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Former colleagues remember Steve Jobs' many sides

Former colleagues discuss Steve Jobs' early days. From left to right: Paul Freiberger (moderator), Regis McKenna, Jean-Louis Gassee, Andy Hertzfeld, Bill Atkinson, Deborah Stapleton, Larry Tesler Josh Lowensohn/CNET

A clutch of former Apple colleagues got together Wednesday night at San Jose's Tech Museum to regale a Silicon Valley audience with reminiscences about the Steve Jobs they knew.

This was a rare gathering of headliners - several of whom were present at the creation - or close to it - when the Two Steves began to build their company. The official theme of the evening was a discussion of "Steve Jobs: A legacy of vision and leadership," and yes, there was a lot of that. But more fascinating was the nuanced picture that got painted of the man, warts and all. The industry icon who has been transmogrified into a cult figure transcending the boundaries of the business and technology worlds was also remembered with affection as a complicated and flawed man.

"At times he could be a romantic and almost naive in his innocence, in his purity of heart. And there was also the Steve who was disregarding, manipulative and even downright cruel," remembered Chris Espinosa, employee No. 8 at Apple, which he joined while still a teenager. He added that it was hard to reconcile the different parts of his personality. " "I saw all three sides and am still not going to figure out - the innovator, the tyrant or the lover - or maybe all 3."

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"I always thought he was a romantic," said Bill Atkinson, who was a member of the original Mac team and the creator of HyperCard, MacPaint and the QuickDraw graphics code. He said that Jobs often had a hard time when there was something he ran across in the business world that didn't conform to his aesthetic vision. It was during those times that he said Jobs would lash out, only later to apologize afterwards. "Steve was deeply human," he remembered.

Regis McKenna, the public relations impresario who helped guide Jobs and Apple during its early years, echoed that theme to underscore what he described as "an evangelical desire to make the world a better place."

For Jobs, he said, "excellence was all that mattered. This was art. This wasn't business. I never heard him talk how we could make money. It was how we could make the world a better place...how people could be delighted...is there any way we can make this better, so that people will love it?"

Sometimes that drive expressed itself in ways that Jobs' underlings had to learn to appreciate. Larry Tesler, Apple's former chief scientist and one of the legendary computer scientists who worked during the golden age at Xerox PARC, was getting regular calls at home from Jobs during early days of the Lisa project, a precursor to the Macintosh. "The typical time was 2:00 am. I was pretty flattered that Steve Jobs would want to talk to me. At the same time, I was pretty pissed off that anyone would be calling me at 2:00 am."

He got over it. So did the others, who fondly recalled the sometimes manic attention that Jobs applied to myriad projects, often wreaking havoc with heretofore established bureaucratic lines within the company. Andy Hertzfeld, a developer on the original Macintosh team and now a software engineer at Google, recalled that "no detail was too small to matter. There was no management structure. He defied it. He was kind of a nightmare for middle managers because he'd go right to the people doing the work - every time."

In this Jan. 9, 2007 file phtoo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up an Apple iPhone at the MacWorld Conference in San Francisco. Paul Sakuma

As they offered up favorite anecdotes, one theme often got repeated. They marveled at how Jobs, who was not an engineer or especially technical, nonetheless had a keen ability -a kind of intuition- that helped him figure out faster than most the bigger significance of a product or technology. That was apparent during the now-famous visit to Xerox PARC when Jobs got his first glimpse of a computer with a graphical user interface.

"What is going on here? You're sitting on a gold mine. You could change the world," recalled Tesler, who said the visit was enough to make Jobs revamp the Lisa with a graphical user interface and mouse. Seven months after that meeting, Tesler was working for Apple.

During his first tenure at Apple, which came to an abrupt end in 1985, Jobs had a reputation as a haphazard manage. He got things done more with charisma and stares than carrots and sticks. But he matured as a man and a manager during the next decade away from Apple, when he ran NeXt and Pixar.

"All those early years were part of his education," Atkinson noted. He later put the final coda on the evening: "Steve is going to be considered one of the greatest American entrepreneurs and innovators that we've seen."

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