Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs.
All I'm hearing and reading today is about the passing of this man. Everyone, from politicans and business leaders to the individual man on the street is praising his life and achievements. He's been compared to Edison and Ford and Einstein. He's been applauded for how he's changed industries and built the most valuable company in the world. He's been held up as a shining example of entrepreneurship, creativity and passion for quality and design.
All true. Except for one thing: Steve Jobs has screwed up my life. Particularly my business life.
For example, just when things were riding high in the PC world, Jobs introduced the iMac. This was back in the late 1990's when my company was about five years old. We were making lots of money selling and implementing Windows-based software. To do this our clients needed Windows-based workstations and servers. And, thanks to companies like Microsoft, Intel, HP and others, we had plenty of work to do. That's because that stuff didn't work very well. There were memory issues, design flaws, blue screens of death and constant freezes. Data got lost and systems went down. Programs were hard to figure out. Which mean lots of training revenue. And lots and lots of support revenue too. And not just for my firm, but for all of the firms in the information technology world that we partnered with. We shared work back and forth. As long as the technology was iffy, we made bank.
And then...the iMac. Suddenly a computer that...worked. And it looked good. And people loved it. And people, particularly my clients, started buying it. And the iMac spawned the MacBook. And that worked too. And people loved it as well. So the software and hardware companies that had become so complacent in those Windows-dominated days of old had to step up their act just to keep up with Apple. And the technology got better. And more reliable. So reliable that when my kids hit high school they were all issued MacBooks. Now I'm risking an indecent exposure lawsuit every time I walk behind them and their iChatting friends while in my underwear. Worse: we have less support and training work in my company because our clients' computers, now equipped with the very Apple-looking Windows 7 interface, are working better and are more user friendly. That's one way Steve Jobs has screwed up my life.
And another way: his Mac operating system. For me it's always been all about Microsoft Windows. We sold Windows products. We provided Windows support. I could navigate my way around a computer with my eyes closed. At one time, I was an expert in operating systems because Windows was the only game in town. I could integrate and support other software applications and databases because they were all Windows based too. I never worried when something went wrong. It would eventually be fixed. I mean, what was a client going to do...go back to pen and paper? Ha ha!
Well, now I'm not laughing. Because thanks to Jobs, those days are gone. Now I'm competing against Mac experts. You know who they are -- they're those so-called "geniuses" in the Apple store wearing those stupid black-rimmed glasses and drinking Red Bulls. And they're all smarter than me too. Look, as Fredo in The Godfather said: I'm smart. I just don't get the respect that I used to get now that there's another (better?) operating system in town. And now I'm competing against Mac-based software too. And that's complicating my life. Clients have more choice. I've got more headaches. I've got to know more stuff. God, I hate all this change. Where's Microsoft's Bob when you need him?
As if that's not enough, Steve Jobs has personally been responsible for siphoning off a significant amount of money from my company. Money that I could've used to hire more people, invest in more technology and expand my business. In a time of slow economic growth, this man has garnished what little excess cash I have and forced me to spend it on things I shouldn't be spending it on.
Take music. I've purchased half a dozen iPods in this never-ending desire to stay current with the most recent version. And I cannot even tell you how much I've blown on music in the past few years. And not just new music. I can justify diverting funds from my business so that I can download the latest from I Am Kloot, The Strokes and Becker (note - LOVING "She's A Cold Sunny Day"). But I'm ashamed to admit that I've taken valuable dollars from my company's bank account, from my retirement, from my childrens' college education fund to replace much of my old CD collection including Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat" and "Champagne Jam" by the Atlanta Rhythm Section. I know. It's not only embarrassing. It's sad.
And it's all Steve Jobs fault. He's screwed up my life.
Over the years, Jobs has taken from my company the most valuable resource that I can offer: my time. I run a small business. I have a family. Like most small business owners, I get up early, work hard and go to bed late. I have a million things on my to-do list and never enough hours in the day to get things done. I'm constantly pressed for more time. I'm exhausted. I never seem to be able to focus my attention on all the things that need my attention.
So why do I insist on seeing every animated movie that comes out from Pixar? Why can I repeat entire dialogs from Monsters, Inc.? Why do I still cry every time I see the end of Toy Story 3? How come I stayed up until 1AM the other night watching Wall-E for the 83rd time instead of catching up on the sleep I so desperately need? It's because all those movies made by Pixar, another one of Jobs' companies, are so ...good. What, he wasn't happy enough with Apple? He had to go into the movie business too? And unlike other dopey guys who invest in movies (hint: no one's lining up behind Shaq to make Kazaam 2) Jobs gets intimately involved in the entire process and once again makes something completely unique and fantastic. As usual. And I suffer.
And finally there are the apps. All those hundreds and thousands of apps that came about because of the iPhone. Sure, some of them have been profitable for my business -- particularly the ones for navigation, email, calendaring and reminders. And sure the Apple Apps market has spawned other competing apps markets, most notably Google's for the Android device. I agree that his has increased our personal productivity. But because of Jobs my employees are wasting time playing scrabble with each other, fighting Angry Birds and watching entire episodes of The Office instead of doing work. I'll never recover that lost productivity. And can someone please tell my son to stop changing the channels on our living room TV set using that stupid iPhone app from his bedroom? After the 100th time it stops being funny, OK? Thanks again, Steve.
Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs. I wonder if the technology world will once again slip into mediocrity. Will people accept less quality and more difficult functionality, enabling service companies like mine to get back to work and make lots of money? Like the good old days.
Gene Marks writes weekly online blogs for both The New York Times and Forbes and bi-weekly for American City Business Journals. He runs a ten person consulting firm outside of Philadelphia and can be followed on Twitter.