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Report: Steve Jobs cuts back on instant messaging

A story claiming to reveal Apple chief executive Steve Jobs' recent lack of computer use has reignited speculation surrounding his health and the progress of his recovery.

In a Saturday column entitled "Where's Steve?", Robert X. Cringely cites one source and declares, "Steve Jobs has stopped using his computer."

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.


Cringely, which is the pen name of former InfoWorld and PBS columnist Mark Stephens, concludes that anyone who "actually expects Steve Jobs to return to Apple" will care about this latest revelation. According to Cringely's bio, "The sex symbol, airplane enthusiast and adventurer continues to write about personal computers and has an active consulting business in Silicon Valley, selling his cybersoul to the highest bidder."

He claims "the best and brightest" of the Valley "talk to him all the time," providing the information he uses in his reports. Cringely is also the author of a book called Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date. Jobs was the first name listed (followed by Bill Gates and Mitch Kapor) on the back cover of the book, published in 1996, in which Cringely predicted PCs would be "obsolete" by the year 2000 and "only software would survive."

Apple watchers responding to the author's assertion – Jobs is not using a computer at all – have quickly pointed out that "not logging on to chat doesn't necessarily mean any such thing," as Fortune reported on its Apple 2.0 blog. The same entry cautioned against drawing too many conclusions, noting that Jobs could merely be "concentrating on getting better."

The majority of commenters on Cringely's own site questioned his motives and reporting, to which Cringely responded, "[Y]es, 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."

Jobs, who celebrates his 54th birthday tomorrow, has been on a leave of absence since mid-January from the company he helped create. The Mac maker's chief operating officer, Tim Cook, is leading the company in his stead.

"In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June," Jobs wrote in a media advisory made public on January 14. In the wake of that announcement, rumors of shareholder lawsuits surfaced while other observers expressed confidence in the Cupertino-based company's interim leadership team.

As the annual shareholders' meeting on Wednesday approaches, Apple may once again have to face questions about the one executive who could still lead the discussion despite his absence.

In today's early trading, shares of AAPL have fallen 1.44 percent.