January 13, 2000: Steve Jobs ’longtime foe, Bill Gates, is stepping down from his role as Microsoft’s chief executive, a month after his company’s shares hit a record high.
The news coincides with a turning point in a long-running battle between two technologically powerful companies. Microsoft is starting a long decline from its previous dominance, while Apple continues its rise to the top.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: Parallel Careers
With good reason, we are focusing on Apple events for our daily “Today in Apple History” feature. That said, Gates’ departure as CEO of Microsoft proved to be an important opportunity for the entire computer industry.
Born in 1955, the same year as Jobs, Gates achieved his first great success by developing software for the original Macintosh.
These programs were considered so crucial to Mac’s success that, after Jobs was expelled from Cupertino, then-Apple CEO John Sculley signed a contract with Gates to give Microsoft “a non-exclusive, global, free, permanent, non-transferable license to use [parts of the Mac technology] in current and future software programs ”for the new Windows operating system.
In return, Microsoft has committed to continuing to develop Word for Mac. The company also agreed to postpone the transfer of Excel to Windows for a year.
It turned out to be a terribly perverted deal. And when Microsoft finally came together and began to make Windows poorly competitive with Mac OS, the agreement sparked a lengthy lawsuit over whether Microsoft stole the “look and feel” of Mac to make Windows.
Microsoft came first. During the 1990s, the company’s strategy of licensing its technology to third-party manufacturers instead of producing hardware made Microsoft an almost undisputed technology giant. When Apple finally relented and tried the same strategy, it failed – leading to the catastrophic era of the “Mac clones”.
Microsoft and Apple: Great Rivals
Gates and Jobs often found themselves enemies. However, they were more rivals. They both entered the ground floor of the PC industry. Both have received media coverage as individuals in a way that many technology executives do not have today. These days the products speak for themselves.
Both experienced a lot of ups and downs over the decade before Gates handed over the reins of Microsoft to Steve Ballmer. (For proof, see the first joint interview between Jobs and Gates, published in the 1991 issue of the magazine. Fortune the journal I wrote about here.)
Just nine years before Gates resigned as Microsoft’s chief executive, he was at his peak. Meanwhile, Jobs was the man who ran two failed companies: NeXT and Pixar.
When Gates resigned as CEO, he said he would remain Microsoft’s “chief software architect.” He gave up his daily commitments in Redmond in June 2008 to work on his charitable endeavors.
One possible reason for his decision to quit his CEO job: Microsoft faced increased oversight of antitrust regulations, which undoubtedly made the job less fun than before.
By comparison, Jobs remained Apple’s chief executive until just a few months before his death in 2011.
Were you an Apple or Windows user (or not) in January 2000? Leave your comments below.
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