Steve Jobs's fierce reign and legacy

The Apple co-founder who has just resigned as CEO was a polarizing force that reshaped the tech industry several times

Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO from Apple today, after a remarkable career. (He will continue with Apple as chairman of the board.) Jobs is that rare person who truly has transformed an industry -- several times, in fact -- and in many ways changed the daily activities of people throughout the world. He is also a controversial man, reviled by many, loved by many, admired by many, and criticized by many.

My own experiences with the man and the company he ran covered that whole range. Whatever people think of him, I believe they can all agree he is fierce: fiercely loyal to his principles and to his friends and close colleagues, fiercely competitive, fierce in his ambitions, fiercely dismissive and belittling to those he does not respect or who he believes are in his way, fiercely stubborn, with a bulldog-like habit of not letting go but instead continuing to persevere for as long as it took (the iPad was a decade-long project, for example).

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Famous for the Mac and iPhone, Jobs's influence has been much deeper than anyone else I can think of in the technology industry -- an industry with no shortage of larger-than-life figures who also have made big differences (good and bad), such as Larry Ellison, Philippe Kahn, Scott McNealy, Marc Benioff, Bill Gates, and Carly Fiorina.

Jobs changed the music industry with the iPod, the cellular phone industry with the iPhone, the movie industry with his Pixar Animation Studios films, and the computing industry with the original Mac and then again with Mac OS X and just last year with the iPad. He has been in the middle of doing the same transformation to the publishing industry with his iBooks and media subscription services, and with the software industry with his App Store. Many of the iconic products created under his leadership have become the models for everyone else, creating a demand for high quality, good design, and user-centric products. That's why when you think smartphone, you think iPhone; when you think tablet, you think iPad; when you think ease of use you think Mac OS X; when you think digital music you think iPod and iTunes; and when you think of family movies you think of "Toy Story" and the rest.

That's the public face of Jobs's accomplishments. The story of Jobs goes deeper, with some major low points along the way. His amazingly strong personality also shaped the personality of Apple, for both good and ill. It saw the Mac community through very dark times, and has roused a broader community in Apple's last decade of near-constant glory.

Jobs's hate-love relationship with the Mac

Today, most people have forgotten that the Mac was not really Jobs's invention. After pioneering the Apple I and II computers with co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs moved on to the Lisa project at Apple. The Mac was spearheaded by Jef Raskin, and Jobs actively worked against the Mac project to give his Lisa effort an edge. The pirate culture at Apple -- detailed in spot-on detail by InfoWorld columnist Robert X. Cringely in his classic history "Accidental Empires" -- was born of Jobs's decision to compete with the Mac project. After the Lisa flopped, Jobs switched sides and took over the Mac, becoming its champion and public face. That cemented his reputation though led to his forced exit a year later.

The pirate approach also created a dysfunctional culture at Apple that grew into frightening levels by the mid-1990s, nearly destroying the company. Product development was based on open warfare among engineering groups, resulting in inconsistent products and visions that confused customers and compromised the company's business model.

I joined Macworld magazine in 1991 as a features editor, hired as the resident PC expert by then chief editor Jerry Borrell, who thought the Mac community's insularity had become dangerous and needed a bridge to the rest of the world. (David Pogue, then a Macworld columnist and now New York Times' tech czar, referred to me as Mr. DOS Head in those early days, an example of how cultish the Mac community had become.)

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