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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Apple co-founder, Silicon Valley pioneer Steve Jobs dies at 56 after battling cancer

Steve Jobs, who sparked a revolution in the technology industry and then presided over it as Silicon Valley’s radiant Sun King, died Wednesday. The incandescent center of a tech universe around which all the other planets revolved, Jobs had a genius for stylish design and a boyish sense of what was “cool.” He was 56 when he died, ahead of his time to the very end.

According to a spokesman for Apple Inc. — the company Jobs co-founded when he was just 21, and turned into one of the world’s great industrial design houses — he suffered from a recurrence of the pancreatic cancer for which he had undergone surgery in 2004. Jobs had taken his third leave of absence from the company in January of this year, and made the final capitulation to his failing health on Aug. 24, when he resigned as Apple’s CEO. After 35 years as the soul of Silicon Valley’s new machine, that may have been a fate worse than death.

Jobs died only a few miles from the family garage in Los Altos, Calif., where he and fellow college dropout Steve Wozniak assembled the first Apple computer in 1976. Jobs transformed the computer from an intimidating piece of business machinery — its blinking lights often caged behind a glass wall — to a device people considered “personal,” and then indispensable.

Jobs was the undisputed “i” behind the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, and there was very little about his personality that was lower-case. According to Fortune magazine he was considered “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs,” but Jobs also cultivated a loyal coterie of ergomaniacs — ergonomic designers who created the sleek stable of iHits — whose devotion to him was the centrifugal force holding Apple together. Shares of the company’s stock plunged 22 points after Jobs announced his final medical leave on Jan. 17.

“A hundred years from now, when people talk about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Gates is going to be remembered for his philanthropy, not technology,” said tech forecaster Paul Saffo, “the same way people remember Andrew Carnegie for the money he gave to education, not the fortune he made in steel. But what they’re going to say about Steve Jobs is that he led a revolution.”

It was a war waged on three fronts — computers, music and movies — and with each successive Apple triumph, Jobs altered the landscape of popular culture. With its user-friendly interface and anthropomorphic mouse, the Macintosh forever changed the relationship between humans and computers. After acquiring Pixar Animation Studios in 1986, Jobs became the most successful movie mogul of the past half-century, turning out 11 monster hits in succession. The 2001 smash “Monsters, Inc.” could just as easily have been the name of the company.

But it was with the iPod — originally released just six weeks after the cataclysmic events of Sept. 11, 2001 — that Jobs engineered another tectonic shift in the digital world. The transistor radio had untethered music from the home, and Sony’s Walkman had made recorded music portable. With one of the world’s premier consumer electronics businesses, and a music label of its own, Sony was poised to dominate digital distribution for decades.

But it didn’t happen. Jobs took a digital compression format that had been around for a decade, synced it to Apple’s new digital download service, iTunes, and with the iPod changed a system for delivering music to consumers that had been in place since Edison invented the phonograph.

It was Jobs’ genius for simplicity that led to a pricing standard of 99 cents per song that remained unchanged for eight years, despite initial resistance from the music studios. And it was his irresistibility as a pitchman that brought the record labels so completely into line that iTunes now is the dominant player in the digital music business.

A man of sometimes confounding contradictions, Jobs once traveled to India and shaved his head seeking spiritual enlightenment. But he also brought a fierce urgency to his business dealings, often screaming at subordinates and belittling foes. Feared and revered, Jobs commanded the respect of his competitors, loyalty from the engineers he goaded relentlessly, and loathing from almost everyone.

Apple’s product lines were a projection of his sense of style, transforming the boring, putty-colored boxes of computers sold by competitors like Dell Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. into a compote of fruit and berry-flavored iMacs. Yet Jobs himself rarely deviated from a single, Mao-like uniform of blue jeans, black turtleneck and sneakers, turning that into a kind of meta-fashion statement: Think different. Dress the same.

His first brush with pancreatic cancer did nothing to slow Jobs down during the final years of his life. If anything, he seemed more driven than ever. Speaking to the Stanford University graduating class of 2005, a year after surgery to treat his illness, Jobs said, “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. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

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