A year ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs cut Pixar Studio's ties with Walt Disney, opting to handle its own marketing and distribution.

With that move, the animation shop that made a name for itself with a hopping lamp became its own studio, in control of everything from the rendered frame, to the prints shipped to theatres, to the timing and pricing of its DVDs. Steve Jobs, speaking for Pixar, told Disney, "Thanks, Disney, Pixar will take it from here."

That's the same Steve Jobs who delivered his usual low-key, earnest infomercial for Apple's new products at Macworld Expo in San Francisco this week. His harmless little niche computer products outfit made a name for itself with a rainbow logo and idealistic counterculture marketing.

Apple has control

Steve Jobs has put Apple in control of its manufacturing, its distribution and even its own economy. He's turned Apple into the equivalent of a sovereign state. Steve Jobs has sent the message to industry giants like Microsoft and Sony that they're the next Disneys. They’re holding Apple back. From now on, they may not tell Apple where it may or may not play. Thanks, guys. Apple will take it from here.

Steve Jobs summoned Sony President Kunitake Ando to his keynote stage to put a point on that message. Sony controls the high-end digital video market, and broadly speaking, Apple and its customers couldn't go anywhere that Sony wouldn't let them go. Mr. Ando declared that Sony is working very closely with Apple, and then in a nervous aside to Steve Jobs (who had a Sony HD camcorder pointed straight at Mr. Ando), asked Apple to stick to software. Please.

Company comes of age

Apple's got a unique set of assets that will never run dry: Image, ingenuity, creativity, brand loyalty, nerve, and cash. Tech industry analysts that chuckled over the iPod company's efforts to rack up real market share in computers now have to deal with a well-heeled Apple minus the humility and projected timidity of old.

Apple's $500 Mac mini is going to eat the lunch of low-end desktops. But not just that: Tricked out with accessories that are on the Macworld Expo show floor now, Mac mini is a DVR (think TiVo) without capacity limits, intrusive advertising, or phone-home reporting of users' viewing habits. It's a Playstation with a hard drive, USB, FireWire, Ethernet, expandable memory, a keyboard, and a mouse. Mac mini burns CDs, plays DVDs, and puts out composite, S-Video, VGA, or DVI (LCD flat panel) video. QuickTime 7 does that HD playback and editing thing, and the system's performance is on par with Apple's newest PowerBooks. It really is everything other Macs are, just smaller.