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Sun 9 Oct 2011 11:45 AM

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The man with no equal

Steve Jobs changed the face of three industries – music, mobile telephony and personal computing – and spearheaded the world's second most valuable company in the process

The man with no equal

Passionate, prickly, and deemed   irreplaceable by many Apple fans and investors, Steve Jobs made a life defying conventions and expectations.

And despite years of poor health, his death on Wednesday at the age of 56 prompted a global gasp as many people remembered how much he had done to transform the worlds of computing, music and mobile phones, changing the way people communicate and access information and entertainment.

"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come," said Microsoft co-founder and long-time rival Bill Gates.

"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honor."

The founder of Apple Inc died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, surrounded by his family. The circumstances of his passing were unclear, but Jobs has had a long battle with cancer and other health issues.

Jobs' family thanked many for their prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness.

A college dropout, Jobs floated through India in search of spiritual guidance prior to founding Apple - a name he suggested to his friend and co-founder Steve Wozniak after a visit to a commune in Oregon he referred to as an "apple orchard."

With his passion for minimalist design and marketing genius, Jobs changed the course of personal computing during two stints at Apple and then brought a revolution to the mobile market. The iconic iPod, the iPhone - dubbed the "Jesus phone" for its quasi-religious following - and the iPad are the creation of a man who was known for his near-obsessive control of the product development process.

"Most mere mortals cannot understand a person like Steve Jobs," said bestselling author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple employee, in a recent interview. He considers Jobs "the greatest CEO in the history of man", adding that he just had "a different operating system."

Charismatic, visionary, ruthless, perfectionist, dictator - these are some of the words that people have used to describe Jobs, who may have been the biggest dreamer the technology world has ever known, but also was a hard-edged businessman and negotiator through and through.

"Steve was the best of the best. Like Mozart and Picasso, he may never be equaled," said Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and co-founder of Netscape Communications.

Microsoft's Gates had called Jobs the most inspiring person in the tech industry and President Barack Obama held him up as the embodiment of the American Dream.

It's hard to imagine a bigger success story than Steve Jobs, but rejection, failure and bad fate were part and parcel of who he was. Jobs was given away at birth, driven out of Apple in the mid-80s and struck with cancer when he finally had regained the top of the mountain.

Jobs grew up with an adopted family in Silicon Valley, which was turning from orchards to homes for workers at Lockheed and other defense and technology companies.

Electronics friend Bill Fernandez introduced him to boy engineer Wozniak, and the two Steves began a friendship that eventually bred Apple Computer.

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"Woz is a brilliant engineer, but he is not really an entrepreneur, and that's where Jobs came in," recently remembered Fernandez, who was the first employee at Apple.

Wozniak earlier this year said that his goal was only to design hardware and he had no interest in running Apple.

"Steve Jobs' role was defined -- you've got to learn to be an executive in every division of the company so you can be the world's most important person some day. That was his goal," joked Wozniak, who is still listed as an employee, even though he has not worked at Apple for years.

Jobs created Apple twice - once when he founded it and the second time after a return credited with saving the company, which now vies with Exxon Mobil as the most valuable publicly traded corporation in the US.

Every day to him was "a new adventure in the company," Jay Elliot, a former senior vice president at Apple who worked very closely with Jobs in the eighties, said earlier this year, adding that he was "almost like a child" when it came to his inquisitiveness.

Jobs reinvented the technology world four or five times, first with the Apple II, a beautiful personal computer in the 1970s; then in the 1980s with the Macintosh, driven by a mouse and presenting a clean screen that made computing inviting; the ubiquitous iPod debuted in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and in 2010 the iPad, which a year after it was introduced outsold the Mac.

Jobs liked to push. From the very start, people told tales of him putting his - often dirty - feet on the table in meetings. Others tell of Jobs putting down their company, making them defend themselves in interviews.

"He was clearly looking for someone who could stand up to him," said another former member of the top team. He remembers Jobs and Tim Cook, who is taking over as CEO, as the "metronome" of the company, with vastly different personal styles and exactly the same "insane" attention to detail.

Jobs, in fact, reveled in details, many a time irking everyone around him with his obsessiveness. Apple's first CEO Michael Scott has said that Jobs spent weeks contemplating how rounded the edges of the Apple II case should be. Even Jobs' appearance simplified over the years. When he returned to Apple after his decade away, he wore fancy white shirts and vests and even a pin stripe suit to introduce new products. The black mock turtleneck and jeans that became the defining Jobs outfit showed up at more comfortable settings, when Jobs wooed developers, in the late 1990s. But he pulled the iPod out of a jeans pocket to introduce the music player in 2001. From then on, he barely seemed to take off the outfit.

Jobs had been on leave three times since 2004, and he clearly thought about an Apple without him. Jobs had a liver transplant and a rare form of pancreatic cancer. His own mortality was a major driver in his life and work. Jobs and the Apple board had a succession plan -- put Cook in charge -- and he has left a well-respected team. Jobs put extraordinary effort into finding people who he said are 10, 20, 50 times better than average, he told Time magazine, adding that there were no prima donnas when great people got together.

"Having a close circle of people was really important to him," Elliot said.

Many Apple watchers and investors say that the company has a deep bench, led by Cook. But for others, that just doesn't ring true. The former engineer whose months of works was dismissed by Jobs with a single curse doesn't see much strength in the ranks, saying that it was always a case of "Steve is the visionary," and if something happened it was always a case of "Let's ask Steve".

Apple itself marked the death of Jobs by placing a simple black-and-white picture of the founder on the front page of its website, with his name and the dates 1955-2011.

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