Column Looking back over the last 40 years of computing, it’s hard to imagine how things could have been different. When Steve Jobs travelled up the Valley in late 1979 to visit Xerox PARC, he found the missing piece of the puzzle that had eaten away at him ever since Woz hacked together the first Apple I: how to make a computer that everyone could use.
The genius computer scientists at PARC had solved that problem with WIMP: Windowed Interface, Mouse Pointer. Add in a high-resolution display, an operating system built upon components written in the spiffy object-oriented Smalltalk programming language, plus a high-speed network interface to connect all of the systems together, and, well, that’s pretty much all of modern computing, even today.
Xerox got pre-IPO shares of Apple; Jobs found a path forward – but one that would take years to bring to bear fruit. By July 1981, the two firms felt comfortable enough to ink a partnership agreement that looked like a bit of marketing fluff at the time – each promised only to promote the other’s products – but which quickly changed the world.
More than anyone else in the history of computing, Jobs was born to sell. But all those years of acid and monastic self-reflection also meant he had to believe in what he peddled to the public. He believed in microcomputing, he believed in Apple, and finally he believed in computing for the people: a world where these previously…