As today's news that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be taking medical leave from the company through the summer rockets around the Web, many are speculating this will be the last we may ever see of Cupertino's hero. Following the initial news around Macworld Expo that Jobs was going to forego the keynote and had a hormonal imbalance, whispers grew to loud murmurs, saying that Apple needed a backup plan for CEO - and fast - but now that murmuring has become a roaring crescendo. And while I put myself at significant risk at being labeled a fanboy who kneels at the multi-colored altar, I have to express how losing Jobs for more than a few months will be a significant blow, not just to Apple and its customers, but to Silicon Valley and the world at large.
No doubt in part due to my recent birth, I practically grew up using Apple computers. And even while Windows grew in market share, I saw their interface as a shoddy misappropriation of Apple's intellectual property. As Apple swirled near the drain in the late 1990s, while some mocked the company and called it beleaguered, I huddled among the seeming few fanatics we had left and declared that we would never give up. It was us against the world.
Jobs' return to Apple was curious at first. It was supposed to have been temporary. He vowed he would never be the CEO at Apple Computer, and speculation as to a full-time holder of the role was widespread. But, luckily for us all, he pulled a Dick Cheney (think 2000 VP candidates) and appointed himself. And the rest, as they say is history. He made Apple not just an also-ran in the computer business, but a major force for innovation. He brought color to a drab world. He worked with very conservative businesses and found ways to launch the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, and eventually, the iPhone.
With Jobs at the helm, Apple took the very boring world of MP3 players and cell phones and made them exciting again - and you only have to take a look at the Microsoft Zune, Sony's failed Walkman MP3 player line, and phones from Nokia to see what the industry has tried to do in Apple's wake.
As I wrote during the last round of speculation, I Will Teach My Children About Steve Jobs, I don't intend to tell them about Steve Jobs as you would a cultural icon of yesteryear, but instead because he helped to spur innovation and imagination. The idea of an Apple without Steve Jobs, or a computer industry without Steve Jobs is alarming. Yes, younger entrepreneurs like those running Google and Facebook have lapped Apple in some areas and are forging interesting new products, but there is only one Steve Jobs.
Apple has always taken significant pride in how it uses its vast mountain of cash and its R&D budget. The very best use of said funds would be to first, solve Jobs' medical issue, whatever it is, and later, move on to see if he can be made immortal. This isn't a shifty Bill Gates or a sweaty, rotund, Steve Ballmer we are talking about here. This is the one and only Steve Jobs, who has cared about creativity, education, and users above everything else. The idea of a computer industry without Apple and without Steve Jobs should mortify us all.
June cannot come soon enough. I hope that is truly as long as we will be waiting.