If misery loves company, the company the INC. Index has to take a shine to is Apple Computer Inc. In 1982, when the INC. Index was a fast-grower itself, the then-five-year-old made its debut on INC.'s annual list of the country's fastest-growing public companies -- and the next year, its swan song. Not because its growth was slow, but because its 1979 sales exceeded the ceiling set by INC. Indeed, in 1983, Apple's revenues for the previous year also earned it a rank among the good old boys of the Fortune 500 -- the first company to belong to both elite lists in the same year.

Oh, how the two mighties have fallen. As can be seen, despite a small gain this month, the INC. Index is but half its former self. And (as of mid-June) so is Apple. Worse, Apple common is not only under $15 from a 52-week high of around $30, it also has fallen from its all-time high of more than $63, set in 1983. Now reduced by spring-cleaning to a position out of day-to-day operations, barely-over-30 Steven Jobs must be the youngest founder of a billion-dollar company to be shoved from grace.

Apple's misfortunes, resulting in a third-quarter loss, illustrate why investors have been wary of the rapid revenue producers in today's INC. Index. While sales go up, income often slides down, especially amid the hocus-pocus of high technology. Apple common was smashed even though the company is cash-heavy, a position foreign to most INC.-size growers. With cash, a company can get away with mistakes. Apple already offers classic studies in narrowness of product and stubbornness of market. Its Lisa and Apple III have become answers to trivia questions, and business hasn't cottoned to the Macintosh. Then again, ditto IBM's PCjr. So there's hope for all.