From Desktop Computing to the Web in Our Hands

Thirty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement that established the company that will become Apple Computer, Inc. on January 3, 1977. (Wayne left the company eleven days later, relinquishing his ten percent share for US$2300). Steve Jobs told Stephen Segaller in Nerds 2.0.1: “It was very clear to me that… there were a bunch of hardware hobbyists that could assemble their own computers, or at least take our board and add the transformers for the power supply, and the case, the keyboard, and go get the rest of the stuff. [But] for every one of those there were a thousand people that couldn’t do that but wanted to mess around with programming—software hobbyists. … Remember that the sixties happened in the early seventies, and that’s when I came of age. To me the spark of that was, it’s the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers. I think that’s a wonderful thing. I think that same spirit can be put into products, and those products can be manufactured and given to people, and they can sense that spirit. There was something beyond what you see every day.”

Jobs’ poetry led Apple Computer into consumer electronics, re-imagining in the process a number of industries. Apple Computer changed its name to Apple Inc. in 2007 and its market capitalization stood at just over $317 billion at the end of trading today.

Also today, in 1985, Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant launched The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the first online communities which had a far-reaching impact on the nascent culture of the Internet. Segaller in Nerds 2.0.1: “Now more users were able to tune in and turn on the highs of networking, attracted by the chance to connect with like-minded people—even ‘Dead’ people. One should not underestimate the importance in the history of the Internet of the Grateful Dead…  Stewart Brand claims that he created the Whole Earth Catalog as a sourcebook for the hippie commune life so that he could actually avoid living on one. The Well was a natural successor to the trend: ‘I sensed communities worked on places like the Well because you would have some of that fellow feeling that you might have in a commune, or an ‘international community’ as it was called at the time, or the idealized village that people imagined would be nice to have.’”

And today in 2004, Google launched Gmail, a free webmail and POP3 email service, as an invitation-only beta. The launch was initially met with wide-spread skepticism due to Google’s long-standing tradition of April Fools’ jokes. Google’s press release said: “Google Gets the Message and Launches Gmail. A user complaint about existing email services lead Google to create search-based Webmail. Search is number two online activity and email is number one: ‘Heck, Yeah,’ said Google Founders.”  Gmail officially exited beta status on July 7, 2009 at which time it had 170 million users worldwide.

So there you have it. Thirty-five years of first establishing the personal in computing and then moving from the desktop to the Web in our hands.

Update: Today’s April Fools’ announcement from Google.

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