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,”
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.