What Gates, Jobs would do differently

The broad world of technology industry gurus and enthusiasts alike still are basking in the glow of the amicable appearance Wednesday night by Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates and Apple (APPL) CEO Steve Jobs. The two most often are portrayed as bitter enemies. But in a bit of staged theater that clearly also was genuine, the two spoke at length of their mutual admiration and shared experiences. Josh Quittner has a pitch-perfect review here about what it was like to be in the room.

Perhaps the best moment of the evening came when veteran investor Lise Buyer, a daughter of journalists, asked what easily was the best question of the evening: What did each man admire about the other and wish he had been able to do differently? Their answers were deeply sincere and reflected the strengths and weaknesses of their respective companies. Gates said he admires Jobs’s “taste,” and implicitly acknowledged the many criticisms over the years that Microsoft is a rather artless imitator, a ruthless company that goes for profits over style. Jobs noted that Gates always got “partnering” better than he did, in part because Microsoft, initially a software-only company, needed others from the beginning. Jobs acknowledged there, without using these words, that if only Apple hadn’t remained so closed so many years ago it could be Microsoft’s size today.

A final reflection. Gates and Jobs repeatedly were asked their view of the future. Gates, who is transitioning into a full-time philanthropist, was willing to share thoughts on new kinds of screens, for example. Jobs pointedly refused to share his thoughts, obviously because he doesn’t want to forecast where Apple is going. Gates is moving on to become a senior statesman of the industry. Jobs is still very much in the thick of the fight.

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