4 Decades of Apple From a Member of the Mac Cult


I've been a Mac since the late 1970s. Of course, back then we didn't use those words or yet know our small geeky circle would someday become a bona fide global movement.

I was just a kid programming on an Apple IIe my uncle introduced us to. I graduated to a succession of Apple computers in the following years -- a Mac LC, a PowerMac, a PowerBook, and of course the MacBook Pro I'm using to write this article.

I was and still am a Mac, and I'm sad to see Steve Jobs, one of the greatest leaders of one of the great companies in American history, step down as CEO of Apple (AAPL). Under his guidance, Apple did amazing things:

  • Transformed a hobbyist toy (a personal computer) into a household must-have.

  • Set the bar for Super Bowl advertising.

  • Together with Aldus and Adobe (ADBE), invented desktop publishing.

  • With the Mac, popularized the idea of graphical computing.

  • Survived a near-death crisis brought on by years of inept leadership.

  • Broke the mold for what a computer's supposed to look like with the iMac.

  • Disrupted the music industry by insisting on $0.99 single-track digital sales.

  • Transformed digital distribution with iTunes.

  • Set the bar for consumer touchscreen technology with the iPhone.

  • Eliminated the word "Computer" from its corporate name and has since overtaken Nokia (NOK), Research In Motion (RIMM), and untold others in becoming the world's largest supplier of smartphones.

But of all of Jobs' achievements, his greatest is that he made me care about Apple in a way that went far beyond the products the company sold. Without him, there would be no Cult of Mac, as we enthusiasts are called when you put us in a group. How did he do it?

Beauty of Apple
Beauty of Apple

The Mac Way: Beautiful on the Inside and Out

Jobs made the Mac look different than a PC. The original Mac was a unique all-in-one system, built by the Jobs-led team that flew a pirate flag over Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. However, the rebellious design approach of the early days was constantly under threat within the walls of Apple.

Remember the LC? Not much different than a Dell box in terms of exterior design, and built toward the end of CEO John Sculley's reign.

And before Jobs' return, Apple spent considerable resources to try to be more like Microsoft (MSFT). Then-CEO Michael Spindler authorized an official Mac cloning program in 1995, making Macs look even more like PCs.

Jobs canceled the program shortly after returning as CEO and went to work on making Apple's computers look different. The result? In 2002, Apple's newest iMac -- blessed with a flexible and expanding metal arm and rounded base -- landed on the cover of TIME magazine.

Apple didn't simply design a pretty face -- it made sure its products had inner beauty, as well.

Jobs' principal innovation, I'd argue, was insisting that Apple deliver whole environments rather than single products. The company couldn't just ship an iPod. It had to also have iTunes and eventually a store so that it would "just work" when users turned on the device for the first time.

Instead of forcing customers to spend time learning and customizing, Jobs's Apple let users simply enjoy.

Out Again, But On His Own Terms

During the late 1990s, I spent a year at Sun Microsystems, working in a division based in Cupertino in a building not far from Apple's main campus. I was told that the Mac maker owned the building at one point. I learned that the main conference room -- where I'd sit in quietly on strategy meetings of all varieties (I was no executive in those days; I was a worker bee, and a poor one at that) -- was the same one where Steve Jobs battled Sculley for control of the company he co-founded.

Jobs lost then. He was ousted by his own board.

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The experience of being in that conference room has never fully left me. Nor has Silicon Valley -- even though, today, I write from our modest suburban house positioned along the southern base of the Rocky Mountains. I visit the part of my soul that still lives there each time I visit up-and-coming companies based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Jobs has to feel similarly nostalgic today. Or maybe not. Maybe he's tired and needs a break from everyday CEO duties. Either way, he's leaving the top job on his own terms. Good, I say. It's justice for a man that lacked it earlier in his career. Now, as he departs -- with Apple flush and leading fast-growing markets -- we can celebrate the legacy he's left behind: A legacy of beautiful products, brilliant marketing, and bulky profits.

Farewell, Steve. Good luck. You deserve a restful and (here's hoping) healthy retirement. And if we haven't said it enough already, thanks to both you and Steve Wozniak for giving us Apple. Your work has made our world a lot more interesting.

Gallery: The Face of Apple

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication, which he plans to keep for the foreseeable future.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Research In Motion, Apple, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Dell, Adobe Systems, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Adobe Systems. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and Microsoft.

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