Iím one of those self-described ďMac people.Ē Iíve never owned a PC or read a computer manual and thatís a sort of badge of honor. Iím not a techie by any means.
But - gee, could it be 20 years ago? - I fell in love with a little guy called Macintosh. It wasnít much bigger than a shoe box and its screen now seems tiny compared with the iMac with the 27-inch display on my desk. But it was so easy to use, compact, strangely intuitive, even elegant. I was hooked on Mac and never strayed.
Iíve added to Appleís profits over the years with my purchases of just about every new generation of Mac, plus iPods and iPhones. My original Color Mac is even in the New England Computer Museum, which purchased the machine when I put it up for auction on eBay.
So I, like million of people around the world, was saddened at the recent death of Apple Computerís late co-founder and visionary leader, Steve Jobs. I especially was touched by a photograph that ran on the front page of The New York Times. It showed people in Tokyo paying tribute to Jobs not with real candles glowing, but with a photo of candles glowing on the screens of their iPads.
To be sure, Jobs and Apple left big footprints on the personal technology industry and on peopleís lives.
But before Jobs, a tall Texan left even bigger footprints. Literally. He was a gentle giant and a quiet genius of a man named Jack St. Clair Kilby.
"Who?" some readers might ask. Never heard of him.
Well, you just donít know Jack. I didnít really, either, but I did get to interview him in a past life when I covered the high-tech industry for the Dallas Times Herald.
Talk about unassuming. He seemed the opposite end of the universe from Steve Jobs. Kilby was decidedly unhip. He was difficult to interview, a man of few words. He wasnít the handsome enfant terrible that Jobs had been. Balding and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Kilby came across as bookish and reserved. He seemed more comfortable in the lab than in the limelight.
But this was a man who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000 for his part in inventing the integrated circuit at the heart of every computer, cell phone and electronic device. His invention made possible Apple and an entire industry, or industries, and changed people's lives.
Scroll back in time to the summer of 1958. Kilby had just landed a job as an engineer at Texas Instruments in Dallas.
ďTI was the only company that agreed to let me work on electronic component miniaturization more or less full time, and it turned out to be a great fit,Ē Kilby said years later.
Left alone in the lab and using borrowed and improvised equipment, he fashioned an electronic circuit with active and passive components fabricated in a single piece of silicon material. It looks crude by todayís standards of mass-produced, uniform chips. Kilbyís original wasnít a tiny chip. It was about the size of a paper clip.
Around the same time, Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor and later Intel Corp. was working on a similar problem and devised a similar solution. The two men are considered the co-founders of the integrated circuit.
When Kilby won the Nobel Prize, former President Bill Clinton wrote these words of congratulations: ďYou can take pride in the knowledge that your work will help to improve the lives for generations to come.Ē
After proving the technology worked, Kilby headed teams at TI that built the first military systems and the first computer that used his invention. He also worked on teams that invented the first handheld calculators and thermal printers.
In 1970 he took a leave of absence to work on another project with future impact - how to apply silicon technology to help generate electrical power from sunlight.
Kilby retired from TI in the 1980s, but stayed busy as a consultant. With characteristic humility, he called the Nobel award ďcompletely unexpectedĒ and said he was proud of the prize, but even more proud of his two daughters and five granddaughters. He specialized in chips at work and girls at home, he quipped.
Jack Kilby died in 2005 at age 81 after a brief battle with cancer. To be sure, many people in the electronics industry who knew him were saddened and paid tributes to him. But he certainly didnít get the accolades that Steve Jobs did. Kilby was the consummate engineer working behind-the-scenes, while Jobs was a pioneer on the consumer technology front who rose to rock-star status.
Not to take anything away from Jobsís impact. He leveraged the early technology of the fledgling computer industry and built a company that gave the world a new machine with soul - the Mac. It even had a name, not just numbers. It seemed friendly. It was fun to use. It penetrated the wall of fear about computers and demystified them for the average user. Computers werenít just for geeks, anymore, they were for everyone.
Both men deserve their place in the high-tech hall of fame. Itís just too bad that Kilbyís invention and intellect arenít as well known as Jobsí are and that so many people in the world donít know Jack. Maybe now a few more will.