most widely used language in the world by sheer lines of code). They needed high uptime, skilled support personnel, and solid backup methods. A game file getting erased on a personal computer is annoying; a database of million dollar transactions being lost is a train wreck.
- Big Blue has always hired the best salespeople and engineers in the world. IBM regularly displays exhilarating examples of design and engineering prowess, much of it from the esoteric realm of basic research ... where all true creativity lives. Their sales and marketing teams are so consistently skilled that you can confidently set your corporate budgets by their projections. IBM is serious engineering, serious design, and serious business. This is their mission. Just as Apple was built from the ground up to serve creatives, IBM was designed to serve big business.
- So the Business and Scientific users mentioned are those who would want a computer, who could afford a computer, and who would actually use a computer ... those people are going to go with what they know. The business people know IBM ... for many 'business' people, the PC wasn't real until IBM made one. It was a toy until it was for real. A computer cost as much as a new car back then. It was a serious decision.
And then there are the geeks among us, the scientists, engineers, and tinkerers of the world, including me, who preferred the open
architecture and the variety. For business, downtime is a frustrating
expense. For a creative technophile and tinkerer, it is an opportunity
to take the computer apart once again, to reformat the hard drive for
the millionth time, to upgrade the CPU with the latest gadget. It is a
joy I have pursued for over thirty years and I wouldn't change a
If everything isn't super compatible, I'll make do. If the drivers
aren't quite ready yet, I'll find an old one. If the OS is full of
backward compatible hacks, segmented memory management gimmicks, and
interrupt cascades, I'll figure it out. It's all great fun! It is a
great puzzle. It is my old pickup up on blocks in the backyard. I get
to drive it sometimes, to play the latest RPG or shooter game ... in
For a person who likes to fix things ... a computer and OS that is broken a lot can be a gift. That is what the Windows PC is today and has been for a long time. For those times when I need a solid business system that will just keep working, with low cost of ownership and minimal hassles, it is a linux box. And for those times when I need to get things done, when I just want it to work, flawlessly and beautifully, I have my MacBook and iPhone.