Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in joint-interview at All Things D conference

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gatesjobsshakehands.jpg Yesterday at the All Things D conference, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs went head to head for the first time since 2005, when they were last seen together. People have been speculating for weeks now in both online and print media about how the two would interact with one another in their joint-interview, and just what the two powerful computing geniuses would shed light on, if anything.

For those spoiling for a blood-bath, you’ll be disappointed. Instead what viewers were treated to was a 90-minute long chat about the past 30 years they’ve worked as rivals, complete with plenty of reminiscing and laughter at their early ideas. The interview was hosted by Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg and technology reporter Kara Swisher, read on below for all the deets…

For two men who have always had complete contradictory ideas on the future of technology, there was an awful lot of agreement between them regarding personal computing. Both men claimed that the PC still has a long life ahead of it, and with the internet and digital media’s advances in the industry, personal computing would go from strength to strength.
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Gates must have had his PA google – sorry, Live Search, compliments, as he commented that “what Steve’s done is quite phenomenal. He has incredible taste and elegance”. Likewise, Jobs had also brushed up on his manners, and furnished Gates with accolades, including claiming that “Bill built the first software company in the industry…Bill focused on software before anyone”. Oh, how Gates must have grimaced then.

What is apparent, judging by the transcripts provided by both Engadget and Gizmodo, plus the various videos floating around, is that the two industry-pioneers really do have an awful lot of respect for one another. All that’s reported in the media about them being at loggerheads has now been debunked – sure, they’ll always remain rivals, working in the same industry, but that doesn’t mean they can’t actually see eye to eye occasionally.

Indeed, when asked by Kara Swisher what the greatest misunderstanding about the relationship is, Jobs jokingly replied “we’ve kept our marriage secret for over a decade now”, later adding “relationships that are destructive don’t help anybody…the era of setting apple and Microsoft up in competition is over”.
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The two discussed at great length applications, and how much adoration Jobs has for Gmaps and external companies. We’ve seen in recent months Apple partnering up with other companies, for instance the iTunes give-away deal with Coca Cola, and all the rumours about Google apps being placed on the iPhone, so when Jobs says he admires Microsoft’s ability to collaborate with other tech companies, you know he’s taken a few pages out of Gates’s book. “They learned how to partner with people really well, and I think if Apple could have had a little more of that in its DNA, it would have served it extremely well”.

When asked by Kara about further plans for next-gen communications and collaboration tools, such as Wikis, an awkward pause was met by both Jobs and Gates. Either they really haven’t thought about it, or someone’s got something up their sleeve. With both parties obviously facing new online rivals every day, such as Google with their free online programs, a question about whether they worry about these start-ups was inevitable.

This is where the differences between the two companies are vast – Steve comments that Apple “takes a different approach…we don’t know how to do maps, search, some of this new stuff…so we partner with those companies that do. It’s really hard for one company to do everything”.
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As much as it pains me, I definitely see Jobs’s point, that partnering with online companies already well-established in their niches definitely works better than developing your own software. Look at Google’s own attempt at online video, with Google Video, and how they eventually resigned to fate and acquired YouTube, the only direct competitor in the field.

So, there may not have been any bloody spilled, and whilst there wasn’t any physical affection displayed (rats! was I the only one hoping for a hug?!), they get along really well obviously, and it’s apparent they both admire each other’s work. Gates admitted “it’s been fun to work together…people come and go in this industry, it’s nice when someone sticks around!”
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At the end of Engadget’s blow-by-blow live account of the interview, Ryan Block commented that Steve Jobs appeared ‘calculating, articulate, very guarded, playing his hand very close to the chest”. Surprising, as I always thought Steve was fairly affable and was adopting the use of ‘radical transparency‘ within Apple – case in point being the announcement about the iPhone months before launch.

Where ol’ Billy Gates was concerned, Engadget claimed he appeared “very friendly, very open, [and] surprisingly accessible”. That’s our Bill, sigh. Nevertheless, Steve can obviously be very smooth when he wants to be, as his parting shot was “when Bill and I first entered the industry, we were the youngest guys in the room, and now we’re the oldest… And there’s that one line in that Beatles song, ‘You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead,’ and I think that’s clearly true here”.

Makes you want to retch, no?

[all photos from All Things D]
Katherine Hannaford