A 1993 Wall Street Journal article described "the decline of Mr. Jobs," saying that his vision for NeXT resembled "a pipe dream" and portraying him as a once-great but increasingly irrelevant figure who might survive "as a niche player."
In Jobs' absence, Apple had been foundering as its share of the computer market shriveled. Seeking new software for the Macintosh, Apple decided on NeXT's system, and bought the company for $377 million.
Jobs came back to Apple as a "special advisor" in 1996, but within a year he orchestrated the ouster of most of Apple's board and had himself installed as chief executive. He reshaped a moribund company into a $380-billion technology titan, which this year temporarily surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. as the world's most valuable company.
The comeback was powered by a string of blockbuster products for which Jobs is largely credited — each of which had far-reaching effects in both culture and industry.
"To have your whole music library with you at all times is a quantum leap in listening to music," he said in a 2001 presentation. "How do we possibly do this?" A moment later, he pulled the first iPod from his jeans pocket to show off the answer.
With the iPod's release, Jobs lighted the way for the entertainment industry in the digital age. The iPod became Apple's most popular product and soon captured about 70% of the market for digital music players.
Photos: Steve Jobs 1955-2011
Two years later, through deals that Jobs brokered with the recording industry, Apple opened its iTunes online store, which is now the country's No. 1 music retailer.
With iTunes — which expanded to selling movies, TV shows, books and games — Jobs transformed Apple from a computer maker into one of the primary gatekeepers for the explosion of online media.
The iPhone, introduced in 2007, gave the cellphone a touch screen and a Web browser and enabled the growth of a booming industry of small mobile games and applications. It was then that Jobs dropped the word "Computer" from Apple's name to make it simply Apple Inc.
Last year, Apple released its iPad tablet computer, a wireless reading, gaming and Web-surfing slate that has sold nearly 30 million units since its release.
In a testament to Jobs' knack for picking transforming technologies, many industry analysts believe the iPad will hasten the demise of the laptop and desktop computers that Jobs himself once helped bring to prominence.
In his second term at Apple, Jobs' instincts became the company's internal compass. Unlike many chief executives, Jobs shunned focus groups and consumer surveys, personally driving Apple's search for the next great idea.
"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them," Jobs once told BusinessWeek magazine.
He had a cult-like following, and he mesmerized audiences when unveiling Apple's newest products, but no one was shown anything until Jobs said it was time. He kept a tight lid on information flowing out of the Cupertino company.
He was known as an imperious boss with little patience for weakness, one who launched blistering tirades that left subordinates fuming, or in tears.
"Steve tests you, challenges you, frightens you," Todd Rulon-Miller, a friend and NeXT executive, said in "The Second Coming of Steve Jobs." "He uses this as a tactic to get to the truth."
Mercurial and brilliant, Jobs presented himself as an outsider even at the apex of American business, a convention-bucking visionary who was willing to wade into new industries to do battle with movie studios, record labels and cellphone giants. As a Buddhist and vegetarian following the principles of minimalism, he nearly always appeared in public in a black turtleneck, worn jeans and sneakers.