I was planning to write this piece, or something like it, before I heard that Steve Jobs had died. Well, here goes...
Bill Gates appreciated what a marvelous sense of style Steve Jobs had. Gates admitted he envied Jobs for it, knowing he lacked the same. Nothing highlights the difference between those two men than the history of the tablet device.
For years, Bill Gates championed the CD drive. At a time when the CD seemed good only for audio, Gates saw it as the savior of software. He pushed the CD when it was too expensive. He pushed it when too few people had drives to use CDs. And he saved us from software installations requiring twenty and more floppy disks.
For years, Bill Gates championed the tablet. He persuaded many companies to build tablets that flopped. Steve Jobs designed the tablet that succeeded.
The iPad is a not a success because of some brilliant insight, or because of changes in the cost and power of hardware. It is a success because Jobs envisioned every important aspect of the device, and planned the computing world it could live in. His comprehensive vision succeeded where one of the richest companies in the world had failed and failed again.
Bill Gates, and Microsoft, could have afforded to buy, or hire, the sense of style that Gates knew he lacked. There must be other geniuses out there who can painstakingly discover every opportunity a product requires in order to succeed, and who know how to design it into a world of success. But Microsoft, as far as I know, never hired that person; or perhaps they hired that person without the authority to move worlds into the ideal alignment a tablet needed to succeed.
Most reports suggest that Steve Jobs was a tyrannical leader. In business, employees can rebel against tyranny. But the directors and employees at Apple had the sense to let their leader and his vision lead them.
Steve Jobs changed the face of computing, and it may be many years before the computer world moves on to some paradigm other than his. Jobs dramatically improved the value of smart phones (good), lowered the cost of music (good, I think), and greatly lowered the price of computer software (bad, I think). He has also dragged us away from the lassez-faire computer environment that the IBM PC and Windows gave us, to a more walled-garden approach where approved software is most welcome. In the long run, this walled garden may stifle development and progress. But we are going to live with Steve Jobs’ vision for a long time.