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The Steve Jobs I Knew

He was hard to get to know, but he also was impossible to forget

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Young Steve JobsWith all the interest in and remembrances of Steve Jobs that we’ve seen these past few days, I thought I would take a moment to share some of my own memories of him.

I had occasion to interact with Steve Jobs several times in the 1980s and ’90s. As the reporter responsible for covering the software “beat” for Fortune magazine in the early ’80s, I met many up-and-coming software gurus, including Mitch Kapor of Lotus, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Phillipe Kahn of Borland, Fred Gibbons of Software Publishing, and their peers. Because you really couldn’t cover software without a computer, I also was involved in stories and interviews with the heads of Compaq, Dell and, of course, Apple.

I had worked on a story about Xerox PARC — the research-and-development company where Jobs had first seen the graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse on the Alto computer — and visited many PARC engineers there who later moved on, including the founders of Adobe, computer scientist Alan Kay, and others whose names I now forget. So I had some sense of what had wowed Jobs, and I saw the next iterations of that GUI technology being developed by the folks who had exited PARC. I remember going to Adobe and not really understanding what these Postscript fonts really could do. Sounds ancient now.

When the first little Macintosh box was introduced, Apple sent me one, along with a dot-matrix printer, to test out in my office. I probably had it for two weeks. I was seeing the first iterations of desktop-publishing software as well from companies like Aldus (bought by Adobe) and Manhattan Graphics (long gone). Anyway, I suggested Fortune do a story on desktop publishing, and also had the opportunity to arrange a lunch with Steve Jobs and Fortune‘s then-managing editor, Bill Rukeyser (brother of financial journalist Louis). Bill wanted to invite Henry Grunwald, the head of all of Time Inc.’s editorial division, and before I knew it, the lunch had grown to include all the managing editors of all of Time Inc.’s magazines, plus me, plus one or two other technology reporters. It was the big leagues, and I was decidedly the lowest man on the totem pole, but because I had built the relationship, I was invited.

The lunch was formal. And though Jobs talked about Apple, what sticks in my mind are two things. First, as the plates were brought in (I don’t remember what was served — steak, chicken, whatever), Jobs waved his away and asked if he could have fruit. Waving away food at an editorial lunch that included Henry Grunwald was not something anyone else in the room would ever have done. But Jobs did it, and got a wonderful-looking fruit plate while the rest of us ate our prepared meals.

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