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Apple founder, HP alum Steve Jobs dies

Screen shot 2011-10-05 at 8.30.54 PM The man who brought more innovation to 21st Century computing than any other has died at age 56. Steve Jobs passed away with his family Wednesday, falling victim to the pancreatic cancer he'd been battling for more than seven years. His passing marks the end of one era in business computing: The period when a CEO and company leader could use vision and desire to lift a massive, sinking ship into leadership, powered by his control and drive and passion for tomorrows.

He has an HP 3000 connnection, since he worked for Hewlett-Packard just before starting Apple in the 1970s. Over at Wired, Steven Levy writes that HP was an essential part of making Apple a Jobs dream come true:

From at least the time he was a teenager, Jobs had a freakish chutzpah. At age 13, he called up the head of HP, David Packard, and cajoled him into giving Jobs free computer chips. After his call to Packard, Jobs worked at HP as a teenager. He later had a job at Atari, when the video-game company was just getting started. Yet he did not see the field as something that would satisfy his artistic urges. "Electronics was something I could always fall back on when I needed food on the table," he once told me. Later, he told [a friend] about the prices he was getting for parts, and they were favorable to the prices HP was paying.

One other thing Jobs did was convince Wozniak to quit his job at HP and work full time for Apple. When Woz originally demurred, Jobs called all of Woz’s friends and relatives, putting so much pressure on that the gentle engineer capitulated. Once again, Jobs had gotten what he wanted.

That David Packard-era HP had too much talent and not enough focus to entice such a man, who with his partner Woz, believed in computers for people, instead of computing for companies who employed computer people. The two men first met at HP when Jobs held a summer job there.

I had a brush up against his darkest era while I was a journalist nearly two decades ago. He'd been exiled from the company he created and so went out to found Object-Oriented pioneer NeXT and then Oscar-snatching Pixar. I had a near-miss in getting to interview him while he was toiling away at NeXT. At PCI, where we published and I edited the HP Chronicle, we were starting up NeXT World, and he was to be the interview for our inaugural issue. I left the company, ultimately to start the 3000 NewsWire, and NeXT withdrew the interview access. It was a matter of timing, but now it's a time for some personal regret. I feel like I've lost a bigger brother today. He was maddening and a lightning rod for criticism and never somebody you wanted to ride in an elevator with -- unless you had a great answer to "what are you working on today?"

Nobody ever missed NeXT World, or even NeXT the company. But for the computer world, a big disturbance in the force opened up Oct. 5. He never took more than $1 a year as a salary, instead compensated in stock, shares whose value rose from below $15 each to form the largest capitalized company in the world this summer. A CEO who takes that compensation, and then leaves in a golden parachute that's drifting as high as his ideals and ideas, may not grace our industry for a long time to come.

In 2009 he had a liver transplant to treat a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, his mortal diagnosis that he outlived for an extra two years. But even earlier, in 2005 when his doctor had told him to go home and get his affairs in order, he gave a now-legendary address to the Stanford graduating class entitled How to Live Before You Die. It's up on TED, that nexus of brilliant talks about humanity and technology and science. (Being a brilliant writer, Jobs had this words worked out on paper before he talked, and the transcript is online, too.) His own words on that day serve as the best epitaph, and the brightest light forward, now that his own searchlight has gone dark. There's advice in there for anyone who's still distilling a future in their computing life. You can only see how the dots of your life connect looking backward, he said, not forward. but faith is essential to doing good. "You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Getting kicked out of Apple may have had the same sting as watching HP cancel the future of a computer you came to love, one which supported you. "It was awful tasting medicine," he said of losing Apple. "But I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. Don't waste a minute of your life," he says in that speech. His own achievements and leadership, from a man who built a computer "for the rest of us," are a marker for the rest of us and what we might do so long as we believe in what we love.