Jobs: Death of a clever salesman

Jobs: Death of a clever salesman

It was a Macintosh SE of late 1980s vintage; as somebody who had used intermittently for 10 years Apple’s Macintosh in my work, I knew its value at once. Off hand, I could think of at least five friends who’d have paid good money to have that Macintosh sitting in their drawing room. The seller said it was a working piece and asked for Rs 3,000. I was short. I passed.

At first, I didn’t buy Apple’s machines because they were unaffordable. I knew all along that Apple’s hardware and software were better built, easier to use and more attractive than the variety of personal computers (they were called IBM clones) using Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Apple’s machines did not need anti-virus software, they worked faster, seldom crashed, had better displays, ran several programs at the same time. Reliable.

In those days, Apple users were an exclusive club of people willing to pay a usurious premium for quality. People who thought the only reason others didn’t use Apple was they couldn’t afford it. Then, buying an Apple machine was ambition. This seemed a little laughable at the time as Apple verged on bankruptcy. This was around the time Steve Jobs returned.

High-cost contract

First came the iMac. Then a slew of products that propelled Jobs from freak to legend. As they became affordable, my income had increased. An Apple was well within reach. But my Apple loyalist friends would often crib about how they were trapped in a high-cost contract. Small spares were exorbitant, as were annual maintenance contracts. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford it; they felt taken for a ride.

Their complaints made me hesitate a little. This was around the time I’d discovered that staying on Microsoft Windows platform was fraught with hazards that included unavoidable virus intrusions, frequent crashes and, eventually, data loss. I wanted out but Apple, though affordable by now, didn’t seem like a great option, notwithstanding the catchy adverts and slogans, the attractive and colourful machine designs.

All these products pushed the Apple monopoly in software and hardware. If you bought an iPod, you got a touchscreen but you couldn’t copy the music out of it. You needed to use iTunes on an Apple machine or, worse still, iTunes on a Windows machine, to load music on to it. There were restrictions after restrictions.

The Macintosh had been preceded by an advertisement based on George Orwell’s novel 1984. It featured a rebellion, the Apple rebellion, against the Big Brother, namely, IBM. It took very little time for Bill Gates to become the Big Brother of the personal computer world. Steve Jobs’ second coming at Apple in 1997 changed that over the coming decade.

There was a poetic irony about Apple’s market valuation overtaking Microsoft’s a few months ago. If nothing else, for the simple reason that Apple has consistently made better products than Microsoft.

Now, Steve Jobs’ Apple is the Big Brother of the personal computing world. It lords over the world of proprietary software that propelled the Microsoft monopoly in the first place. Apple is as coercive and restrictive as Microsoft and has the financial might to back its practices.

Somewhere in the middle of Apple’s turnaround, I had the money to buy Apple’s products. But I didn’t want to get locked into the proprietary software trap. Some friends mentioned Linux, which heretofore was an operating system for servers and the geeks who ran them.

They told me it now has a graphical user interface. The initial months were horrible, not because Linux didn’t work but because hardware vendors did not provide drivers for Linux machines.

With each year, it has become easier. Especially with ubuntu, Linux has become the easiest option for personal computing. It’s been six years of using open-source and free software. Six productive years. Over the past six days, reading obituaries describing Jobs as nothing short of an Edison of our times, I am impressed with the power of advertising.

Tragic as Jobs’ death at 56 years is, the exaggerated accounts of his influence on our age convince me of the power of advertising, marketing and our vulnerability to what entraps us.

(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist).

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