My time with Steve Jobs happened a very long time ago. It was early 1980, or perhaps late 1979, and I was a freshman at Stanford. I heard that Steve Jobs was coming to talk to some students in a small group session. I don’t actually recall why it caught my attention. I had probably heard of Apple computers back then, but I had never seen one. The only computers I had ever seen where in huge boxes behind thick glass windows.
Somehow, I decided to go to the event. It was over in Branner Hall across the street from my dorm complex, Wilbur. We met in a big room. It was kind of dark and had a fireplace. I did a quick search on Branner and found a picture of the room.
We all settled in with Jobs sitting down at the head of our circle. He was a young guy. Full of energy. I listened with great interest to what he had to say. The thing I remember was his vision of what computers would look like in our future and his excitement about the day his vision would come true.
His vision was not the Mac. What he talked about was a computer so small it fit in our hands. It would go with us every where. It would be our personal navigator. His enthusiasm was so clear and intense. Even though it sounded like science fiction given the computers we had at the time.
We had about an hour of Jobs’ time that evening, but his vision of a personal navigator always stuck with me.
I remember later breaking into the computer science building to get access to a computer with a modem, as I must have run out of hours at the computer lab. I wandered around a bit until I came upon a room with some computer monitors and modems. Sitting next to the terminal was another monitor. This one was way cooler. It was something called a Star computer. I had never seen anything like it. It had a completely different screen and you could move the arrow around on the screen with this thing attached by a cord. I didn’t know it was a mouse. I played with it for half an hour trying to see what I could do with it. It didn’t seem to be able to do much of interest. I couldn’t figure out how to connect it to the Dec System 20 which is what I needed.
Even though it was not much use, it seemed very cool and I remember wondering in passing if Jobs had seen this thing. It turns out that the Star was one of the inspirations for the Lisa and later Mac.
In the mid to late 80s, I would own a few Macs and use them all the time at work. They were great until they were not. In came the Thinkpad and I have been locked into Wintel ever since.
In the mid 90′s, Apple released the Newton. I thought then that Jobs’ vision might be coming a reality with a Jobs less Apple. Like other enthusiasts I bought a Newton. I used it for a while, but it wasn’t easy. It was kind of hard to use, it was too big and way too heavy. The Newton failed and the Pilot took its place.
But obviously, Jobs was not done. He gave us the iPod, the iPod touch and iPhone and now the iPad. He did it. He delivered on his vision from 1980. These cool devices have become our personal navigators in so many ways.
I never met Steve Jobs again since that evening in Branner Hall. It was a short, but memorable time.
Whatever Steve Jobs does next, I wish him well. It would be interesting to hear Steve give that Branner talk one more time. What would his vision be now?
BTW, if you haven’t seen Jobs giving the commencement speach at Stanford you should. It’s quite inspirational. You can see the video here – How to Live Before you Die.