As computer technology really took hold in the 1980s and 1990s, business wanted standard products and standard software at a relatively low price point. Apple didn't offer that.
Because the company controlled the platform, its products weren't plagued by the panoply of incompatibilities familiar to Windows users. But because its control of the platform was so tight, it hadn't developed the huge ecosystem that made Windows products ubiquitous.
When it did try to loosen the reins with its move to more generic technology and its licensing of the Mac to clone makers to compete with the likes of Dell, Apple found its unimaginative, often cheaply made systems developed under Spindler and Amelio losing against both Windows PCs and its own Mac licensees.
Jobs, of course, changed all that. When he forced out Amelio and returned to the helm at Apple, he killed the clone experiment and put Apple back on the path of building iconic computers, with the candy-colored iMacs leading the charge. Today, the Mac has regained its lost market share and is now a serious option in many businesses.
But Jobs did more than return to Apple's iconoclastic roots. He was the first major technology executive to see the link between digital media and the Internet. Apple was always considered cool, but iTunes and the iPod became the essential accessory for the young and the hip. And now the iPhone has remade the very idea of a mobile device. None of that will change when he leaves.
The iPhone is not only amazingly popular, it is spawning a growing ecosystem of developers writing great mobile applications. Ultimately, people buy technology products to get something done, whether it is work or entertainment, and that's why the developers are so crucial.
Meanwhile, the rise of open source software as a service and cloud computing are changing the way technology is used and the way it is sold. A Web-centric world can not be dominated by Microsoft, or any other single company. That won't change when Jobs leaves.
Needed: a succession plan and a return to Macworld Expo
Still, there are two areas that worry me. The first is the lack of a clear-cut succession plan. That needs to be fixed ASAP. Even if Jobs' explanation for his health issues quiets them for now, investors remain worried. Moreover, having clear succession plans is what well-run companies do. So why doesn't Apple have one?
Apple has a strong bench of executives, including Jonathan Ive, an Apple senior vice president who oversees the company's industrial design team, and Scott Forstall, leader of the team responsible for the iPhone's operating system and other software -- all the more reason to remove the doubt.