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So why go back to a company that has ejected CEOs like so many bad diskettes? "I wouldn't be honest if some days I didn't question whether I made the right decision in getting involved," he says. "But I believe life is an intelligent thing--that things aren't random." In other words, there's a reason why his path has crossed Apple's again. A chance to pay penance? Or perhaps to prove he has grown up.

On Monday, two days before the fateful announcement, Jobs has the run of Apple headquarters. Most of the executive suites are already empty, their inhabitants gone to Macworld or just plain gone. Apple's management ranks have been thinning at an alarming rate. Only Fred Anderson, the chief financial officer, is roaming the halls as Jobs negotiates with Microsoft by phone and works on a quickie video of the new Apple board he virtually handpicked--naturally to include his buddy, Oracle chief Lawrence Ellison, who considered his own takeover bid of Apple this spring. "We caught Larry Ellison in the San Jose airport last Friday before he left for vacation," says Jobs, chuckling, as he watches raw video footage in the boardroom. "Apple is the only life-style brand in the computer industry," Ellison is saying onscreen. "It's the only company people feel passionate about. My company, Oracle, is huge; IBM is huge; Microsoft is huge; but no one has incredible emotions with our companies." Jobs is pleased.

All day long, the de facto helmsman races in and out, trying out bits of his Wednesday speech. He is aware of the naysaying, that Apple, with its single-digit market share, is doomed to fall before the Goliath of Microsoft. At Macworld, he will stress instead Apple's domination of education and desktop publishing. He fiddles with a paper clip as he thinks out loud.

"What if Apple didn't exist? Think about it. TIME wouldn't get published next week. Some 70% of the newspapers in the U.S. wouldn't publish tomorrow morning. Some 60% of the kids wouldn't have computers; 64% of the teachers wouldn't have computers. More than half the Websites created on Macs wouldn't exist," he says. "So there's something worth saving here. See?"

Painful as it is for a founding father, he keeps up daily with the rumbles about Apple on the Internet, the world's most extensive gossip mill. The chatter is of proxy fights and takeovers, the frustrations vented by clonemakers and Mac users alike. He understands; he really does. He gave up on Apple himself just two months ago and unloaded the 1.5 million shares he got as part of the $424 million Apple paid him for NeXT Software Inc. last December. "Yes, I sold the shares," he says. "I pretty much had given up hope that the Apple board was going to do anything. I didn't think the stock was going up." He ruefully notes that he sold them in June when the price was around $15 a share, about $16 million less than they'd be worth now. Today he holds a symbolic one share of Apple--and is unapologetic about not holding more. "If that upsets employees," he says, "I'm perfectly happy to go home to Pixar."

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