Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., died earlier today at the age of 56. Often described as ‘mercurial,’ Jobs has long been known for his demanding creative leadership at Apple, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential technologists of the personal computing era.
Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computer Inc. in 1976, which had early success with the Apple II personal computer. In 1984, under Jobs’s leadership, Apple introduced the groundbreaking Macintosh personal computer, the first computer for the consumer market with a graphical user interface, mouse, and 3.5″ floppy drive.
Forced out of the company he founded just one year after the release of the Macintosh, Jobs went on to found NeXT Computer—a niche manufacturer of workstation computers for the academic market. While NeXT was largely unknown in the consumer market, its products were very cutting-edge for the era. The NeXT workstation, a magnesium encased cube, is reminiscent of later Apple designs. The first ‘world wide web’ server on the Internet was hosted on a NeXT workstation, and many technical elements of the NeXTstep operating system are still present today in Apple Mac OS X and iOS.
While he was CEO of NeXT, Jobs purchased The Graphics Group—the computer animation division of Lucasfilm—and renamed it Pixar. For a period of time it sold high-end graphics hardware to other companies, but Pixar’s success came about after it produced Toy Story, its first animated feature film in partnership with Disney. Jobs was CEO of Pixar from 1985 until it was purchased by Disney in 2006, and he was still Disney’s largest individual shareholder at the time of his death.
NeXT was bought by Apple in 1996, bringing Jobs back to the company he had co-founded in 1976. He quickly returned to the CEO position and spearheaded the development of the iMac, Mac OS X (which was based on NeXTstep), the iPod, the Power Mac Cube, the iPhone, the Apple TV, the MacBook Air, and the iPad. Each of these products, even those that did not see broad success in the consumer market, had disruptive impact and wide influence across the tech world. Much of Apple’s success and influence stemmed directly from Jobs personally, who was known as a demanding, micromanaging leader who would agonize over the smallest details to ensure that the final products were both beautiful and easy to use.
Over the last several years Jobs has suffered serious health setbacks, including a bout with pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant. He has taken two medical leaves of absence from Apple, and stepped down permanently as Apple’s CEO in August. There has been no official statement regarding the cause of his death, but it is presumed that he succumbed to a recurrence of cancer. Jobs is survived by his wife and four children, and by an entire industry that is much better today than it would have been without his influence.
On a personal note, Jobs and I did not always see eye-to-eye on technology and I am no longer an ‘Apple guy’ (except for my aging iPod Classic). Even so, I am still the first to acknowledge Jobs’s and Apple’s influence across the whole tech industry. Windows 7 is as good as it is because Microsoft was forced to compete with Apple’s excellent Mac OS X. Android is as good as it is because the Apple iPhone forced the mobile phone industry to up its game. Every technology user, Apple-lover or Apple-hater, owes Steve Jobs a real debt of gratitude for his constant efforts to push the industry forward over the last thirty-five years.
I am praying for the repose of Jobs’s soul, and for his family, friends, and associates. Farewell, Steve. We techies will miss you.