Most of the reports about the historic meeting between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs last week, including ours, noted how surprisingly nice the two tech titans were to each other. For sure, there was a lot of good-spirited chatter between the long-time rivals as they traveled down memory lane to simpler, friendlier times during the Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" Conference.
They reminisced about their various partnerships dating back to the original Apple II and the early Mac. Steve gave credit to Bill for building the first software company "before anybody really in our industry knew what a software company was."
Bill credited Steve's "incredible taste and elegance that has had a huge impact on the industry" and for rescuing Apple when he returned as CEO.
But there was no mention of some of the more contentious times. There's the famous Jobs remark in the 1996 PBS documentary, Triumph of the Nerds about Microsoft: "They don't think of original ideas and they don't bring much culture into their product."
And after Apple's introduction of the colorful iMac line, Gates was reported as saying: "The one thing Apple's providing now is leadership in colors. It won't take long for us to catch up with that."
This was the "D" conference, but when you're dealing with billionaires' egos, the interviewers were careful not to make the questions too 'D'isruptive.
That's fine. It was great to see these guys finally together on stage again. "D" actually scored a coup last year having them at last year's conference and share a table during lunch, so it's not like they never talk to each other. And Jobs is notorious for rarely speaking at industry events other than the ones he controls.
But I really got the impression from watching them that Gates is ready to bury the hatchet, while Jobs has another goal in mind. He quoted a Beatle's lyric in summing up his relationship with Gates as particularly touching.
"I think of most things in life as either a Bob Dylan or a Beatles song, but there's that one line in that one Beatles song, 'you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead,' And that's clearly true here," said Jobs.
Hmmm. Notice he didn't say good or bad memories? Bill and Steve have traveled a long and winding road, and the relationship has hit a lot of rough spots along the way.
"Longer than the road that stretches out ahead?" The cynic in me hears: "Your best days are behind you." Thanks, Steve.
Earlier, the discussion centered on Gates' philanthropic ventures. Jobs acknowledged Gates is "doing a lot of good" with his money. He then added, "I think the world's a better place because Bill realized that his goal isn't to be the richest guy in the cemetery, right?" Hardly an insult, but I think he could easily have been, well, a bit more charitable.
About the closest Bill came to a negative remark about his long-time rival was his sarcastic comment that "Steve is so known for his restraint." He also couldn't help making a few faces when Jobs insisted the PC guy in the commercials is "Great. Got a big heart." The look on Bill's face said it all; he knows when Steve's activated the reality distortion field.
Steve was more blunt during a separate on-stage interview with the Journal's Walt Mossberg who noted iTunes is one of the most popular Windows applications in the world. "It's like ice water to the guy in hell," said Jobs.
Forget this best buddy stuff; that was the real Steve talking. Competitive as ever, chip on his shoulder. Oh, and also leading Apple to the most success in its 20-plus year history.