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

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As you can see, Jobs is an intense competitor.

A year or so later, Jobs released the candy-colored iMacs, which changed the idea that computers had to look like beige appliances. Derided as making computers into toys, the iMac line made computers accessible and human. Jobs had learned from Disney how important it was to have an emotional connection with your customers, and he applied that principle brilliantly to the Mac as part of his resurrection strategy.

People typically believe that Jobs does everything at Apple, but that's not the case. He has had an amazingly strong set of executives, to whom he delegates significant power and responsibility. The two that matter the most are Jonathan Ive, the company's chief designer, and Tim Cook, the man who makes Apple work like a precision machine in its manufacturing, retail, and online spheres. (Cook now succeeds Jobs as CEO at Apple.)

I had met Ive during Amelio's reign, as Apple was trying to convince the world that it remained a font of innovation despite the crappy products such as the Performa series it had been releasing. Quiet and unassuming, it was clear to me that Ive was a brilliant designer -- but one that Apple gave little authority to. When Jobs took over, he interviewed the existing Apple execs to see who should stay. He saw the brilliance that Ive had and gave him the freedom and burden of making elegant, innovative design and usability the fundamental quality of all future Apple products.

The result has been amazing, and my insider Apple contacts for years have told me how fiercely Jobs protected and supported Ive in those early years. Jobs also dismantled the pirate culture he helped set in motion in the early 1980s and brought an amazing discipline to Apple. He would bring some people to tears as he demolished what he considered to be substandard decisions and ideas. He would fire those who moved against him or his view of Apple's interests. He would install fierce loyalty in others as he encouraged and supported the ones he believed were doing the right things. He would encourage opposing ideas -- as long as the opposition was constructive. And people who work directly with him -- if they succeeded, of course -- strongly admired and liked him.

Jobs kept his hand in the details and of course had the final say on the strategy. But as CEO he was no one-man band. As personally tied as Jobs was to Apple's products and success, he was no mere autocrat hurling diktats to the serfs. Instead, he recreated the Apple culture as one of an elite squad, a la "Mission Impossible" or the Navy SEALs.

An amazing legacy of fierce quality

I've related my own history with Jobs, which was hardly positive. But what Jobs has done for Apple, the technology and media industry at large, and for users everywhere is nothing short of amazing. In almost every case, Apple has set the bar for how things should be, so every competitors -- whether it is Windows, Android, or an app store -- is measured by the standards Apple, and Jobs, has set.

It takes a fierce person to do that -- and a fierce person to do it over and over again. For years, I was platform-agnostic, but when Windows Vista came out as an ugly mess, I switched to Mac OS X, and I can't imagine ever switching back. Despite my checkered history with Apple, I look at my technology set and see nearly all Apple products: a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPhone, a couple iPods, and an Apple TV. I use Office because I have to, but iWork keeps getting better, and one day I'll be able to switch to that. Sure, there are great products from other companies, but none has the concentration of greatness that Apple does.

I didn't start as a Mac fan -- in fact, I was Macworld's resident "anti-Mac" initially. But the idea that Jobs insisted on -- that products work and work well -- is obviously the way things should be. We use technology to get stuff done, not to use technology for its own sake. After his technology-for-its-own-sake beginnings with the Apple I and II and Lisa, Jobs began to understand that principle and fiercely enforce it. We all have benefited from that fierce dedication.

We owe Steve Jobs huge credit for that, and for remaking Apple so that principle will endure. It's not yet clear why he resigned, but he's had serious cancer for several years. If that's what caused him to step down, I can only wish him good health -- and say thanks,

This story, "Steve Jobs's fierce life and legacy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in Mac OS X, mobile technology, and the technology industry at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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This story, "Steve Jobs's fierce reign and legacy" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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