The Steve Jobs Difference

By David Morgenstern  |  Posted 2007-01-03 Print this article Print

With constant holiday looping of "Its a Wonderful Life" fresh in our memories, its easy to wonder what might happen were Jobs removed from Apples picture. (It wouldnt take much of an imagination to figure the changes in reality if Jobs hadnt been born at all, which is the character George Bailey uncovers in the movie.) Still, even with Clarence the Angel in mind, it would be difficult to target Apple strategic decisions over the past 10 years where Jobs didnt make a personal difference. So, the Apple-Jobs/Jobs-Apple identification isnt hooey.
However, looking through the long list of accomplishments over the decade, it seems to me that there were a small number of decisions and events that only Jobs could carry out and be successful. These were moments—most in the early part of his latest tenure—that relied upon Jobs authenticity as a founder of the company as well as the communication that he still had a personal stake in Apples direction.
Heres my shortlist for these crucial events:
  • Reassuring the Mac base. In the summer of 1997, the Mac faithful were confused and despairing. Apple was losing money, its bifurcated BSD Unix-based Rhapsody-Classic OS road map was confusing, and the platform was losing ground in its traditional stronghold markets. Worse, were rumors that Microsoft might pull the plug on Mac development. Microsoft Office was the glue that kept the Mac holding on in some businesses and the enterprise. And MS Word was the leading word processor on the Mac (and still is) and was a central component for the professional content creation workflows on the Mac platform. Jobs took the stage of the Boston Macworld Expo and rallied the audience of Mac VIPs, analysts and developers. This was no lovefest, however, and Jobs was greeted on many occasions with boos and catcalls. The most reassuring thing to many that day was that Apple would settle its ongoing patent lawsuit with Microsoft, with Redmond guaranteeing Mac versions of Office for another five years. There were other parts of the deal, including a minor investment ($150 million) by Microsoft in Apple stock. "Apple lives in an ecosystem. And it needs help from other partners; it needs to help other partners," Jobs said. "Relationships that are destructive dont help anybody in this industry as it is today. During the last several weeks, weve looked at relationships. One [relationship] stood out as one that hasnt been going so well, but has the potential to be great for both companies: Microsoft." This message was greeted with a mix of applause and groans. The crowd grew more boisterous as Jobs ran through the details of the deal. You can hear some of the reaction on this YouTube video clip. Is a "perfect storm" of Mac upgrade sales on the horizon? Click here to read more. Still, Jobs kept his cool, and this message was generally accepted in the months that followed. "We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. If we screw up, its our fault," Jobs continued. Next Page: Jobs keeps developers on the Mac and navigates the Intel transition.

    David Morgenstern is Executive Editor/Special Projects of eWEEK. Previously, he served as the news editor of Ziff Davis Internet and editor for Ziff Davis' Storage Supersite.

    In 'the days,' he was an award-winning editor with the heralded MacWEEK newsweekly as well as eMediaweekly, a trade publication for managers of professional digital content creation.

    David has also worked on the vendor side of the industry, including companies offering professional displays and color-calibration technology, and Internet video.

    He can be reached here.


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