Steve Jobs, a few encounters of my own

Steve Jobs would have to be at the top of anyone’s list of American innovators and pioneers. Not just modern day, but over a century or more. His name belongs next to Edison, Bell, Ford, Franklin and his long time pal and nemesis, Bill Gates.

Jobs was brilliant, tyrannical, funny, driven and many other things that typify game-changers. He will be endlessly eulogized over coming days and weeks and written about for years and decades. What I can uniquely offer are a few  encounters I had with Jobs and the perspective of someone who has covered computers and IT since January, 1980.

Steve was crazy like most visionaries. Many thought his brilliance would be limited to the Apple I and Apple II. His follow-up to those creations was the  expensive and clunky Lisa, which used this insane input device called a mouse used to point at and click on desktop icons. Little did we know….

Then came the Macintosh which took years to get marketplace traction, but laid the foundation for Apple today.

My career as a tech journalist largely paralleled the timeline of Jobs’ career. One of the first computers I used was an Apple II to write stories and send copy to the typesetter. The Apple I and IIs gave rise to the notion of the PC, which propelled by my 16-year run at PC Week.

As the PC steamrolled everything in its path in the 80s and much of the 90s, Apple became a side show, but Jobs never went away. And neither did legions of Apple zealots.

Upon his premature death, here’s some personal memories:

– Jobs seemed all but finished in the mid-80s after he was driven out of Apple by John Sculley, who had taken over Apple after long career at PepsiCo. A chapter in the book Accidental Empires book portrayed Jobs as driven, tyrannical, uncaring, thin-skinned, brilliant, at moments insane and frequently prone to outbursts. I expected he would fade. But post-Sculley, he hung around and bought Pixar in 1986 and started NeXt Computer.

— I interviewed him at length around 1993-94 at the SF Airport Hyatt over lunch. I can’t recall what we talked about, but the topic was probably NeXt Computer. He was second string in those days, but congenial and engaging. And at that point, he was arguably the father of the personal computer. Apple would lure him back in a few short years where his brilliance would manifest itself once again. And he would engineer the deal with archrival Microsoft in 1997 that would save Apple (it was announced to boos at Macworld in Boston) .

— Finally in personal recollection department, I recall sitting in 1992 or 1993 in the lobby of Apple HQ in Cupertino, Calif. waiting to interview someone who headed up Apple’s business to IT departments. Lo and behold, Jobs and Gates come walking down the stairs and shake hands. Gates glares at me and leaves.

Serendipitously, I been in the right place and right time and broke a story that Apple and Microsoft were in talks to settle a long standing dispute about over the use of the graphical user interface. Apple alleged copyright infringement against Microsoft, which ultimately was let off hook when it rescued a cash-strapped Apple in 1997. But I had the story that these two computing giants were in talks.

Anyhow, those are my recollections of Steve Jobs. What are yours?

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