The tenth anniversary of Steve Jobs ’death came earlier this week, prompting technology leaders to share their stories about Apple’s former CEO.
Dell CEO Michael Dell spoke CNET, recalling the time Steve Jobs intended to force Dell to license the Mac OS to run on Intel-based computers and how that could change the computer industry.
It is rumored that Jobs first approached Dell about the partnership after he was kicked out of Apple and set up NeXT. Jobs wanted Dell to use the NeXT operating system on Dell computers, and claimed it was better than Windows.
Dell told Jobs it wouldn’t happen because there are no apps for it and “zero customer interest”.
After Jobs rejoined Apple, he tried software licensing again, trying to get Dell to license Mac OS. At the time, Jobs suppressed Dell by telling him that computer buyers could choose between Apple’s software or Microsoft Windows.
“He said, look at this – we have this Dell desktop and it’s running on Mac OS,” Dell tells me. “Why don’t you license Mac OS?”
Dell thought it was a good idea and wanted to pay Jobs a licensing fee for every PC sold with Mac OS, but Jobs was worried about selling computers that would cannibalize Mac sales because computers were cheaper. Jobs instead wanted Dell to load Mac OS with Windows on every computer, which would cost Dell hundreds of millions of copyrights.
Dell smiles as he tells the story. “The fee he was talking about would be hundreds of millions of dollars, and the math just didn’t work out because most of our customers, especially large business users, didn’t really want a Mac operating system,” he writes. “Steve’s suggestion would be interesting if only we said, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you every time we use Mac OS’ – but to pay him every time we didn’t use it … well, nice try, Steve!”
The cost of copyright has deterred Dell from making the deal, as has the lack of a guarantee that Dell will have access to Mac OS in the future. Dell customers may not be lucky with software development without Dell being able to offer support.
Dell said that if that deal passed, “it could change the path for Windows and Mac OS on computers.” In a 2005 interview, Dell said that if Apple “opened the Mac OS to others,” Dell would be happy to offer it to customers, but that didn’t happen and Apple kept the Mac OS exclusive to Macs only.
Although an agreement on the software was never reached, Dell said it remained friends with Jobs for years despite various arguments. Della was once asked what he would do to fix Apple if he were the CEO, and he said, “I would close the company and return the money to shareholders,” which angered Jobs.
Jobs eventually used a quote from Dell to motivate his team, which Dell respected. “I would probably do the same thing if I were in his position,” Dell told CNET. “When the company you set up is fighting for its life, do whatever it takes.”
Michael Dell’s story of Mac OS X is featured in his recently published memoir, “Play Nice But Win,” which also features stories about how he met Jobs, his infatuation with Apple II, and how he became friends with him.
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