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The Steve Jobs way

A relentless pursuit of perfection

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computer and is the company's CEO.

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Steve Jobs
Apple Computer Incorporated
Computer Software

(CNN) -- Steve Jobs helped create a Silicon Valley icon and, along the way, garnered a reputation as a charismatic yet mercurial visionary.

Jobs co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976, and a year later launched the Apple II -- the first desktop computer to have a built-in keyboard, built-in sound and could produce color graphics when hooked to a color television.

He was also the force behind the Macintosh, another of Apple's groundbreaking personal computers, only to be ousted from the company in an in-house power struggle in 1985.

But Jobs returned to Apple in late 1996, and began the process that restored the company to profitability.

Apple is born

Steven Paul Jobs was born February 24, 1955, in San Francisco, California, and was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. Showing an interest in electronics from an early age, he once even telephoned William Hewlett, the president of Hewlett-Packard, to request parts for a school project. He got the parts plus a summer job offer.

A college dropout, Jobs met Wozniak while working at Atari, the pioneering arcade game company. Impressed with Wozniak's skill in assembling electronic components, Jobs suggested the two form a business and Apple Computer was born April 1, 1976.

Later that year, the duo debuted the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto, California. A local store offered to buy 50 machines and Jobs sold his Volkswagen van to help finance production.

Apple unveiled the Apple II at the first West Coast Computer Faire in April 1977. Designed for general users, Apple estimates it sold five million Apple II units between 1977 and when it was finally discontinued in December 1992.

Apple made its first public stock sale in 1980, making Jobs a millionaire before he was 30. But by 1982, Apple II sales sagged in the face of competition from IBM's new PC. Apple's new machine, the Lisa, proved to be an expensive failure.

The Mac

The Macintosh restored Apple's reputation for innovation. Jobs commandeered the project, ruthlessly pushing its computer engineers and flying a pirate flag above the building where the team worked.

His zeal for the Macintosh -- and any other project he set his mind to -- became known as the "reality distortion field" in which reality conformed to what Jobs thought it should be.

"When I wasn't sure what the word charisma meant, I met Steve Jobs and then I knew," said former Apple chief scientist Larry Tesler in the PBS documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds."

The Macintosh, which Jobs called "insanely great," introduced consumers to the now-familiar mouse and the graphical user interface.

"People are going to bring them home to work on something Sunday morning, they're not going to be able to get their kids away from them, and maybe someday they may even buy a second one to use at home," Jobs said the day he introduced the simple beige box back in January 1984.

Initial sales were slow, but by 1986 the Mac was a success. Jobs, however, had left Apple after losing a bitter battle over control with CEO John Sculley, whom Jobs had recruited to Apple.

By then, Jobs had cemented a reputation as a visionary who often didn't have patience for those who disagreed with him or didn't understand his vision.

"Everyone had been terrorized by Steve Jobs at some point or another, and so there was a certain relief that the terrorist had gone," Telser told PBS. "But on the other hand, I think there was an incredible respect for Steve Jobs by the very same people and we were all very worried, what would happen to this company without the visionary, without the founder, without the charisma."

After leaving Apple, Jobs founded NeXT, which aimed to create a workstation for research and higher education. But the $9,995 cube-shaped workstation sold poorly and Jobs pulled the plug in 1993, choosing to focus on software.

While NeXT struggled, Jobs had success with Pixar Animation Studios, which he bought in 1986 for $10 million. After signing a deal with Disney to produce three movies, Pixar released the immensely successful "Toy Story" in November 1995. The film was the first feature-length animated movie produced entirely with computers. Jobs became an instant billionaire when Pixar's stock went public.

While Apple sold millions of Macs after Jobs quit, it buckled under increasing competition from Microsoft's Windows operating system.

While the Mac is a hardware/software combination, Windows can be licensed to run on a variety of PCs. Competition among PC makers led to lower costs, which increased PC sales and expanded the market share of Windows.

By 1996, Wall Street had given Apple up for dead after the California company posted billions of dollars in losses.

A return to Apple

Jobs returned in December 1996 when he convinced Apple to buy NeXT and make its software the foundation of the next-generation Mac OS.

Apple's iTunes Music Store is the first successful attempt to sell music online.

"What Apple has always stood for is product innovation. Apple invented this industry with the Apple II and I think the Mac has provided the innovation that much of the industry has been living off of for the last 10 years," he said at the press conference announcing his return. "And it's time for someone to come up with some new innovation to drive the industry forward, and who better to do that than Apple."

Initially an adviser, Jobs was named interim CEO in mid-1997. He pruned the product line and settled an ongoing dispute with Microsoft, whom Apple had sued -- unsuccessfully -- over how much Windows was based on the Mac interface.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates appeared via video at the 1997 Macworld trade show to announce a $150 million investment in Apple and a commitment to produce Mac software for five years. The audience booed Gates, but Jobs quickly admonished them.

"We want to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose," he said.

Wall Street welcomed the Microsoft alliance. Jobs then oversaw the release of Apple's immensely successful iMac, a consumer desktop with a colorful, translucent exterior that redefined how people design computers.

The company successfully launched a new Macintosh operating system and Jobs focused Apple on a new "digital hub" strategy in which the Mac coordinates communication between devices such as cell phones and MP3 players.

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, an MP3 player that works with both Macs and Windows-based PCs. Jobs then convinced five major recording companies to sell music online through Apple's iTunes Music Store.

"It's a pretty landmark offering. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before," he told CNN.

Apple's market share has not improved significantly in recent years, as more than 90 percent of the world's desktop computers now run Windows-based PCs.

But under Jobs, the company has returned to profitability and reclaimed its legacy of innovation.

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