Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Report: Steve Jobs has logged off

February 22, 2009: 7:11 AM ET

Steve Jobs w/handIt takes him nine paragraphs to get to it, but there's a nugget of Apple (AAPL) news in Robert X. Cringely's latest column, "Where's Steve?," published Saturday.

Cringely, the pen name of former InfoWorld and PBS columnist Mark Stephens, sets it up with a quote from Oscar Wilde ("The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.") and a leisurely discourse on how Steve Jobs, after his bout with pancreatic cancer (link), shifted from skillfully managing the press to skillfully avoiding it.

Then Cringely drops his little bombshell:

"A friend of mine has for years been one of Steve Jobs' Internet chat buddies. And as such his chat client has – again for years – shown as Steve came online each day and remained there for hours and hours as you'd expect a Silicon Valley mogul to do. And it's a trend that continued well past Jobs' announcement that he was taking a six-month leave of absence to get well. But then Steve started logging-on less and less. And several weeks ago he stopped logging-on at all." (link)

But Cringely goes one further and asserts, without further evidence, that Steve Jobs has completely stopped using his computer.

Of course, not logging on to chat doesn't necessarily mean any such thing, as several readers were quick to point out in the I, Cringely comment stream. It could mean that Jobs is concentrating on getting better, as he said he would. He might also, as another reader suggests, have changed his chat name or de-listed his friend's ID.

And perhaps, as several commenters assert with some heat, Steve Jobs' health issues are none of Cringely's -- or any of our -- business. "Who the [unprintable] cares?"

To which Cringely replies:

"I knew that this would be a polarizing column but that, in itself, is not a valid reason to avoid it. And if the commenters are Apple shareholders, then I'm really surprised. If they aren't Apple shareholders, then I'm not at all surprised they don't care. But no major company in the computer industry is guided more personally than is Apple by Steve Jobs. Not even Microsoft under Bill Gates and it was Bill Gates who told me that, admiringly. So his condition IS material and he can change that by resigning and nothing else. I'm not calling for that, by the way. But if he wants to take his name off my map that's what it will require.

"And yes, he might have changed his chat name after many years, he might have disowned my source, might have done any of a number of other things mentioned BUT HE DIDN'T. You think I don't check these things out? I've had this for 10 days and wouldn't have published on a Saturday except it took that long to confirm." (link)

A source known to have Steve Jobs on his Internet chat client declined to confirm -- or deny -- that Jobs has gone offline. Apple has yet to return a request for comment.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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