Gates & Jobs, Together Again

The real life PC and Mac guys: Bill Gates (left) and Steve Jobs, seen here in separate appearances in early 2007.
For the first time since 1983, Microsoft co-founder and Apple co-founder Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were together on the same stage at the same time.

Some people expected fireworks at this historic meeting which took place Wednesday night at the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital Conference in Carlsbad, California, but it was more of a love fest.

Responding to questions from conference co-hosts Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher, the two tech pioneers showed that they have more in common than many people might have thought. And, like the Mac and PC characters in those ubiquitous Apple commercials, there was a certain amount of affection between the two of them.

One thing many people don't realize is that in addition to being competitors, Gates and Jobs have collaborated since the early days of both their companies and continue to collaborate on making Microsoft Office one of the most popular applications for the Macintosh.

Microsoft was involved in the early development of the Mac, making the first graphical word processing program and spreadsheet to run on any computer and even before that, Microsoft provided a version of its BASIC programming language for the Apple II.

Both men acknowledged working together on the Mac was a big risk. Gates: "We really bet our future on the Macintosh being successful. So we were working together." It was the Mac where Microsoft first introduced software that took advantage of a graphical user interface. Later Microsoft introduced Office for Windows - after it had proved itself on the Macintosh platform.

Much later, the two men had the opportunity to work together again. In 1985 Steve Jobs was fired from Apple by then-president John Scully, who Jobs had recruited. Apple fell into disarray during the 1990s with uninspired products and no apparent direction.

Gates recalled that in 1997 he was in discussions with then Apple President Gil Amelio "to get things moving." But "then one day, Steve called me and said, 'Don't worry about those Amelio negotiations anymore.'"

That was when Jobs re-took control of Apple¸returning as CEO after Apple bought NeXT, a company that Jobs founded shortly after leaving Apple. Later that year, it was announced that Microsoft would make a financial investment in Apple and beef up its Macintosh Office products. Jobs reiterated that "the developer relationship between Microsoft and Apple is one of the best we have."

Both leaders acknowledged that they are both in the software business. For Microsoft that's obvious, but Jobs also considers Apple to be a software company, even though it's best known for hardware products. He characterized both the Mac and the iPod are "beautiful software wrapped in a beautiful box."

Both men acknowledged one difference between the companies in that Apple makes both the operating system and software for its computers while Microsoft licenses its operating system to PC hardware vendors.