Thu 15 Dec 2011
BILL GATES THE EXTRAORDINARY PERSON DESERVES A KNIGHTHOOD
Bill Gates today ruled out ever returning to the helm of Microsoft and dismissed harsh barbs by his former arch-rival Steve Jobs.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Gates said Jobs was driven by the fact that “Microsoft machines outsold his machines by a lot”.
This month Fortune reported rumours that Gates was considering a comeback to Microsoft, the company he founded in 1975 but stepped back from in 2006 to focus full-time on philanthropy.
But speaking in Sydney today, where he is on holiday with his family, Gates said he had made the transition to work full-time at his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “and that will be what I do the rest of my life”.
“I’m part-time involved with Microsoft, including even being in touch this week to give some of my advice but that’s not going to change – the foundation requires all of my energy and we feel we’re having a great impact.”
A possible comeback was loosely compared to Jobs, who took the reins at Apple in the late 90s after a decade in the wilderness and saved the company.
Steve Ballmer, who has been Microsoft’s CEO since taking over from Gates in 2000, is widely considered to have missed the significance of what Jobs dubbed the “post-PC era” and Microsoft is now an also-ran in smartphones, tablets and music players.
Gates, who plans to donate nearly all of his money to charity when he passes away, may be just as culpable as Ballmer for missing the new era in computing as he has been quoted questioning the viability of Apple devices like the iPod and iPad.
Gates on Jobs
Gates and Jobs were the founders of the personal computing revolution and although they have displayed great mutual respect, over the years the competitors frequently took potshots at one another.
Jobs recently said Gates was “unimaginative” and hadn’t invented anything.
Today, Gates said Jobs was “brilliant” and he enjoyed working with him on Mac software and also competing with him, but “because the Microsoft machines outsold his machines by a lot he was always kind of tough on Microsoft, but that’s fine, he was a brilliant person”.
“Our work at Microsoft was super successful for all good reasons but Steve made huge contributions and he actually in his last few years was a lot kinder than that but over the years he did say some tough things,” Gates said today.
Gates’ approach – to license his software to all computer makers – contrasted sharply with Jobs’s philosophy of controlling the entire user experience from top to tail.
Gates’ method saw Windows dominate the PC industry but the Jobs philosophy is proving powerful in the smartphone and tablet era.
Gates has previously said of Apple’s closed model: “The integrated approach works well when Steve is at the helm. But it doesn’t mean it will win many rounds in the future.”
Jobs said of Gates’s open model: “Of course his fragmented model worked, but it didn’t make really great products. It produced crappy products.”
Gates has previously described Jobs as “fundamentally odd” and while recognising his mesmerising effect on people, described him as “weirdly flawed as a human being”.
Jobs, who went on a journey of spiritual enlightenment in his younger years, said Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger”.
But Jobs’s harshest barbs came during an interview with his biographer, Walter Isaacson.
“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology,” Jobs told Isaacson. “He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
Jobs has previously complained that Gates stole the idea of bringing a mouse-operated graphical user interface to Windows after seeing it on the original Macintosh.
“They just ripped us off completely, because Gates has no shame,” Jobs said in the biography, to which Gates replied “if he believes that, he really has entered into one of his own reality distortion fields”.
Of Jobs’s technology prowess, Gates has said: “Don’t you understand that Steve doesn’t know anything about technology? He’s just a super salesman.”
But in an internal email that previously surfaced, Gates was more charitable: “Steve Jobs’ ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right, and market things as revolutionary are amazing things.”
When Jobs and Gates appeared on stage together in 2007 in a rare joint interview, Gates said: “I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste.”
Gates on … bringing his family to Sydney
“They thought it would be fun to come down and see some of the neat places around Australia. Sydney is a great place and it’s summer here. Wish it was a tiny bit warmer, but it hasn’t been too bad”
… on Australia’s overseas aid
“Australia is making good increases” but “The other rich countries on average are doing even more.
“I think it’s important to get out to Australians that this kind of generosity really makes a difference. Actually the most impactful dollars that Australia can spend are actually what goes to help the poorest.”