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Apple founder, visionary Jobs dies

Thu., Oct. 6, 2011

He transformed computers, culture

Steven P. Jobs, the charismatic technology pioneer who co-founded Apple Inc. and transformed one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies, has died. He was 56.

Apple announced the death of Jobs – whose legacy included the Apple II, Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad – on Wednesday.

Jobs had resigned as chief executive of Apple in August, after struggling with illness for nearly a decade, including a bout with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and a liver transplant six years later.

Few public companies were as entwined with their leaders as Apple was with Jobs, who co-founded the computer maker in his parents’ Silicon Valley garage in 1976, and decades later – in a comeback as stunning as it seemed improbable – plucked it from near-bankruptcy and turned it into the world’s most valuable technology company.

“His ability to always come around and figure out where that next bet should be has been phenomenal,” Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, the high-tech mogul with whom Jobs was most closely compared, said in 2007.

In the annals of modern American entrepreneur-heroes, few careers traced a more mythic sweep. An adopted child in a working-class California home, Jobs dropped out of college and won the title “father of the computer revolution” by the age of 29. But by 30 he had been forced out of the company he had created.

Once out of the wilderness of exile, however, he brought forth a series of innovations – unveiling them with matchless showmanship – that quickly became ubiquitous. He turned the release of a new gadget into a cultural event, with Apple acolytes lining up like pilgrims at Lourdes.

Jobs was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, to Joanne Carole Schieble and Syrian immigrant Abdulfattah Jandali, unmarried University of Wisconsin graduate students who put him up for adoption. He was adopted by Paul Jobs, a high school dropout who sold used cars and worked as a machinist, and his wife, Clara.

While attending Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., Jobs met Steve Wozniak, who was nearly five years older. A technical wizard who was in and out of college, Wozniak liked to make machines to show off to other tinkerers. The two collaborated on a series of pranks and built and sold “blue boxes” – devices that enabled users to hijack phone lines and make free – and illegal – calls.

In 1972, Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Oregon. He worked sporadically as an electronics technician at video game maker Atari Inc., traveled to India on a quest for enlightenment and found guidance from a Zen Buddhist master.

Meanwhile, Wozniak had created a computer circuit board he was showing off to a group of Silicon Valley computer hobbyists. Jobs saw the device’s potential for broad appeal and persuaded Wozniak to leave his engineering job so they could design computers themselves.

In April 1976, the two launched Apple Computer out of Jobs’ parents’ garage, reproducing Wozniak’s circuit board as their first product.

They called it the Apple I and set the price at $666.66 because Wozniak liked repeating digits. In the following year came the Apple II, which carried a then-novel keyboard and color monitor and became the first popular home computer. When the company went public in 1980, the 25-year-old Jobs made an estimated $217 million.

When he approached PepsiCo executive John Sculley to become chief executive of Apple in 1983, Jobs asked him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want to change the world?”

After battling unsuccessfully with Apple executives over the creation of a computer he called Lisa, Jobs turned his attention to a small research effort called Macintosh, producing what he described as “the most insanely great computer in the world,” with a graphics-rich interface and a mouse that allowed users to navigate much more easily than they could with keyboard commands.

Introduced in 1984, Macintosh inaugurated an era of visual, clickable computing that remains the norm today. Still, the Macintosh struggled early to capture sales and trailed the increasingly popular IBM PC.

As panic set in about the Macintosh’s problems, tensions flared between Jobs and Sculley, who, with the Apple board’s blessing, reduced Jobs’ role. Jobs resigned in 1985, a 30-year-old tech king deposed from the palace he had built. As he saw it, he was fired.

Jobs then started NeXT Computing, which made computers for higher education and corporations. Technologists took to the computers – including British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who used them to create the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. But at $6,000, they were too expensive for consumers and failed to catch on.

Jobs began dabbling in moviemaking technology in 1986, buying a small computer graphics division from filmmaker George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Ltd. and renaming the company Pixar.

Around that time he met Laurene Powell, a Stanford business student, and they were married in 1991 by a Buddhist monk.

NeXT and Pixar struggled financially, and he sank much of his personal fortune – upward of $70 million – into the two companies, according to Alan Deutschman’s “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs” (2000).

The companies’ turnaround began in late 1995 when Pixar released “Toy Story,” the first feature-length computer-animated film, and it became a smash hit. Pixar went public one week later, making Jobs a billionaire. Walt Disney Co. bought Pixar for $7.5 billion in 2006.

In Jobs’ absence, Apple had been foundering, and Jobs came back to Apple as a “special adviser” in 1996. Within a year he orchestrated the ouster of most of Apple’s board and had himself installed as chief executive. He reshaped a company into a $380 billion technology titan, which this year temporarily surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. as the world’s most valuable company.

The comeback was powered by a string of blockbuster products for which Jobs is largely credited.

“To have your whole music library with you at all times is a quantum leap in listening to music,” he said in a 2001 presentation. “How do we possibly do this?” A moment later, he pulled the first iPod from his jeans pocket to show off the answer.

With the iPod’s release, Jobs lighted the way for the entertainment industry in the digital age. Two years later Apple opened its iTunes online store, which is now the country’s No. 1 music retailer. With iTunes Jobs transformed Apple from a computer maker into one of the primary gatekeepers for the explosion of online media.

The iPhone was introduced in 2007, and last year, Apple released its iPad tablet computer.

Mercurial and brilliant, Jobs presented himself as an outsider even at the apex of American business, a convention-bucking visionary who was willing to wade into new industries to do battle.

An intensely private person, Jobs rarely discussed his personal life and had little taste for the trappings of celebrity.

For years, Jobs’ health was an issue. Although he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, he did not reveal his illness for nine months, according to a Fortune magazine report. He finally agreed to surgery in 2004.

After the surgery, Jobs announced that he had recovered. But in 2008, he underwent a liver transplant. In a Stanford commencement speech in 2005, Jobs spoke at length about mortality and its value as a force against complacency.

“Death is very likely the best invention of life,” he said in the speech. “All pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Jobs’ survivors include his wife, their son, Reed Paul, and their daughters, Erin Sienna and Eve, as well as his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

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