updated 11:18 am EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
Friends and rivals discussed family, history, future
An unaired portion of a 60 Minutes interview with Bill Gates saw the founder of Microsoft in an unusually reflective state when questioned by interviewer Charlie Rose on the topic of the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, his friend and rival. Jobs met with Gates for an extended period very near the end of his life, an unusual concession to a colleague he had had a tumultuous relationship with over the decades. Gates said the two men had "grown up together," each building the computer industry in their own image.
At his final meeting with Jobs, Gates said the two discussed their histories and "what we'd learned," as well as catching up on each others' families and what they meant to each man. Jobs, whom the Microsoft founder described as being optimistic but realistic about his condition, shows Gates the plans for his in-progress yacht that was being built with designer Philippe Starck. Jobs told Gates he was "looking forward to being on it, even though we both knew there was a good chance that wouldn't happen."
True to form, one of the elements Jobs brought up during their final meeting was the failure of both men to "materially" improve education through technology. One of the first projects Apple brought out following Jobs' death was the much-underrated iBooks Author and e-textbooks initiative that Jobs had worked on. The move, along with work done by publishers and other companies such as Amazon, has resulted in a small but growing evolution in digital textbooks and the creation of them that is slowly changing the educational system, alongside the growing use of tablets, notebooks and other digital tools to bring educational techniques more into the world today's students already inhabit -- a world heavily shaped by the actions of Jobs and Gates.
The aired portion of the interview with Gates focused mainly on his work with his foundation, and his general focus on charitable efforts. In the unaired portion, which was posted to CBS' website later, he waxed nostalgic about the history he and Jobs shared. He appeared to become a bit emotional when the topic turned to Jobs, reflecting a general humble approach he has taken since Jobs succumbed to cancer in October of 2011.
Gates told Rose that he and Jobs were about the same age, and both kind of "naively optimistic" when they began in the industry, but that they "always retained a certain respect and communication, including even when he was sick." Gates painted a picture of two idealistic young men who built big companies and became titans of the tech industry, but that their relationship was based more on their mutual recognition of each others' strengths and weaknesses.
Jobs, famously, was never shy about what he saw as shortcomings at Microsoft -- saying in a mid-90s interview that the main problem with the company was that they "had absolutely no taste," and on other occasion described bringing iTunes to Windows as "giving a glass of water to someone who's in hell." Less well-remembered, however, was that Jobs generally refrained from criticizing Gates directly -- and usually acknowledged areas in which the Microsoft founder had outperformed Apple.
Likewise, in the 60 Minutes interview Gates noted that "every fantasy we had about creating products and learning new things" as partners starting out in technology -- Microsoft was a key developer for Apple before it created its own take on the Macintosh OS, and remains one of the largest Mac developers to this day -- had been accomplished: "and most of it as rivals." When pressed about qualities Jobs had that he wished he possessed, Gates quickly answered "his sense o design, that everything had to fit a certain aesthetic" and later added that he admired Jobs' understanding of branding and that he had an "intuitive sense for marketing, which was amazing."
Gates also acknowledged the importance of that design sense, saying that the fact that Jobs, "with as little engineering background as he had," had managed to create a deeply influential set of products that had a reach far beyond their actual sales numbers. "It shows that design can lead you in a good direction," he said, "and so phenomenal products came out of it." Pressed on an area in which Apple had "beaten" Microsoft, Gates admitted that although Microsoft had pioneered the tablet field, Apple had "put the pieces together" and had phenomenal success with a product category Microsoft had been unable to capitalize on.
When talking about Jobs, Gates said that while they spent some time in their final meeting looking back over their lives, Jobs was still looking forward. In addition to expressing his hopes of sailing his yacht with his family and lamenting their inability to do more for education, Gates said, Jobs was facing his own bleak outlook without any anger about his own condition. The Apple co-founder was "not being melancholy, like 'oh I've been gypped'" by the bad hand dealt him, but instead remained focused on the future -- and on the contributions he and Gates could still make through their work and legacies.