Steve Jobs: The man and his muse

The greatest CEO of our times is heading off into the sunset. Cringely has the inside story on the legacy Jobs leaves behind

Lots of CEOs make products. Many make millions. Very few make history.

Steve Jobs is one of the latter. Like Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller, he's left a mark on his times that goes far beyond the creation of shiny new widgets.

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The praise (and premature eulogies) are flowing from every direction on the InterWebs this morning, following the news that Jobs is stepping down from the top post at Apple -– presumably for the last time -– and becoming chairman.

But I have different memories of the man. Because for more than a decade I've been Steve Jobs's muse.

I remember back in that dark post-Apple period in late '96 when Steve was trying to make a go of the NeXT machine, he called me at some ungodly hour of the night. He didn't introduce himself. He didn't have to. Only one man could possibly be calling at that hour.

"Apple wants to buy us. What do you think? Should I go back?"

I cursed and left the phone off the hook. But I think he understood my meaning. Of course, within a year he was CEO again, and Apple started to climb out of the hole it had created for itself. 

A few years went by without much contact. Then sometime in early 2001 I got an email out of the blue. It read: "We're coming out with a portable music player in a few months. I'm thinking of calling it the 'iPod'. What do you think?"

I told him the Sony Walkman had the portable music market sewn up. Nobody in their right mind would spend money for a device that only played MP3s. And "iPod" -- seriously? That name was so 1997.

Two years later, another call. This one was about the iTunes Store. Steve sounded so excited I really hated to burst his bubble.

The music industry will crush you like a bug, I said. Sorry, that's just the way it is. Those guys make the Mafia look like a Boy Scout Jamboree.

And so on. The iPhone? A horrible mistake, I told him. The wireless companies will make you sorry you ever came up with the idea. And could you please drop the little "i" in front of everything? You're embarrassing yourself.

In late 2009 I warned Steve against introducing a tablet PC. I was certain the iPad was a terrible idea that would sink his company.

"Remember Windows for Pen Computing?" I said. "Nobody has ever made a dime selling a tablet computer and nobody ever will."

Finally, a few weeks ago he called me for the last time. He told me he was thinking of handing the CEO job over to Tim Cook, if for no other reason than to get Apple's board of directors off his back.

I told him not to quit, that he shouldn't let the bastards get to him like that. "Did Napoleon have a succession plan? Did Genghis Khan?" I counseled.

I've clearly played a pivotal role in dragging old media dinosaurs into the 21st century, showing the telecom industry that consumer choice matters, offering ubiquitous connected computing to the masses, and making technology fun again.

Of course, I couldn't have done it without Steve. And neither could anyone else. We'll miss ya, big guy.

Has Cringely been hallucinating again? Post your thoughts about Steve Jobs below or email me:

This article, "Steve Jobs: The man and his muse," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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