ANNAPOLIS -- By way of introduction, Steve Jobs says: "I got fired from Apple, as you all know, I guess."
The cofounder and former chairman of Apple Computer Inc. is speaking to a group of high-powered Maryland business executives and political leaders, brought together by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to hear Jobs speak about the future. That's about all Jobs, 32, wants to talk about these days, even though his former mentor, current Apple Chairman John Sculley, has had a lot to say about Jobs and the falling out between the two in his recent book, "Odyssey."
The once-voluble Jobs has kept an extremely low profile since leaving Apple two years ago after a bitter feud with Sculley, and his breakfast meeting here Friday was a rare public appearance. He has started a new company, Next Inc., to develop a powerful but inexpensive new computer for use by college students and researchers, and while he is said to be quite unhappy with Sculley's version of the events at Apple two years ago, Jobs declines to be interviewed or to discuss the book -- which he says he has not read.
All he will say for public consumption is, "It's more fun to shape the future than it is to regurgitate the past."
Privately, however, Jobs is known to be happy with the success of Apple's Macintosh computer line, whose original design he oversaw. But he also is known to be worried about the company's future and the possibility that Apple has lost much of the unorthodox entrepreneurial spirit that made it successful in the first place.
He also is not pleased with Sculley's efforts in "Odyssey" to cast himself as a technology visionary in the mold of Jobs. Jobs has told people that many of the ideas for a "21st century renaissance" that Sculley bandies about in a much ballyhooed epilogue to the book are neither original nor, for that matter, very new.
Jobs believes that Next has taken over the leading edge of personal computer design, although it has yet to turn out a product. A year ago, Jobs was saying the first Next machine would be available sometime this year; now he says it will be the middle of next year. Jobs also offers precious few details about what the company is working on.
There have been whispers in Silicon Valley that Next is having problems developing the computer, and Sculley, indicated in an interview earlier this year some skepticism that Next could accomplish what it hopes to do in the time frame it has set for itself. Nevertheless, Sculley says of Jobs and Next in the book: "Chances are he will once again be wondrously ahead of his time."
The Sculley-Jobs relationship is one virtually without parallel in modern American business. Seeking mature management and marketing know-how, Jobs wooed Sculley to Apple from his job as president of Pepsi-Cola Co. after an unrelenting four-month pursuit capped by the perfect pitch: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?"
The landing of a high-powered executive like Sculley by what then was a small Silicon Valley company was a major coup. Jobs saw Sculley as a mentor, and Sculley saw himself as a teacher. "I felt that part of my role was to nurture Steve from a prince to a king so he would someday be able to run the company he cofounded," Sculley writes.
From the start, the "partnership," as Sculley describes the relationship with Jobs, appeared to pay major dividends for Apple. The company's sales soared, and the pair was pictured on the cover of Business Week as the "Dynamic Duo." The way Sculley tells it, they were all but inseparable in the two years after Sculley joined Apple in 1983.
"We had an incredible friendship," Sculley writes. "He was the only person I ever met whom I could speak with on multiple levels. We felt we were living life on several different planes at all times. We spoke, thought and worked in synchronization. ...
"Not only did we understand each other, Steve and I rejoiced in our similar reactions to the world. We could complete each other's sentences because we were on the same wave length," Sculley writes. "Sometimes, I felt as if I was watching Steve playing me in a movie. The similarities were uncanny, and they were behind the amazing symbiosis we developed."
According to Sculley, the feeling was mutual. He quotes Jobs as saying on several occasions, "I'm having the 'funnest' time in my whole life. I am so happy that you decided to come to Apple. You're the best person that Apple could have chosen."
When the honeymoon ended, however, it ended hard. "Our success not only gave us great confidence as a team and company, it made Steve more forceful as a manager," Sculley writes. "I had given Steve greater power than he had ever had and I had created a monster."
Sculley's description of the bitter infighting at Apple that led to Jobs' ouster from a day-to-day management role in May 1985, and then to his resignation from the company the following September, ends with an account of a staff member packing up Jobs' office after the departure and finding a warmly inscribed picture of Jobs and Sculley together. "It was a warm and inviting picture that perfectly captured our friendship: the two of us deep in thought, conversing about Apple's future as we had done nearly every day," Sculley writes. "The picture's glass frame was shattered, as if it had been violently thrown across the room."
Jobs now is able to talk somewhat more warmly about his days at Apple, if not about Sculley, and about what Apple means to the computer industry and American entrepreneurship. His pride about the company's current success is evident, although by most outside estimations, it is to Sculley's credit that Apple pulled out of its doldrums two years ago.
If anything, Jobs is less forthcoming about Next, in part because he is said to want to create an aura of mystery around the company from which will explode a burst of publicity when its first computer hits the market. Asked at the breakfast Friday about the computer's price and date of availability, he waffled. He did say, however, that he hoped the machine would be able to run sophisticated educational simulations that right now are exclusive to much more expensive machines.
"What we're trying to do is take one of these $50,000 computers that most of this stuff is being done on, and saying, 'Can we do that for $4,000 or $5,000?'" he told the group. "I think we can do that."
The University of Maryland is one of several universities in a consortium that is advising Next, and the school arranged Jobs' appearance here Friday to give Schaefer and other state leaders a chance to hear the still-boyish wunderkind's views on education and technology.
Jobs hopes the Next computer will lead nothing less than a revolution in higher education, providing a powerful new teaching tool with which students can simulate real-life situations and react to them. As examples, he mentions the ability of biochemistry students to manipulate a computerized model of recombinant DNA or for history students to live in the time of Louis XIV through a computer simulation.
"Even in the liberal arts, we're finding that if we can construct these environments, students will pay a lot of attention to them," he said.
"I think we're getting to a point where, 10 years from now, in addition to the book we'll have this tool," he said.
Jobs clearly has not lost any of the brash genius that first attracted, and then repelled, Sculley, and led to both the rise of Apple and Jobs' own downfall at the company.
"Steve was nothing short of exciting. He was arrogant, outrageous, intense, demanding -- a perfectionist," Sculley writes. "He was also immature, fragile, sensitive, vulnerable. He was dynamic, visionary, charismatic, yet often stubborn, uncompromising and downright impossible."
Speaking to the group at the governor's mansion Friday, Jobs showed off many of those traits. Asked how Maryland could improve its high-technology environment, Jobs launched into a long, rambling answer that was often brilliant, but also caustic. Schaefer has to set goals, he said, and the people running the state university system have to carry them out. And if they don't, Jobs said, as President John S. Toll and other members of the University of Maryland hierarchy looked on, "Then get rid of them and find some people who will."
"He was so far ahead of me intellectually, I didn't know what he was talking about," Schaefer said later, sounding a little like Sculley. "But it sounded so good."