Is there (or was it) any Apple-Microsoft rivalry?

I was just wondering: how about writing something about computing history? I still have this plan to include a category in my blog where I’ll write short stories about computing history, things like how microprocessors appeared, how some garage-founded companies like Apple, Microsoft or Intel went on the front stage of computing in the 70’s against of that time giants as HP, IBM or XEROX … this will come later (this I promise you)
Why Apple and Microsoft? Because I can say that Apple is somehow the company of the moment and they grew together along with Microsoft, currently the biggest software developer for Apple (as per Steve Jobs words … we’ll hear them in a moment :))

I thought of writing about something more interactive and challenging, than some numbers, statistics . .. and what else could it be than a dialogue between the two founders: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

I have found the All Things Digital show, hosted by the notorious WSJ columnists Walter Mosher and Kara Swisher, on youtube and I took the chance to watch it (below is embedded only the first part, there are eleven in total).

Well.. I won’t go into every detail of the show, even if this will worth the effort because it was delicious and spontaneous(it is not quite common to see two of the greatest entrepreneurs and computing company founders in the world, answering some questions without having any prepared remarks, or being teased by the show-entertainers) … but I will try to outline how did this changed my view of the two and the way they acted (and still act) in the industry.

What did I know about Apple before watching this show? I knew that long with IBM it was one of the first PC desktop manufacturers in the world, that it stole the concept of graphical user interface from Xerox, but it was not so effective in marketing it, as Microsoft was, which on their turn stole it from Apple. I’ve heard stories about Jobs’ LSD and hippie (relationship with Joan Baez) experiences.
About Microsoft I knew almost only negative things, they smashed their competitors by taking advantage of poorly-documented anti-trust laws (see trial with Apple, see the way they bought Netscape).

Did the show revealed another side or did it enhance my view of the two people? Somehow yes, but the most surprising for me was the admiring way they regard each other, like two old pals (I remember the Tom and Jerry episodes in which the two made an agreement to face the same enemy … maybe Spike:)). I would expect to see a little bit of teasing comingfrom each other…. I mean, man! they were competitors once in the past, and yes! one of the watershed moments in the evolution of software application, as they both agree in the show, was the release of an OS having a GUI (graphical user interface) integrated. It was definitely Steve the first one who forecast that this will be the future of computing, but he miserably failed to properly market this, and it was taking over by Microsoft.
Steve Jobs faces that the two companies are not by far of similar sizes, Apple won’t ever hope to acquire 80% of PC desktop market and they are really happy when they gain 1%. But if we look back in time, those two companies have almost the same age, Apple started in 1976 and Microsoft in 1974.

Steve tells about one episode from their common history, the one in which Apple was forced to buy the floating point BASIC interpreter that Microsoft had. Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, managed to write a very good and reliable BASIC interpreter, but it had only one drawback: it was not floating point, it was only fixed point interpreter. Steve beg him to enhance it and to make it floating point, because many of Apple’s costumers required this, but Woz didn’t find the time, and Apple had to purchase, for the first time, software from Microsoft.

But why talking about the past, what’s the use this? Apple is skating where the puck is gonna be(how Steve liked to quote Wayne Graetzky), he confesses in this show that after he came back at Apple he gave away the past at Stanford, it was the time to look ahead and to foresee next computing trend. (well… in fact he’s quite notorious for his visionary force)

Another question that begs… what kind of company is Apple actually, Microsoft we already know from Mr Jobs that it was the very first software producing company, but … Apple? Before answering this, actually before quoting Steve’s answer, I would like to notice the fact that the question in the title of my post is explicitly addressed by Kara during the show, but this is very politically correct and diplomatically avoided. It made me laugh when Walter is asking Bill Gates how often Apple was on Microsoft’s radar screens and here it is the answer (that honestly made me laugh):

They were on radar screen only as an opportunity, and in few cases like the Zune, they think Apple is a competitor, they love the fact that Apple has created a gigantic market and they will gonna try to contribute with something into that (lot of laughs)

and then Jobs’ reply:

… and we want them because they are our customers

But, coming back to the question … where does Apple sit in this computing landscape? Basically the definition resides somewhere in the third part of this dialogue and Apple, mostly regarded from a consumer electronics perspective, is contrasted with those really great consumer electronics Japanese companies that actually invented the industry of portable music, but failed to produce appropriate software, in other words, anticipating the discussion-flow, they failed to foresee the future of computing in general, they failed to to quickly answer some questions like: how will the PC look like, even if we are talking about pocket-electronics, or how much will computing migrate into portable and wireless space? what kind of software will need thepost-PC (don’t worry about the term, it belongs to Steve Jobs)?
Apple did it! iPod is software, Mac is also software! Apple is a software company! Walter obviously replies to Steve and reminds 🙂 him also that Apple is known by the customers and by most of journalists as a company that pays a lot of attention integrating software and hardware. And here comes the zen reply of Steve, quoting somebody else:

People that love software want to do the wrong hardware.

Well if you thought that this is over, that you won’t get any answer to the silly and obvious question in the title, you have to watch further the show, until that moment when Kara is asking:

What’s the greatest misunderstanding about your relationship? … this idea of catfight, which one of the many…

in other words… come on guys, if you do not agree about any rivalry at least try to justify their misinterpretation, and the answer is (did you missed a little bit of romance or some poetry on this blog?, here you have it, from Apple’s CEO)

I think most things in life are either a Bob Dylan or Beatles song, but there is one line in that Beatles song you and I have memories longer than the road is stretching out of head, that’s clearly true here!

that’s pathetic … I can see a tear on the cheek

In the end both of them are true icons of computing industry and informational age (cool words :)) we all (programmers or any kind of technology users) owe them something and for sure the world would look far poorer without them. Even they didn’t showed what probably the public expected to see (that’s also because they are mature guys) it was an interesting and unique TV-show which I definitely recommend.

It is quite funny what Bill Gates says about Steve, in a world which is running so fast and you see more and more young people getting in and out of it, it is nice t osee the same guy sticking here for more than 30 years. I was wondering how would it look like a duo-debate having Bill Gates and Linus Torvalds as guests, or maybe Sergey Brin and the guy that invented Twitter and the list may continue …

Hope you enjoyed watching this tv-show, if you haven’t done it already in those last three years, if you knew the show I hope this post was a plesant lecture…
All the best,
Bogdan

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