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Apple's Jobs, Microsoft's Gates make peace at D conference


Two of the most influential computer company heads have finally sat down to discuss each other's work, with results that might surprise avid fans of either camp.

Contrary to stereotypes, the Apple and Microsoft founders were far from conflict at the outset of their joint interview with Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal's D5 gathering.

Both opened their portion of the event by praising each other's work. Jobs quickly centered on Gates' central role in the early computer industry as the first to build a company solely around software, rather than depending on customized hardware. "That was huge," Jobs said. "Bill was really focused on software."

Gates returned the favor by centering on Apple's achievements instead of his own, centering on the company's populist approach.

"Apple really pursued the dream of building products that we want to use ourselves," he said. "[Jobs] always seems to figure out where the next industry movement will be. The industry has benefited tremendously from his work."

In fact, the Microsoft chair recounted that his company's shift away from the Mac was spurred more by the ripple effect of Jobs' departure from Apple. Leaving the company had stalled Mac development and given little reason for Microsoft to continue writing apps. "We worried that Apple wasn’t differentiating itself from the other platforms–Windows and DOS," he added. "The product line just didn’t evolve the way it needed to. Certainly not the way it would have if Steve had been there."

Jobs characterized the Apple and Microsoft 1997 link as a ten-year 'marriage' kept secret. He admitted late into the session that one of the Mac maker's key mistakes in its early years was to have dismissed Microsoft's "knack for partnerships," which ultimately formed the backbone of its software-only approach.

Hints of a rift only began to appear half an hour into the event, when Jobs at last began to establish the differences in company philosophy. Both Apple and Microsoft are software companies at heart, he said, but Apple has chosen to build "beautiful software in a beautiful box." Separating hardware and software usually falls apart — "outside of Windows," he noted.

Differences also arose over the future of handhelds. Gates, whose company has often pushed the concept of the tablet PC, saw future users carrying two general-purpose tablet devices. Jobs instead clung to task-specific devices — and warned that while there was an "explosion of post-PC" hardware, the computer wasn't yet finished. Where technology would be in five or even ten years wasn't predictable, he claimed. "Five years ago, I never thought there would be maps [on phones]," he commented. "But now there are."

For those seeking product announcements similar to the Apple TV news which surfaced as part of Jobs' solo interview, little was forthcoming. His only allusion to the near future of the firm's products was when held accountable the poor state of .Mac, which Jobs readily admitted was a bad example of an Internet collaboration tool.

"I couldn't agree more [with the assessment]," Jobs confessed. "And we'll make up for lost time in the near future."

And in spite of the apparent disagreements onstage, the overriding tone was one of humor. The obvious parallel between Gates, Jobs, and the "Get a Mac" ad campaign prompted the inevitable association of the two with their respective sides in the comedic TV spots. Jobs stressed that the ads were meant to show the strength of the bond between Macs and PCs. "PC guy is what makes it all work," he said. Gates, however, couldn't help but picture the PC as the underdog.

"PC guy's mother loves him," the Microsoft founder responded.