Shortly before Steve Jobs died in October, he received a letter from longtime business adversary Bill Gates that moved him so much that he kept it by his bedside, according to the Apple founder's widow, as relayed by Gates to a British interviewer.
The anecdote offers a poignant counterpoint to the public perception of the relationship between the two high-tech titans, although Gates in this interview with The Telegraph of London continues his longstanding insistence that their rift has been overblown. In particular, he says, their relationship was nothing but positive in the final years of Jobs' life.
From the article:
The atmosphere changed in 2007 when Gates left Microsoft to set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife. "Steve and I did an event together, and he couldn't have been nicer...I got a fair bit of time with him in his last year. Some months before Jobs died, Gates paid him a long visit. "We spent literally hours reminiscing and talking about the future." Later, with his old adversary's death imminent, he wrote to him. "I told Steve about how he should feel great about what he had done and the company he had built. I wrote about his kids, whom I had got to know."
That last gesture was not, he says, conciliatory. "There was no peace to make. We were not at war. We made great products, and competition was always a positive thing. There was no [cause for] forgiveness." After Jobs's death, Gates received a phone call from his wife, Laurene. "She said; 'Look, this biography really doesn't paint a picture of the mutual respect you had.' And she said he'd appreciated my letter and kept it by his bed."
That image, of course, needs to be contrasted with the many public statements by Jobs over the years excoriating Gates and Microsoft, including this one from his authorized biography published shortly after his death: "Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas."
Gates says "there was no peace to make" or need for "forgiveness" between the two men, but that seems more magnanimous than candid.
One would hope that Jobs offered Gates some measure of an apology before his death, not for Gates' sake, but for his own.
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