Jobs had previously told Apple executives he was not interested in the chief executive position, according to company sources. But that left the door open for a possible role of chairman, and rumors of his appointment have persisted in recent days.
According to the Wall Street Journal, however, Jobs has declined to take the post of chairman as well. Instead, it reported, he simply wants to oversee Apple's affairs long enough to put Apple on the right track, including the hiring of a strong chief executive to replace Gilbert Amelio, whose resignation was announced earlier this month.
Neither Jobs nor Apple would comment on the reported chairmanship offer. But a source at Pixar--the animation film maker of Toy Story fame that he now heads--said Jobs sent an email to company employees yesterday saying that he has rejected an offer by Apple to become chairman and CEO.
"He indicated he clearly won't be chairman," the source told CNET's NEWS.COM. "There was no room for misinterpretation."
Jobs returned to Apple in an advisory capacity when it bought another company he had founded, Next Software, late last year to build a new operating system for the Mac. But sources say that, despite his nebulous title as a "technical adviser," Jobs has had a strong hand in running Apple since then.
About two weeks ago, Jobs started to receive briefings on the company's financial condition--indicating an increased role from simply offering technological guidance on the company's direction, one source said.
That special status will be underscored publicly next week, when Jobs delivers the keynote address at Macworld Boston, speaking in place of Amelio. And he will face renewed scrutiny from Silicon Valley to Wall Street by those anxious to hear about Apple's prospects for survival, let alone prosperity.
"What Apple needs is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Jobs would bring the 10 percent," said Daniel Kunstler, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities. "I can see him conceptulizing as it relates to hardware, software, and marketing."
Then there is the question of who will succeed Amelio: Why, many within the industry ask, would anyone want to be CEO of a failing company, particularly while having to answer to a mercurial figure like Jobs?
"Whoever comes in better embrace the philosophy and ideas of Steve," David Nosal, managing partner at major executive search firm Korn Ferry International. "That limits the talent pool to those who many had had exposure to him before."
As the search continues, the industry continues to speculate about what course Apple will take. Those familiar with the company say Apple's best bet might be to pursue Jobs's interest in network computers. That would provide the company with a different technology to latch onto, especially one with a high public profile at a time when Apple needs to bolster consumer confidence.
"A lot of [Jobs's strategy] has to do with the NC. I hear this a lot," said one former Apple executive. As a result, this source said, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's name "keeps coming up."
Nosal added: "When I hear that Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison may go to the board, that gives more hope than anything else."
Others, including former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee, now CEO of Be, have suggested that Apple should split in two--into a hardware company and a software company--to present stronger opposition to the Microsoft-Intel alliance. But sources say Jobs would probably veto any such notion, which essentially would gut the company he sired nearly two decades ago.
Reporter Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.