Steve Jobs, influencer extraordinary

The news of Steve Jobs’s death reached me on the early morning news today. Not exactly unexpected, I guess, since his sudden stepping down a couple of months ago. And I offered a note about that at the time.

I never met Jobs, nor even saw him on stage except through online video. But I’ve been in his debt for over 20 years since I encountered my first Mac computer, working in BP Research’s IT Research Unit, several years before DOS evolved into Windows. I remained, and still am, a Mac user for preference though with many years of Windows experience now. And I did visit Cupertino on a research mission shortly after joining SmithKline Beecham a handful of years later – at the time when Apple’s Taligent was supposed to be the last word in application architecture.

There will be many tributes and a lot of reports, posts and other content rehearsing Steve Jobs’s enormous contribution to creative technology evolution. I don’t propose to add to that; I don’t have the first hand knowledge, except as a long time user.

Apple’s own tributes so far are muted; his picture is alone on the home page, and there are very brief statements from the press office and the Board. An online “book of condolence” has been opened, for anyone to share thoughts.

When I visited Cupertino, Apple was losing its way. It was being squeezed out of the corporate domain because Windows was more directly accessible to developers, and there was a far wider range of enterprise software available for it; and because the variety of competing manufacturers resulted in lower hardware costs: critical mass had been reached. Microsoft Office was a Mac application first, reaching version 5 on the Mac while it was still at 2 on Windows; but it became the archetypal Windows application. It was easy to connect a couple of Macs together: networking was built in from the start: and it’s still (in my opinion!) easier with MacOS than Windows. Networking was grafted on to Windows after the fact, and perhaps some of the compromises are still with us.

But what’s important for Apple now is that, when Jobs returned to the company, he didn’t carry on fighting that battle. For the Mac itself, I’ve always admired the progression of the long term strategy towards the Intel platform: first, reinvent MacOS on its Unix base; then, transfer seamlessly to less proprietary hardware. And there were other moves away from proprietary: adoption of Ethernet and USB in place of Appletalk and the Apple Desktop Bus helped drive the adoption of those standards as well as giving Apple users early access to the new ranges of peripherals.

Alongside this, Jobs moved Apple in a different direction: with enormous success. And in the corporate space, he turned the tables. The story now is that the iPad – still highly proprietary, still different to the Windows world – is taking the enterprise by storm, and is finally persuading (forcing?) enterprise IT to develop different, more open, enabling architectures to replace the uniform Windows environment. Which was always an illusion anyway!

One thing strikes me beyond this, which is relevant to enterprise IT and those of us who work in that space. It’s a given, these days, that we need to know what our customers want and be in a position to provide it. Jobs’s Apple went beyond that. They identified what the customers didn’t know they wanted, and provided it! In that world, you make some mistakes, and Apple has missed some targets. But business is about taking that sort of risk, and Apple’s risks have paid off handsomely.

Steve Jobs was a one-off. Thankyou.

Links:
• Remembering Steve Jobs: online thoughts at Apple.com (contributions via email link)
• Statement by Apple’s Board of Directors, 5 Oct 2011
• Employee letter from Tim Cook, CEO, Apple Media Advisory, 5 Oct 2011
• Steve Jobs, Apple Co-Founder, Dies at 56, Technorati, 5 Oct 2011
• Reprise: Apple after Jobs, ITasITis, 25 Aug 2011
• Steve Jobs (1955-2011): statement from Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, 5 Oct 2011
• Wikipedia on Taligent [not to be confused with the currently active company of the same name)

Advertisements

BT’s broadband outage

Plenty of coverage in the mainstream and IT press about the outage which affected BT Broadband services in many areas of the UK this week, and I’m not going to add much to it. Instead, here’s some information you may not have spotted.

BT have an online status page at http://btbusiness.custhelp.com/app/service_status. This lists areas with known and recently resolved problems. The list shows 14 areas with resolved problems, and 3 ongoing at the time of writing (Wednesday morning). Did you have a problem? Is your area listed here? I hope you aren’t in Poplar, as their problem has been going on since last week and isn’t expected to be resolved till the end of this one!

I have to say I’m not desperately impressed. First, against each recognised incident there’s a “more details” drop down, but in each case the ongoing issue detail only says “There’s a problem, we’re working to fix it.” No indication of the cause of the problem, and though there is an estimate of time to resolution this mostly says “2 hours” which could mean anything. Date and time, please!

Second, I was in Manchester yesterday at a client site where I could see a BT Openzone node, but could not log onto it at any time during the day. Indeed, for a period during the afternoon the Openzone node disappeared completely. Now I don’t know whether this was a BT-provided node or just someone’s personal router operating on the BT Fon cooperative service; but the online information (above) says that the problem in Manchester was resolved at 07.22 which therefore, anecdotally, I think was optimistic.

Third, we’ve had problems back at home in the Brighton area, and there’s no recorded incident in our area at all.

Two points, though. First, an incident like this makes us realise how much we now depend on being online. But second, it’s worth noting that nowadays there are many and multiple ways into the Internet. It would be easy to poke fun at an Internet service provider whose status information is online; but in fact it’s not stupid, because people whose landline broadband is down can get access through their mobile network, or even through old fashioned dial up if they still have a service available.

What could BT (and other providers) learn from this? As a customer, a few ideas.

1 – when the service is down, users do need access to service information. There’s scope surely to host basic information on the home hub. It only needs a phone number for an up to the minute recorded message confirming the network status and likely time of restoration – and if there’s no current estimate of the latter, then say so! The phone number can be kept up to date by an occasional central download.

2 – similarly, provide a local copy of full information for re-booting the modem. This is online at the above URL, where it truly is of limited use if the service is down!

3 – a broadband service should also include access to a basic dial-up service for emergency. Another option would be to provide free mobile access for the duration of an outage longer than, say, 2 hours. Of course, such backup services would need to be independent of the service provider’s own network so that any central problem – like this one – was bypassed; but providers might mutually cover each other’s problems.

Finally, here’s BT’s recommendation in detail for re-starting the hub modem. It’s a bit more complex than just power-off/power-on – note, though, it’s officially on the BT Business site so use with intelligence – no liability accepted if it doesn’t work for a home hub!! And it’s on the site incident page (URL as above) so may well disappear after a while. Print out and keep, together with a note of your own username and password!

You will need your username and password.
1.     Switch off your PC
2.     Switch power off to Router for 3 minutes then switch back on
3.     Wait 5 minutes to allow Router time to stabilise
4.     Switch PC back on
5.     Open internet browser
6.     If still unable to access the internet follow steps below:
7.     Log into Router home page
for BT Business supplied equipment type the following in the address line:
BT Business Hub 192.168.1.254
for non BT equipment please refer to your supplier
8.     Click on settings tab
9.     Click on Broadband
10.     Click on link configuration
11.     You will now be able to see your username and password fields
12.     Please change the username details that appear before the @ symbol as follows:
bt_test_user @XXXXXXXXXX  (you must insert underscore _ in the name as shown)
13.     Please leave password field blank unless prompted in which case enter ADSL (upper case)
14.     Scroll to bottom of page and click on save
15.     If prompted for Router password please input if not known click on “forgot password” link
16.     This will connect the router on test details and the internet light will change to green
17.     Repeat from step 7 above and change user name and password back to your own details.

Lessons learned?