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What if Jobs and Gates had teamed up?

The tech industry buzzed last week over what many deemed a historic meeting between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on the stage of the Wall Street Journal's schmooze-fest titled “D: All Things Digital.” While some might have wanted fireworks, the two icons of the PC Age were cordial and humble (a word I have not often used to describe Jobs).

As they spoke of 30 years of competition and cooperation in the most mutually complimentary terms (you can read the transcript of the interview at the All Things D site or catch the video (iTunes has the official cut, but it's already been posted to YouTube), I couldn't help but wonder what might have been.

If instead of Steve Wozniak and Paul Allen, what if Jobs and Gates had teamed up together?

My guess is that software and design would be decades ahead of where it is today, and not just because cooperation would have pushed them further than the competitive squabbles that pre-occupied these two giants through much of the 1980s and '90s. The industry would have been propelled by a powerful, vision-rich, and - most importantly - complete brain trust.

The awesome combination was evident as the two sat on stage. Steve was dressed in his trademark black mock turtleneck, looking poised and healthy and hip enough to do the late-night talk show circuit. Bill was slouched and rumpled, his hair uncombed, looking like he'd just come from a late-night programming binge.
Steve talked about design and experience and the excitement of invention. “It's all about what happens tomorrow,” he said. “… Let's go invent tomorrow.”

Bill talked about PCs and software and architecture. “If you look inside my brain, it's filled with software and the magic of software and the belief in software, and that's not going to change.”

Vision and conviction

Imagine if Steve's vision and design aesthetic had met Bill's conviction and coding ethic 30 years ago. I'd venture to say the computing experience would be completely different today. User interface would melt into user experience. Software and hardware would meld into an application where the PC/Mac/device would be all but invisible in the completion of whatever task was at hand.

Imagine if the talent of the teams that both Steve and Bill credited for the success of their companies had come together with one mission: to create the best computing experience. Okay, the company's softball league would have pitted the Geeks against the Chics, but it boggles the mind to think of the products this dream team could have brought to market.

Imagine the acceleration to market of rich graphical interfaces, stable computing environments, capable handheld computers, elegant personal media players, flexible mobile phones, and so many innovations that these two companies brought to market in fits and starts. Might it be possible that the Bill and Steve Company would have gotten these products closer to right the first time out of the gate?

As it is, these two men and their companies have pushed and edged and nudged each other to where we are today. And that's no small accomplishment. They are icons, for sure, and as close to heroes as we'll ever see in this industry.

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Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMO Letter, and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at

Shipley has covered the personal technology business since 1984, and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. She has worked as a writer and editor for a variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine, and Working Woman.

She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, she has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

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Aaron Walrich responded 8 years ago: #1

I'm not sure it would have been all that exciting if they had teamed up. I think Steve really needed those 10 years in the middle to become the incubator he is today.

Dan responded 8 years ago: #2

Maybe it's the other way around. They would have done much less together since they would not have been competing against each other.

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