If you saw the TV movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” you probably have a negative view of how Bill Gates and Steve jobs get along. Certainly if you look at the ongoing rivalry between Apple and Microsoft, you’d get the distinct impression that these aging veterans of the technology wars are dire enemies.
However, if you happened to witness the on-stage bantering between Gates and Jobs at Wednesday night’s event sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, you might come away with a totally different conclusion, that these worthy corporate leaders actually like and respect each other.
So is there some underlying truth between these two extremes? Is there any way to even know the truth?
I don’t want to disappoint those of you expected some secret information, but you can get some really obvious surface impressions that might give you a good idea of the things that the corporate spin-makers will never reveal.
Take the comment from Gates that, when Jobs left Apple in 1985, he felt he no longer had anyone at that company he could communicate with. Now notice what happened when Jobs returned. First, Microsoft makes a $150 million investment in Apple and pledges to continue to develop the Mac version of Office. This is regarded as a watershed event that signaled Apple’s resurgence, and the presence of Gates on a satellite feed at a Macworld Expo keynote made it clear this was something you had to take seriously.
But there is more. Sure, the two companies rag on each other in public, since they are, after all, in competition in a number of areas. That, however, shouldn’t necessarily reflect on the private relationships among their executives.
Then there was a subsequent Macworld keynote where Jobs casually mentioned having a dinner with Gates and talking of both as “graybeards.” Indeed, the two men have an awful lot of shared experiences to reflect on, having worked together at the beginning of the personal compute revolution, but it also made it quite clear that they continue to speak to each other.
Now of course, the compliments each heaped upon the other during that joint event might have been carefully rehearsed, an act with which to entertain the audience. You can easily imagine Gates and Jobs spending several weeks working on the material, with their corporate communications operatives in tow to provide input and feedback.
Indeed, it came across as a great performance, but you got the strong feeling there was genuine feelings of affection involved as well. Sure, Gates bristled during the discussion of the Mac versus PC spots, as you might expect he would. But any other reaction would strain credibility.
I also recall that statement when the deal between Apple and Microsoft was announced in 1997, when Jobs said the operating system wars were over, and Microsoft won.
Now other than the obvious competitive products, are there areas where Apple and Microsoft are more cooperative now than before Jobs returned to Apple? Well, in addition to the ongoing development of Office, you’ll notice that every single release of Mac OS X contains enhanced tools to make Macs more at home with a Windows-based office.
The move to Intel processors was no doubt made for the very reasons Jobs presented, and that was to provide power efficiency and great performance. The products that resulted clearly demonstrate that he was telling the truth. But it also eased the task of running Windows on a Mac. With Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop, for example, you can turn your Mac into a fully-enabled Windows Vista PC with surprisingly good performance. Boot Camp makes your Mac virtually indistinguishable from the PC, and the forthcoming version 3.0 of Parallels will add accelerated graphics, the better to reduce its performance gap.
That brings us to the iPod, and you probably realize that more Windows users buy them than Mac users. iTunes and QuickTime seem to run pretty well on a Windows PC, although there are occasional hiccups, and there’s even a version of Software Update that will update your PC to the newest versions when they’re available.
As it stands, Apple makes plenty of money from the Windows market, and Microsoft earns its share from Mac users, both from sales of Office for the Mac and from those of you buying full-priced Windows installers to run on their MacIntels.
So even if Apple does grab a little market share from Microsoft, the latter will still earn plenty of money. Both Gates and Jobs have reason to be happy, and I truly believe that they are, in private, long-time friends. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.