Friday, March 31, 2006

By Pressing Down A Special Key It Plays A Little Melody

"I wouldn't buy it with someone else's money." Windows Vista, the new operating system from Microsoft that was supposed to make the PC more like a Macintosh (again) has to be re-written. Sorry about the registration for this one. It seems that the problem is Bill Gates inability to let go of the past. Innovation isn't copying the "Look and Feel" of another company's product while retaining the ability to run software written 30 years ago. It's trusting your engineers and programmers to make something magic happen. You don't get it by shrieking at your employees like a howler monkey or insisting on always being upbeat and positive. You get it by treating your employees to Kobe beef and lunchtime massages. (No link to that, it's from "The Macintosh Way" by Guy Kawasaki) You get it by being first and foremost, an artist, then you trust your engineers with your life itself.

Unfortunately, today it seems as if Steve Jobs is the last true renaissance man. Someone who sees the interface between the fantastic and romantic and what technology can do tomorrow. It's that "tomorrow" that is the important key to the puzzle. It's one thing to dream of Star Trek transporters when you look at technology but you have to put it in your customers hands today. Jobs has always been able to see what's possible today, things that just aren't being done effectively and then make it all an elegant reality. Maybe he's a genius, or it's the acid or a combination of both. If you ask Jobs if he's an artist or engineer he'd probably not see it as an either or choice.

In his own words: I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to (learn calligraphy). I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, abut varying the space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful. Historical. Artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture. And i found it fascinating. None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the mac. it was the first computer with beautiful typography. if I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.

So is it the artist or engineer who moves the world? Here's what he has to say about being just an engineer: I wish him [Bill Gates] the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.

OK I didn't mean this to be a love letter to Steve Jobs. I just think art and science add up to more then just the sum of the parts. You can have one without the other but when you pay attention to both you get magic.


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