By Poornima Gupta and Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Passionate, prickly, and deemed irreplaceable by many Apple fans and investors, Steve Jobs made a life defying conventions and expectations.
And despite years of poor health, his death on Wednesday at the age of 56 prompted a global gasp as many people remembered how much he had done to transform the worlds of computing, music and mobile phones, changing the way people communicate and access information and entertainment.
"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come," said Microsoft co-founder and long-time rival Bill Gates.
"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honor."
The founder of Apple Inc died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, surrounded by his family. The circumstances of his passing were unclear, but Jobs has had a long battle with cancer and other health issues.
Jobs' family thanked many for their prayers during the last year of Steve's illness.
A college dropout, Jobs floated through India in search of spiritual guidance prior to founding Apple - a name he suggested to his friend and co-founder Steve Wozniak after a visit to a commune in Oregon he referred to as an "apple orchard."
With his passion for minimalist design and marketing genius, Jobs changed the course of personal computing during two stints at Apple and then brought a revolution to the mobile market.
The iconic iPod , the iPhone - dubbed the "Jesus phone" for its quasi-religious following - and the iPad are the creation of a man who was known for his near-obsessive control of the product development process.
"Most mere mortals cannot understand a person like Steve Jobs ," said bestselling author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple employee, in a recent interview. He considers Jobs "the greatest CEO in the history of man", adding that he just had "a different operating system."
Charismatic, visionary, ruthless, perfectionist, dictator - these are some of the words that people have used to describe Jobs, who may have been the biggest dreamer the technology world has ever known, but also was a hard-edged businessman and negotiator through and through.
"Steve was the best of the best. Like Mozart and Picasso, he may never be equalled," said Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and co-founder of Netscape Communications.
Microsoft's Gates had called Jobs the most inspiring person in the tech industry and President Barack Obama held him up as the embodiment of the American Dream.
It's hard to imagine a bigger success story than Steve Jobs , but rejection, failure and bad fate were part and parcel of who he was. Jobs was given away at birth, driven out of Apple in the mid-80s and struck with cancer when he finally had regained the top of the mountain.
He resigned as CEO of Apple Inc on August 24 - saying he could no longer fulfill the duties - and briefly served as chairman before his death.
Jobs grew up with an adopted family in Silicon Valley, which was turning from orchards to homes for workers at Lockheed and other defense and technology companies.
Electronics friend Bill Fernandez introduced him to boy engineer Wozniak, and the two Steves began a friendship that eventually bred Apple Computer .
"Woz is a brilliant engineer, but he is not really an entrepreneur, and that's where Jobs came in," recently remembered Fernandez, who was the first employee at Apple.
Wozniak earlier this year said that his goal was only to design hardware and he had no interest in running Apple.
" Steve Jobs ' role was defined -- you've got to learn to be an executive in every division of the company so you can be the world's most important person some day. That was his goal," joked Wozniak, who is still listed as an employee, even though he has not worked at Apple for years.
Jobs created Apple twice - once when he founded it and the second time after a return credited with saving the company, which now vies with Exxon Mobil as the most valuable publicly traded corporation in the United States.
Every day to him was "a new adventure in the company," Jay Elliot, a former senior vice president at Apple who worked very closely with Jobs in the eighties, said earlier this year, adding that he was "almost like a child" when it came to his inquisitiveness.
He was highly intolerant of company politics and bureaucracy, Elliot noted.
But the inspiring Jobs came with a lot of hard edges, oftentimes alienating colleagues and early investors with his my-way-or-the-highway dictums and plans that were generally ahead of their time.
Elliot was a witness to the acrimony between Jobs and former Apple Chief Executive John Sculley who often clashed on ideas, products and the direction of the company.
The dispute came to a head at Apple's first major sales meeting in Hawaii in 1985 where the two "just blew up against each other," Elliot said.
Jobs left soon after, saying he was fired.
"It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life's gonna hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith," Jobs told a Stanford graduating class in 2005.
He returned to Apple about a decade after he left, working as a consultant. Soon he was running it, in what has been called Jobs' second act.
Jobs reinvented the technology world four or five times, first with the Apple II, a beautiful personal computer in the 1970s; then in the 1980s with the Macintosh, driven by a mouse and presenting a clean screen that made computing inviting; the ubiquitous iPod debuted in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and in 2010 the iPad, which a year after it was introduced outsold the Mac.