Bill Gates Steals from Steve Jobs

Two years after his visit to Apple, Bill made an exciting announcement at the industry's biggest trade show, Comdex. He told everyone that he had a new, mouse-based graphical user interface called Windows. It worked just like the top-secret one Steve had shown him on his Macintosh. Bill had stolen Steve's digital thunder and the Mac hadn't been released yet. When Steve found out, he went ballistic. "Get Gates down here immediately. He needs to explain this, and it better be good. I want him in this room by tomorrow afternoon, or else!"

Bill walks calmly into Apple’s palace of glass and steel. Flying high above the entrance is a pirate flag. Steve's latest dictum was that it’s better to be a pirate than join the navy. The atrium is filled with the sound of The Police playing Wrapped Around Your Finger from one of the world’s first compact disc players. Bill gazes around at the outrageously expensive Bosendorfer piano and BMW K100 motorcycle placed there by Steve as examples of fine design.

Soon Bill was in the conference room surrounded on all sides by ten Apple executives. Steve starts yelling at Bill. The scene went something like this:

"You're ripping us off!” Steve shouts. "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us!"

Bill just looks Steve directly in the eye.

“Steve, our agreement was that Microsoft wouldn’t release our mouse-based software til after the Mac was due for release. That was a year ago.”

Steve lets out a long resigned breath. Pauses, rubs his temples, and says wearily, “But our stuff is cooler"

Bill smiles, “That doesn’t matter".

Bill’s clever idea was, rather than put the mouse and GUI gadget in only one machine, like Apple was trying to do, why not licence it to any machine maker who would buy it. COMPAQ, DELL, DEC, NEC, and Steve’s archenemies, HP and IBM all bought Bill’s Windows and put them in their machines. As a result, Windows spread to more homes and offices than Apple ever could with one machine. More people used Windows than Apple, so Windows became the standard. A decade later Bill would become Forbes Magazine’s richest man in the world. 

Steve made a loaded comment to the New York Times regarding Bill's success, "I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger."[1] (Like that helped you a lot, Steve). Bill’s blunt response to Steve long-winded vitriol was "I know his technology, it's nothing but warmed-over Unix."[2]

The first Windows was a warmed-over copy of Steve's GUI. It had none of the Mac's thoughtful design. Windows used a tiling display rather than Steve’s elegant overlapping panels. It reminds one of a story Steve told to Fortune Magazine

When I was growing up, a guy across the street had a Volkswagen Bug. He really wanted to make it into a Porsche. He spent all his spare money and time accessorizing this VW, making it look and sound loud. By the time he was done, he did not have a Porsche. He had a loud, ugly VW.[3]

Windows was light years from cool. Nevertheless, as Bill said, "that doesn’t matter".

[1] Lohr, S. (1997, January 12). Creating Jobs. New York Times

[2] Amelio, G. & Simon, W (1999) On The Firing Line: My 500 Days At Apple. New York: Harper.

[3] Schlender, B. (1998, November 9) The Three Faces Of Steve. Fortune Magazine.


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