No doubt you've read Richard Stallman's two cents and related comments on Steve Jobs. I point it out because the media sure did attribute an unbelievable amount of hyperbole to Jobs' achievements. His passing, like any other, was untimely and unfortunate. What then is his legacy?
In its first incarnation, Apple was a computer company with a niche. My first introduction to the Mac, way back in the mid-80s, was in the advertising department of a Very Large Corporation. It was all done on a Mac. More interestingly, all the support for those computers was always contracted out to a specialty firm – corporate IT had nothing to do with them. This was the start of the greater Apple economy. As the decade moved on, Apple created other niches for their computer, but objectively speaking, they really were just another computer company, and the Mac was just another computer. For perspective's sake, I was into spreadsheets back then: Lotus 1-2-3 on a DOS box got the job done for me better than any other (and Prodigy ran full screen).
Jobs came back to Apple in the late 90s and shortly after the new millennium started to introduce funny-colored, odd-shaped computer designs, sporting a new operating system, Mac OS X. Well pundits, it was basically Unix, with a GUI called Aqua. That's probably when Stallman's ire started to rise, as Mac OS X was (and is) mostly based on free open-source software.
Though it wasn't the first MP3 player (I remember Creative Labs), the iPod was next. I started my career in Higher Ed around this time and I can tell you, categorically, no one under the age of 30 had a Mac computer. No one. But the kids did start to buy those iPods, and then their music from iTunes. And that's exactly where Jobs meteoric rise begins – with the marriage of hardware and content as a business model. Soon enough, everyone's iPods gave way to iPhones. Next, the iPhones were outfitted with a Macbook Pro and, subsequently, iPads.
Today, Apple is the new PC.
Let it be said that Jobs was an amazing businessman – and one that just so happened to be selling computer goods. Apple products aren't better per se than any other brand. Do people really do better, more productive work on their Apple products? I know my answer. But people love them and are willing to pay both extra money and, as Stallman notes, their freedom, to get them. For better or worse, Jobs was a great capitalist and the highly profitable Apple Inc. is his legacy.
And one more thing, he really did have an eye for design.