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Another Steve Jobs story October 6, 2011

Posted by Maury Markowitz in off topic.
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With all the press coverage about the passing of Steve, one would have thought this story would come up… but no one’s touching it. But I think this better tells the story of Steve than the iPad.

Around 1982 Steve was in the midst of the Macintosh project when he started visiting Japanese companies looking for a new floppy disk that didn’t suck. In some cases he’d blow through a lab only to find the drives consisted of nothing more than mock-ups prepared for his visit. Apparently he would savage their engineers in front of their management, then savage their management for wasting his time, and then leave so quickly all that was left was the sulphurous smell.

On one of these visits he’s at Cannon, and he sees this box… it’s a really expensive box, but for what it does it’s by far the least expensive in the world. The box is a 300 dpi laser printer that Cannon’s trying to figure out how to sell.

Now I’m just guessing, but I suspect it went something like this… Steve sees this thing and immediately realizes its potential. But he’s also thinking to himself that these guys have no clue what they’re sitting on.  He probably told them it was crap.

And as a printer, it was crap. That’s because it didn’t do anything that any other printer did. It printed pages, right? For a lot more money! HP put theirs on the market at it flopped. But it could also print graphics at high resolution, something no one else could do. If you’re going to sell it, it needs to print graphics. And PC’s don’t do graphics.

Macs do graphics.

The problem was writing the software to make it work. Apple’s too busy to figure this out. So on his return to Cali, he goes and visits this little company who had been working on their own printer. But their printer sucked, and was way more expensive too. So Steve tells them he’ll license their software, put it on the Cannon, and there’s the product. That company was Adobe, and the software was PostScript.

It was over 20 years ago now, so a lot of people don’t remember what happened when the LaserWriter hit the market in 1985. It was like a bomb went off, blowing up the entire printing industry.

In 1991 I was working at a small software company in a strip industrial building in Toronto, and the entire other end of the building was an offset printing company. They made it until 1992, which was considered a long life by that point. What is a printing company today? A cluttered storefront that looks like a junk shop stacked with photocopiers.

Printing has been democratized to such a base activity that we tell people not to do it. It’s like smoking, it’s just over.

That is Steve Jobs. Clarity of vision, ability to deliver. He will be missed.

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