Steven Paul Jobs is up again.
Eleven long years after the mercurial young Apple cofounder was unceremoniously ousted by CEO John Sculley, Jobs is returning to the company he so loved clothed in glory. If Jobs's career were a quilt, it would be a patchwork of ermine and calico. The self-possesed, and some say obsessed, Jobs does nothing in half measures and so seems to reap his rewards in abject failure and stunning successes.
Today brought him the latter. "I still have very deep feelings for Apple," Jobs said in a statement tonight, "and it gives me great joy to play a role in architecting Apple's future."
Understandably so. In what seems like a never-ending roller-coaster ride, Jobs achieved international stardom and a multimillion-dollar bank account in his early 20s, fell tragically from grace when he was ostracized by the very company he cofounded, then went into Bobby Fischer-like seclusion after attempting for a decade to recreate the Apple magic with only mediocre results.
It was a crushing experience for Jobs, who cofounded the company with Steve Wozniak in 1976 to sell the Apple I computer kit for $666 from a garage in Palo Alto, California. After seeing a demonstration of Xerox Parc's SmallTalk graphical computer interface, Jobs became obsessed with creating a desktop computer that could be used by anyone.
Alternately harrying and soothing a hand-picked "pirate crew" of engineers through development, he proudly presented his child in 1984. The Macintosh wasn't just a computer; it was going to change the world.
The Mac didn't change the world, but it did change Apple. In the growing company, Jobs's manic, undisciplined approach rubbed Sculley, whom Jobs personally recruited from PepsiCo in 1983, the wrong way. In 1985, to his disbelief, Jobs was removed from his chairmanship of the board.
His disbelief soon turned to anger and the desire to prove them all wrong. Jobs founded Next Computer in 1985 and set out to create the ultimate educational computer, one that was would put the Macintosh to shame. The NextStep computer, released in 1989, was criticized as being slow and it cost more than twice as much as originally planned. By 1993, after blowing through $250 million of investors' money, Next shut down its hardware division and started quietly turning out software for engineers creating computer programs.
Jobs sank into obscurity, being called upon more often to talk about the old days at Apple than about Next. He granted progressively fewer interviews and soon refused to talk about Apple at all.
But behind this quiet facade, Jobs stayed busy looking for the next "insanely great" thing, as he called the Macintosh at its introduction. He started charitable organizations. He sat on boards of other companies. The famous orphan even tracked down his sister, who turned out to be writer Mona Simpson, whose first novel Anywhere But Here drew on her childhood experience of "giving away" a younger brother as part of the plot. Jobs also invested. Most notably, he bought Lucasfilm's computer division for $60 million in 1986.
In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios, as the division was renamed, released Disney's Toy Story, the first feature length, computer animated film. It was a box-office smash and once again Jobs was on top of the world and on the covers of magazines. Pixar went public this year and Jobs became an instant billionaire.
Now he's back to give Apple the magic Jobs's touch. In fact, it appears that Jobs's magic touch is worth more to Apple president Gil Amelio than the purported reason for buying Next: the NextStep operating system. Industry insiders say that integrating Next's Unix-based operating system into the Macintosh line will be trial enough. Beyond that, some questioned how much longer the aging NextStep OS can sustain the Macintosh without needing major overhauls itself.
Whether Jobs can give Apple the push forward it needs while meshing with the stodgier managers brought in to trim fat and turn the company's finances around remains up in the air. It might help that this time around, Jobs is only a part-time "consultant," according to Apple.
"Steve had the capacity to make you believe that nothing was impossible, to raise your expectations," said Jean-Louis Gass?e, former head of R&D under Jobs's tenure and head of Be, an operating systems company that Apple precipitously passed over in favor of buying Next. Gass?e's benevolent assessment came in an interview last month.
The flip side of Jobs's enthusiasm is arrogance and an autocratic management style. So not everyone is so enthusastic about his truimphal return.
"My whole thought about Steve Jobs is that he's a fair-weather friend of Apple," one employee said. "Six months ago, all he did was criticize the way Apple ran, and now he's jumping on board. Depending on where the money is, is where his opinion is."