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posted on 6th Oct 2011

Lots of people have been writing posts describing what Steve Jobs's passing and life meant to them and how he influenced them. I've been struggling to figure out how to put my thoughts together and whether I really wanted to, as others have said most of what I wanted far more brilliantly than I could. However, someone who generally pisses me off, pissed me off to an even greater degree than usual. Said someone is Richard Stallman, or as I shall refer to him henceforth, Dick (as suggested by Justin Williams). The reason for this will soon become apparent.

For those of you who don't know about Dick, well he's pretty much a guy who fights vigorously for open source in the name of "freedom", dismissing anyone who doesn't fit into his myopic world view as the enemy and generally being arrogant and pig headed. I'll leave it up to you to make the obvious connection to certain other political movements and leaders.

Usually Dick just spouts his propaganda or heckles people who are trying to improve our education systems. But this time Dick has truly lived up to his name with a rather hate-filled few paragraphs about Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died. As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone." Nobody deserves to have to die - not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing. Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.


"Freedom" is an overused word, much like "open", and generally means "my way of thinking". What Dick is saying is that we should work towards his view of "freedom". His view is that people should be able to do what they want with whatever technology they have. If I want to run OS X on my toaster then I damn well better be able to. I should be able to hack the internals of every piece of software and hardware and heaven help anyone who makes that hard in any way.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that view, nor in achieving it. But it's something very few people actually care about and something that should almost never be your number one priority as Dick desires. His view of freedom is something that helps him and his supporters help themselves. It lets them hack to their hearts content. But it also makes technology complex, awkward, fragile and scary to the vast majority of people. This isn't to say that closed hardware and software can't do that, in fact the vast majority of it is equally as bad. But that isn't what Steve Jobs or Apple wanted. Steve Jobs didn't care about "closed" vs "open", he cared about "great" vs "crap". Closed and open were merely tools that could be used to create great products.

Steve Jobs cared about freedom as well, but a freedom that was much more useful to the majority. It was freedom from the fear of technology, from having to look after technology. It was the freedom given by simply making technology usable.

My Grandma is a great example of what this freedom allows. She always dismissed and ignored the games my brother and I played on various consoles. They seemed complicated and a waste of time. Yet when we first showed her a Nintendo Wii, it was completely different. It was easy to learn and fun for her to play. She didn't have to sit down for hours and perform lots of challenging tasks, she just had to pretend to throw a bowling ball. She had never before played a computer game, but here she was enjoying it.

Similarly she doesn't own a computer. Yet she loves buying things at auction and would come round so we could help find her auction houses. She would also come round for help researching places to go on holiday. But every time she would need me or my Dad sat there to help guide her through and do the majority of the work. Yet when we used the iPad, she was able and willing to do much more herself. It just felt easier.

These aren't isolated cases, there are many stories out there of people who previously were left out of technology being brought in. From the elderly to the very young and everyone in between. This new wave of technology is opening up a whole new world to these people. And the reason for this is that those behind the technology don't care about specs or features or openness as the primary driver behind their products. Their focus is instead on people, and enabling them them to achieve things that were previously unachievable.

This is no more evident than in marketing videos. The vast majority talk about the specs and how the screen size and the processor and the ports will help you. But instead look at Apple's adverts. They talk about reading books, cooking, sharing memories, learning. They don't talk about the specs of the camera with regards to video conferencing, but show you the scenario of a soldier on tour being able to see a sonogram of their unborn child from half way around the world. These are things that people care about, everything else is incidental. I love Apple's 'We Believe' iPad advert as it sums this attitude up so well.

This is what we believe. Technology alone is not enough. Faster, thinner, lighter - those are all good things. But when technology gets out of the way, everything becomes more delightful, even magical. That's when you leap forward…


That is what Dick talks about when he talks about Steve's legacy. What Steve did wasn't the iPhone or the iPad or the Mac or Apple or Pixar or any of the other things he played a part in creating. No, what Steve did was to be one of the strongest voices out there in favour of using technology, not for technology's sake, but to make the world a better place, to make people's lives better. Dick is that focused on the fact that large parts of the things Steve worked on are closed, he's missing the real drive and the real achievement.

Anyone who strives to make technology easier, more enjoyable and more accessible are Steve's successors. I like to think that I'm one of those people. I know many of my developer and designer friends are in that group as well. And we will not stop, we will not falter and we will not be any less effective. We will continuously strive to use technology to make people's lives better. Not for Apple and not even for Steve, but because it is the right thing to do. And if Dick is truly against those ideals and is set in his own tiny world view, then I have only one thing to say to him…

Think Different or GTFO

If you would like to send me a comment on this post, send an email to pilky@mcubedsw.com. Alternatively send a tweet to @pilky.