The passing of a visionary, and reflections on his legacy.
To call Steve Jobs a visionary might be selling him short.
Jobs, who died Oct. 5 at the age of 56, revolutionized information technology and was one of a small number – including Apple partner Steve Wozniak and rival Bill Gates – to reach toward a future that included computers made smaller and inexpensive enough to be a part of every home.
Jobs, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer, also presided over Apple during its recent burst of creativity, introducing the iPod and the iTunes music store, the iPhone and the iPad – each a leader in its respective market and each spawning hosts of imitators and competitors.
Harry McCracken opened his memorial piece in Time (which literally stopped its presses when news of Jobs' death broke) by noting Jobs' lack of obvious qualifications. He had no computer science degree, no training in engineering or design. “But with astonishing regularity, Jobs did something that few people accomplish even once: he reinvented entire industries,” McCracken writes. “He did it with ones that were new, like PCs, and he did it with ones that were old, such as music. And his pace only accelerated over the years.”
Jobs himself believed that adversity can lead to greater success. In a commencement speech he delivered at Stanford University in 2005, he talked about being forced out of Apple 10 years after the company's founding. He used his newfound free time to found a new computer company called NeXT, helped start Pixar Studios and eventually returned to Apple after Apple acquired NeXT. Technology dveeloped at NeXT formed the basis of Apple's more recent products, he noted. (An interesting tidbit that shows the extent of Jobs' influence: Tim Berners-Lee built the world’s first website and Web server on a NeXT computer at CERN.)
“I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple,” he said. “It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometime life -- sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. “
At Forbes, Daniel Fisher wrote about receiving a book for review called “The Myth of Choice.” The book's author argues that freedom of choice is an illusion.
“Jobs demonstrated how wrong this philosophy is,” Fisher writes. “He could have shelved his curiosity about the new thing called a microprocessor back in the 1970s, stayed at Reed College, and let IBM build the personal computer. He could have avoided arguing with John Sculley in the mid-1980s and settled into lucrative executive oblivion at Apple. He could have retired after getting forced out in 1985, content to watch Sculley turn Apple into the next Pepsi.
“Instead Jobs formed NeXT, bought Pixar from George Lucas, and helped create the booming industry of digital cinema production. Then he returned to Apple in 1997 and made a series of decisive choices that steered the company away from insignificance back into the center of the digital computing and entertainment world.”
It is true that Jobs changed the world. Despite Apple's relatively small market share in home computers – dwarfed by Microsoft's Windows operating systems and the long line of computer manufactures that make machines to run Windows – Apple's design philosophy shaped the early days of computing, and its more recent products have revolutionized the way people consume entertainment and information.
As Glenn Chapman wrote at AFP, “[T]hinking of Jobs merely as the man behind Apple's resurrection would be on par with thinking of The Beatles as just a band that made cool music.
“As did the Fab Four, Jobs altered the rhythm of modern life.”
Steve Ballmer, Jobs' longtime competitor as CEO of Microsoft, also paid homage to Jobs, calling him “one of the founders of our industry and a true visionary.”
And Bill Gates, founder and longtime patriarch of Microsoft, said in a Tweet: “Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences to Steve Jobs’ family & friends. The world rarely sees someone who made such a profound impact.”
Jobs delivered the commencement speech at Stanford after his cancer diagnosis. True to form, he sought to use his adversity to inspire others.
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” he said. “Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
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