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Adios amigo

At Macworld 2002 in New York City, I watched Steve Jobs stride onto stage without introduction and immediately launch into one of his trademark keynotes. His black sweater and jeans look--a deliberate nose-thumbing at the suit/jacket/tie corporate uniform--suited his seemingly off-the-cuff presentation. Apple Computer, as they were then known, was making its popular new consumer device, the iPod, compatible with Windows, something the Mac maniacs in the audience applauded. They applauded everything, even announced price-hikes.

The Cult of Jobs was in full swing, and gadgets like the iPhone and iPad weren't on the radar. Yet even this year, snarky comments often accuse those praising Apple devices of being "Jobsian fanbois." The man and his company, it seemed, were inseparable.

But as Steve's illness began to take him over, his appearances became fewer and medical leaves of absence more frequent, and new CEO Tim Cook took the stage to announce Apple's latest products. Yesterday, Jobs passed away at the age of 56.

It's always sad to see someone go before their time, and given the impact Jobs had--not only on personal computers and electronic devices but the music and film industries as well--the next week or two will feature reams of Jobsian-related prose. Apple showed the music industry how to sell digital music, and created an ecosystem for the process.

Hardly a surprise: Apple's model was all about vertically integrated ecosystems. As I told friends who complained that their systems wouldn't work because the software and hardware vendors were blaming each other, you could take an under-warranty Mac with a serious hardware problem to Apple's fix-it guys and say: "give it back to me in the state you sold it to me"--as long as you'd backed up your data, you were back in business. That was Apple: with a market share hovering around two or three percent, they couldn't afford a reputation for lousy service. Their numerous awards for design and well constructed gear kept them afloat, even during the years when John Sculley was CEO and Jobs was off running NeXt Computer.

In a classic case of the cart-before-the-horse, Apple's gadgets intrigued users in their core (and formerly only) market: Macintosh computers. Mac laptops are found in briefcases and backpacks alike, and their market share is in double-digits. Even in Windows-centric Hong Kong, you can now swing by your local electronic goods outlet and pick up a MacBook Air.

And despite all the iGadgets and hoopla and massive market cap, this to me is what Jobs should be remembered for. He built a computer ecosystem that I bought into in 1987, and have never left. The doomed NeXt Computer OS was based on Unix, and Jobs made sure that Mac OS X was a Unix-based system that appealed to both traditional Mac GUI-only types and Unix geeks who wanted to get into their systems and tweak the code. It's an ingenious system that powers every Mac today and enables much of the world to get their computing work done.

Yes, I like my iPhone and iPods, but the Mac OS--which allows use of excellent open-source software, check http://opensourcemac.org/ for programs you won't be able to live without--is the rock-solid base that Jobs brought to the firm he rejoined and rejuvenated. This to me is his legacy--becoming a mogul in three separate, flashy industries by the age of 50 is unprecedented, but when I sit down at my Mac and It Just Works, I think: what else did he need to prove?

Requiescat in pace.

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