August 26, 1991: In their first joint interview, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates trade barbs and debate “the future of the PC” in Fortune magazine.
The spirited discussion marks 10 years since the first IBM PC shipped. The piece also looks at what the future holds for both men — described as the former “boy wonders of computing, now thirtysomething.”
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Steve Jobs plays hard to get
The intriguing interview shows the technologists at very different phases of their careers. Gates was still a few years away from the launch of Windows 95, which marked the true ascendancy of Microsoft. However, he was already enormously successful.
Jobs, on the other hand, was floundering with NeXT and Pixar, the two companies that set up the remarkable second act of his career.
The Fortune interview was conducted by Brent Schlender, who went on to write the Jobs biography Becoming Steve Jobs. The momentous meeting of the minds went down at Jobs’ new home in Palo Alto, California.
This was no accident. As Schlender recalls in his book, Jobs “played hard to get” for the interview. He insisted it take place on his home turf. Unlike virtually all of Jobs’ interviews, this one did not promote his latest product. (At the time, Jobs was building computers at NeXT).
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates take shots at each other
Throughout the conversation, Jobs and Gates sniped at one another in a way it’s difficult to imagine, say, Tim Cook and Larry Page doing today. Jobs referred to Microsoft as a “small orifice.” Gates responded, “It’s a very large orifice!”
Gates also accused Jobs of being jealous of Microsoft’s popularity.
Jobs winded up concluding that, “Windows is bringing to PCs great new technologies that Apple and others pioneered. But in the meantime — and it’s been seven years since the Macintosh was introduced — I still think that tens of millions of PC owners needlessly use a computer that is far less good than it should be.”
Oh, and he stuck to his guns about how Apple should build its own computers and software.
It’s a great reminder of how bitter the rivalry between Jobs and Gates was.