Today in Apple History: Bill Gates hails Mac as the future of computing

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Bill Gates
Bill Gates offered high praise for the Mac in 1984.
Image: Fulvio Obregon

November 26: Today in Apple history: Bill Gates praises Macintosh November 26, 1984: “The next generation of interesting software will be done on the Macintosh, not the IBM PC,” claims Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in a BusinessWeek cover story.

The claim would seem almost unthinkable coming out of Gates’ mouth just a few years later. But it comes at a time when Microsoft is best known as one of the biggest Mac developers.

Apple aims for the business market

The BusinessWeek article was all about Apple’s plan to unseat IBM. It came at an interesting period in Apple history. In August 1981, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer. It quickly gained ground on Apple, due to IBM’s reputation as a business computer giant.

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Photo: BusinessWeek

A few years later, in early 1984, Apple launched the first-generation Macintosh, which met with critical success and big early sales. Notably, it was accompanied by Ridley Scott’s iconic “1984” ad, in which the sinister Big Brother figure represented IBM.

By late 1984, however, Mac sales started to stall. Inside Apple, the decision was made to focus more on business customers. (Apple previously tried — and failed — to crack the biz market with the Apple III.)

To do this, Apple CEO John Sculley dreamed up the “Test Drive a Macintosh” campaign. The goal? Encourage average customers to give Apple’s revolutionary new computer a chance.

The real rival was Microsoft

While Bill Gates’ quote about the Macintosh’s superiority was only a small part of the BusinessWeek article, it’s fascinating as a snapshot of his time as a Mac developer. It also reveals a massive blind spot on Apple’s part.

To keep Gates happy, the following year (after Steve Jobs left Apple), Sculley struck a damaging deal with Gates that let Microsoft use “worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual” elements of the Mac operating system on Windows operating system. Before long, the two companies became archrivals.

Meanwhile, hostilities cooled between IBM and Apple. By 1991, the two rivalsagreed to work together in partnership.

Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?