In 1985, Bill Gates Pitched Apple To Make The Mac Into Windows

In 1985, Bill Gates Pitched Apple To Make The Mac Into Windows

The fantastic Letters of Note blog has posted an amazing letter that a 30-year old Bill Gates sent to John Sculley and Jean Louis Gassée back in June of 1985.

In the letter, Gates argues that Apple should license their hardware and operating system out to other companies, making Macintosh a “standard.” If that pitch sounds familiar, it should: after being ignored by Apple for six months, Microsoft took the idea and ran with it, bringing Windows to the world.

Letters of Note openly ponders what might have happened if Apple had listened to Bill Gates. “Microsoft’s decision to do exactly as Gates had recommended to Apple resulted in market domination. Had Apple taken Gates’ advice, things could have been so very different.”

Sure, different, but probably not better. It’s not necessarily obvious from the outside, but Apple has always been about the fricttionless fusion of technology and software, hardware and design. That’s not something that is possible when you’re licensing out your operating system to every manufacturer coming along, which is exactly the problem that Microsoft and Google are now having, trying to compete with the Mac on the desktop and iOS in mobile. Apple may not have “market dominance” but they make by orders of magnitude the most profit: who cares about anything else?

Here’s the full letter:

To: John Sculley, Jean Louis Gassée
From: Bill Gates, Jeff Raikes
Date: June 25, 1985
Re: Apple Licensing of Mac Technology

cc: Jon Shirley

Background

Apple’s stated position in personal computers is innovative technology leader. This position implies that Apple must create a standard on new, advanced technology. They must establish a “revolutionary” architecture, which necessarily implies new development incompatible with existing architectures.

Apple must make Macintosh a standard. But no personal computer company, not even IBM, can create a standard without independent support. Even though Apple realized this, they have not been able to gain the independent support required to be perceived as a standard.

The significant investment (especially independent support) in a “standard personal computer” results in an incredible momentum for its architecture. Specifically, the IBM PC architecture continues to receive huge investment and gains additional momentum. (Though clearly the independent investment in the Apple II, and the resulting momentum, is another great example.) The investment in the IBM architecture includes development of differentiated compatibles, software and peripherals; user and sales channel education; and most importantly, attitudes and perceptions that are not easily changed.

Any deficiencies in the IBM architecture are quickly eliminated by independent support. Hardware deficiencies are remedied in two ways:

  • expansion cards made possible because of access to the bus (e.g. the high resolution Hercules graphics card for monochrome monitors)
  • manufacture of differentiated compatibles (e.g. the Compaq portable, or the faster DeskPro).

The closed architecture prevents similar independent investment in the Macintosh. The IBM architecture, when compared to the Macintosh, probably has more than 100 times the engineering resources applied to it when investment of compatible manufacturers is included. The ratio becomes even greater when the manufacturers of expansion cards are included.

Conclusion

As the independent investment in a “standard” architecture grows, so does the momentum for that architecture. The industry has reached the point where it is now impossible for Apple to create a standard out of their innovative technology without support from, and the resulting credibility of other personal computer manufacturers. Thus, Apple must open the Macintosh architecture to have the independent support required to gain momentum and establish a standard.

The Mac has not become a standard

The Macintosh has failed to attain the critical mass necessary for the technology to be considered a long term contender:

  1. Since there is no “competition” to Apple from “Mac-compatible” manufacturers, corporations consider it risky to be locked into the Mac, for reasons of price AND choice.
  2. Apple has reinforced the risky perception of the machine by being slow to come out with software and hardware improvements (e.g. hard disk, file server, bigger screen, better keyboard, larger memory, new ROM, operating software with improved performance). Furthermore, killing the Macintosh X/L (Lisa) eliminated the alternative model that many businesses considered necessary.
  3. Recent negative publicity about Apple hinders the credibility of the Macintosh as a long term contender in the personal computer market.
  4. Independent software and hardware manufacturers reinforced the risky perception of the machine by being slow to come out with key software and peripheral products.
  5. Apple’s small corporate account sales force has prevented it from having the presence, training, support, etc. that large companies would recognize and require.
  6. Nationalistic pressures in European countries often force foreign to consumers [sic] choose local manufacturers. Europeans have local suppliers of the IBM architecture, but not Apple. Apple will lose ground in Europe as was recently exhibited in France.

Recommendation

Apple should license Macintosh technology to 3-5 significant manufacturers for the development of “Mac Compatibles”:

United States manufacturers and contacts:

Ideal companies—in addition to credibility, they have large account sales forces that can establish the Mac architecture in larger companies:

  • AT&T, James Edwards
  • Wang, An Wang
  • Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen
  • Texas Instruments, Jerry Junkins
  • Hewlett Packard, John Young

Other companies (but perhaps more realistic candidates):

  • Xerox, Elliott James or Bob Adams
  • Motorola, Murray A. Goldman
  • Harris/Lanier, Wes Cantrell
  • NBI, Thomas S. Kavanagh
  • Burroughs, W. Michael Blumenthal and Stephen Weisenfeld
  • Kodak
  • 3M
  • CPT

European manufacturers:

  • Siemens
  • Bull
  • Olivetti
  • Phillips

Apple should license the Macintosh technology to US and European companies in a way that allows them to go to other companies for manufacturing. Sony, Kyocera, and Alps are good candidates for OEM manufacturing of Mac compatibles.

Microsoft is very willing to help Apple implement this strategy. We are familiar with the key manufacturers, their strategies and strengths. We also have a great deal of experience in OEMing system software.

Rationale

  1. The companies that license Mac technology would add credibility to the Macintosh architecture.
  2. These companies would broaden the available product offerings through their “Mac-compatible” product lines:
    • they would each innovate and add features to the basic system: various memory configurations, video display and keyboard alternatives, etc.
    • Apple would lever the key partners’ abilities to produce a wide variety of peripherals, much faster than Apple could develop the peripherals themselves.
    • customers would see competition and would have real price/performance choices.
  3. Apple will benefit from the distribution channels of these companies.
  4. The perception of a significantly increased potential installed base will bring the independent hardware, software, and marketing support that the Macintosh needs.
  5. Apple will gain significant, additional marketing support. Everytime a Mac compatible manufacturer advertises, it is an advertisement for the Apple architecture.
  6. Licensing Mac compatibles will enhance Apple’s image as a technological innovator. Ironically, IBM is viewed as being a technological innovator. This is because compatible manufacturers are afraid to innovate too much and stray from the standard.
  • prof_peabody

    If this was only six months before Windows, you can bet that the 1.0 product was almost completely written already at that time.  

    In other words this seems more like a disingenuous attempt to make it look like Gates is being reasonable … right before he sticks the knife in Apple’s back that he has already sharpened.  

  • winski

    AND, the rest is history – ask Bomber… It will be a harsh twist when Microshaft files chapter 11.

  • Shaunathan Sprocket

    I miss OS2/WARP :(

  • OS2toMAC

    Not as much now that I’m on the MAC, then when I was on Windows.

  • imajoebob

    Shortly after this letter IBM tried exercising the “Gates Model,” introducing the PS/2 with vastly improved architecture.  Instead of assisting IBM, all these “partners” screwed them at every turn.  They refused to update their hardware or software to IBM’s new standard, and the PS/2 floundered.  (IBM didn’t help anyone with crappy licensing terms)  Even Microsoft screwed them by abandoning OS/2 (supposedly designed with PS/2 architecture in mind) and “stealing” the code to make Win95 after IBM did all the heavy lifting on the backend system development.

    The current Bill gates may be a fine philanthropist, but the 1985 Gates was a well-known double-dealing, back stabbing, slime.  Even too sleazy for a huckster like Sculley. 

  • kavok

    Gates is only a philanthropist as long as it keeps the IRS off his back for income taxes. If He didn’t have to pay taxes I doubt he would be in such a “generous” mood.

  • jasoturner

    Warp was like a date with a really fun girl.  Enjoyable and interesting, even if not your long term commitment.  I miss it too!

  • WVMikeP

    You’re on cosmetics?

  • 5aga

    I remember OS/2 from when my childhood. My mom’s corporate laptop ran it.. neat idea, poor execution.

  • Athanasios Karalias

    Bill was giving them a choice to survive his attack but they did not take it and thank God for it, as it turned out today! But things got really ugly for a long time and maybe Apple would not exist to talk about it!
    Do not forget the 1995-2000 era, where I had to get away from the Mac, cause yes, they did just work, but “slow” and “expensive”!
    1996 I was still working on Macs at work but the Windows were getting in, and, at home Windows 95 was thriving at double the speed with half the price!
    1996 to 2000 I was working on both platforms and build small office networks on Windows and do some independent graphics design on them as well! I was still working at a pre-press office where Macs were still the standard, along with the first PC and an NT server! 

    1999 I started to work free launch and it was strictly Windows after that, until… 2007 when finally Jobs had save the company and started to thrive again with Mac OS X on INTEL!

    I got my Mac Pro and I am back to Heaven since then and hope to stay that way!

    But it was not only Windows that hurt the Mac back then! Their closed architecture was also to expensive for that era, so, it was natural for IBM and Windows to win the game!

    You see, Porche is a great car but most people commute with much cheaper alternatives, some of them equal if not better!

    The new Macs are reasonably priced for what they offer, and they offer a lot!

  • Honyant

    He is also more interested in the interests of Monsanto than the people of Africa.

  • jhjacke

    Windows 1.0 might have been 6 months away from being released, but Windows 1.0 was merely a 0.1 version and Bill Gates surely knew that. The first version that delivered somewhat what was promised was Windows 3.0 in 1990..

  • imajoebob

    Then why does he give away far more than he pays in taxes? He’s been greatly influenced by his friendship with Warren Buffet, not to mention his own father. He’s said he plans to give most of it away, and his kids will have to work for their living.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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