The Steve Jobs Nobody Knew

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Two things helped Jobs turn his life around. One was meeting Laurene Powell, a tall, blond Jersey girl studying for an MBA who heard him speak at Stanford after he was booted out of Apple. They were married in 1991 in a small Buddhist ceremony at Yosemite National Park and eventually had three kids together. Friends noticed immediately how becoming a family man matured Jobs. "I saw him coming out of a restaurant in Palo Alto, and he had a baby in his arm," says John Perry Barlow. "He was a changed man. He had a sweetness to him, a contemplative quality."

The other was a little company called Pixar. In 1986, the film production company founded by George Lucas was looking to unload high-tech imaging technology that would allow users to render their own 3D graphics. Jobs, enthralled by the technology, picked the division up for a mere $5 million. Taking over as CEO, he turned the graphics division into an animation studio, cut a deal with Disney for distribution, and gave a budding animation genius named John Lasseter and his team the kind of money and creative license he had never granted his employees at Apple. The result, after years of losses, was Toy Story. In 1995, a week after the film's release, Pixar went public and Jobs found himself sitting on stock worth $1.1 billion. Suddenly, Jobs looked like a genius again.

Apple, meanwhile, was struggling to survive. The board had installed a succession of clueless CEOs, who had done a brilliant job of driving the once-great company into irrelevance. I spent a lot of time at Apple in 1996, reporting a story on the decline and fall of the company for Rolling Stone, and Jobs spent hours on the phone with me, giving me his read on what went wrong and why. It was clear that he was personally offended that a guy as square and conventionally minded as CEO Gil Amelio - a veteran of the semiconductor industry, which is nothing at all like the PC industry - was running Apple. For Jobs, it was like a father seeinghis beloved son in the hands of a child molester.

So Jobs staged a comeback. Like many of his greatest accomplishments, it was swift and brutal. He charmed Amelio and the board sufficiently to convince them to buy NeXT's software for $400 million and use it as the basis for Apple's future operating system, which turned out to be OS X. Then he got himself named as an "informal adviser" to the company. Before long, Amelio was vanquished and Jobs was back in charge. He brought in a new board, sympathetic to his ideas for a turnaround.

For Jobs, this was a huge gamble. Apple was so far gone by that point that reviving it was by no means a sure thing. His strategy was simple. First, he halted Apple's disastrous decision to allow other computers to clone Macintosh's operating system. Next, he went humbly to Bill Gates and struck a deal to keep Microsoft software running on the Mac. Finally, he unleashed a talented designer named Jonathan Ive, giving him free rein to build great computers. His first all-new computer, the iMac, was a simple, distinctive, easy-to-use machine that had the playful spirit of the old Macintosh. It was an immediate hit.

Jobs saw clearly that Apple's future was in more than just PCs – it was in building cool hardware and software to deliver all kinds of content, including music and movies. The iPod, which launched in 2001, was the first move in that direction. I went to see Jobs in November 2003, around the time he introduced the Windows version of iTunes, a move that would make him the most influential man in the record industry. I bumped into him in the lobby – he was wearing shorts and Birkenstocks, looking very relaxed - and we took the elevator up to his office on the fourth floor. It was the least glamorous office you could imagine: no wood paneling, no awesome view, no decanter of whiskey, no silly toys or lava lamps. Settling into the conference room, he began to talk, mostly about the move into music.

iTunes, as Jobs saw it, was a way to stop outfits like Napster from enabling users to steal music – by creating the world's largest music store, with every song available instantly at the user's fingertips. Jobs had just browbeaten the record labels into coming on board, but it was still not clear whether iTunes would be selling individual songs or offering unlimited access to subscribers. "I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model," Jobs mused, "and it might not be successful."

But the business aspects of Apple weren't nearly as interesting as his personal reflections. I asked him about Bob Dylan, what his music meant to him. "He was a very clear thinker, and a poet," Jobs said. "He wrote about what he saw and thought. The early stuff is very precise. As he matured, you had to unravel it a bit. But once you did, it was clear as a bell." He talked about bootlegging Dylan in the early days with Woz. I sensed that he was opening up some, so I pushed him by asking if he ever had any doubts about technology, if he believed we were pushing it all too far: genetic research, cloning, all that.

He looked at me and rolled his eyes. "You know – I'd rather just talk about music. These big-picture questions are just – zzzzzzzz," he said, snoring loudly. "I think we're all happier when we have a little music in our lives."

He waved at my tape recorder. "Turn that off," he ordered. "Can we just talk?"

"Sure," I said, turning off the machine.

"I'm just really uncomfortable talking about this. It's not my thing."

"You don't like to think about the past, do you?" I asked.

"I don't have anything against the past," he said. "I just want to focus on the future."

From there, we went into a freewheeling conversation about the news of the day – starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor. ("I wish he had a little more business experience," Jobs said.) I asked him if he ever considered running for public office. He broke into a broad smile, and mimicked the voice of a reporter: "Yes, Mr. Jobs, and could you please tell us how many times you've dropped acid?" As we talked, I got the sense of another Steve Jobs, someone less certain, less self-confident. I asked him if he had gone to see Dylan a lot when he was younger. "Never," he said with obvious regret. "I was too busy with Apple." I suddenly understood how narrow his life had been, how much his success had cost him - so focused on one thing, so desperate to make it work.

Somehow, we got onto the topic of Bill Gates, and I asked him if he believed Gates was greedy. "I like Bill, but sometimes I wonder – Bill, why do you have to take a dollar out of every dollar that passes through your hands? Why do you have to have it all? Can't you just take, like, 99 cents and leave a penny for someone else?"

He seemed unusually relaxed, in no hurry to end the interview. I thought of a question I had always wanted to ask him.

"Where does your common-man touch for technology come from?"

"Common man?"

'Yeah, you know – simplicity of design. You understand how people use technology in a human way. Where does that come from?"

"You make it sound like I have statues of Chairman Mao on my front lawn," he said, laughing.

"No, I'm serious."

"I don't think it's that profound. I think most people in the technology world don't pay attention to design. They don't know anything about design, they don't care about it."

Suddenly I could see he was getting impatient, that my time was running out.

"Do you have any regrets about your life?"

"Sure," he said.

"Like what?"

"Personal things. Things that have to do with family." I presumed he was talking about Lisa, but I didn't push it.

At this point, my notes falter. I don't remember exactly how we got to this, what it was I asked him that prompted the response. Maybe I asked him if there were things he'd do differently. Maybe I asked him if he felt lucky. Maybe I even asked him if he was afraid of dying. But what I remember is this: Jobs leaning forward at the end of the table and looking at me directly, his eyes intense. "I think that life is something that happens in a flash," he said. He snapped his fingers. "We just have a brief moment here, and then we are gone."

As I said goodbye, he gave me a long look in the eye. I'm not sure what it meant, but there was a humanness to him that I had not seen before. I could see that he was confused and vulnerable. He had made sacrifices, done things wrong, had regrets. What he had shared with me were not the breathtaking thoughts of a visionary, but those of a regular human being.

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