Did Steve Jobs change the world?

Can you compare the contributions of Steve Jobs to those of Thomas Edison?

Alan Hitchcox
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Appropriately enough, my wife and I first got the news that Steve Jobs had died as an alert on her iPhone. Initial news reports mentioned how Jobs’ contributions changed all of our lives. At first I didn’t buy into this, but after just a little thought I realized there’s no denying it.

Computers first entered my workplace in 1985. They were actually dedicated word processors, but they were a huge leap forward from typewriters. I still remember seeing Macs on clearance at my local Sears store in the early 90s. The early versions all had a monochrome monitor, and when the new ones came out with color, the older ones were clearance priced at $1000. This was way out of reach for a guy with a growing family — especially for what was still considered a novelty. But I knew computers would be important for my kids, so I ended up buying a Commodore 64 system. It wasn’t a Mac, but it served its purpose.

A few years later we got our first MacIntosh computers at Penton, and I was thrilled. I marveled at how easy it was to do things. Pop in a disk, and an icon of a disk appears on the desktop. Double-click it to see what’s inside. What could be simpler? We learned how to use the Mac operating system in one short class. Later, we would often discover little tricks to do things quicker or make files more organized.

On the other hand, people in the “business side” of the office had IBM-compatible PCs. Their machines used MS-DOS, and they had to enter commands on a keyboard. Working on a PC became a lot easier when Microsoft Windows entered the scene. PCs with the Windows operating system cost much less than Macs, so Windows-based machines dominated.

The two different systems polarized most users into Mac people or PC people. But even PC people have to acknowledge the contributions of Steve Jobs. If it wasn’t for Apple’s easy-to-use operating system, Windows would be light years behind what it is now. As big and powerful as Microsoft is, it has been forced to continually improve Windows to try to keep up with Apple’s innovations. Unfortunately, people sometimes choose not to upgrade their older Windows operating systems because of problems and incompatibility issues with the new ones.

But Jobs’s contributions only started with the Mac. The iPod has changed the way people manage their music collection. You may not have an iPod or use iTunes, but you probably listen to music on an MP3 player — even if it’s your phone. That leads to still another innovation from Jobs — the iPhone. Before the iPhone, smart phones needed you to use a stylus to select tiny icons from a tiny display. Today, of course, the touch of your finger lets you scroll though and select from dozens of icons for music, e-mail, video, and different apps of your own choosing.

Some people have even compared Jobs’s genius to that of Edison. I wouldn’t go that far, because Edison was an inventor, and Jobs was a visionary. But either way, they both changed the world.