The Cold War of Computation
Amidst codes, keyboards and the imagination, two American men of the same age would change the world without anyone realising the repercussions their work would go on to have. Jobs and Gates are the magic formula of the pace that we are living today
The first steps
Steve Jobs accuses Bill Gates of a “lack of imagination” and of “openly ripping off the ideas of others”. The rivalry marked the careers of these two worldwide technology pioneers.
The Microsoft of Gates, was born in April of 1975 and it began to tame the web of computing all on its own. One year later, Jobs, together with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, set up Apple. Side by side, Microsoft and Apple carried on a sort of Cold War, as they presented new technologies and innovations to their baseline products.
At just 13 years of age, Gates set up the Lakeside Programmers’ Club at his school and wrote his first code – a programme to run a Noughts and Crosses game. Always determined that his youth and inexperience would not hold him back, Gates was the youngest member of the new club but one of the most promising.
For his part, Jobs – who had been adopted as a baby – never showed any enthusiasm for school: he finished secondary school with a low grade point average.
At 15, Gates was already far beyond Noughts and Crosses games. He joined up with a club member, Paul Allen, who was a few years older, to start a new professional project that would carry the two men to the top of the list of the richest men in the world: Microsoft, which, at an early stage was almost named Unlimited Limited.
It was during his time at university that Jobs attended the calligraphy classes that would be instrumental in the development of the Apple typography and fonts. He went through a turbulent youth and then went on to work for a few years at Atari (an American video game company) before heading out on a seven-year trip across India, where he converted to Buddhism and experimented with psychedelic drugs.
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important experiences in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money.”
Apple invest in hardware and Microsoft invest in software
The first great success of the recently founded Apple was the development of the Apple II that was launched in 1977. This new technology stood out for being a computer for home use, with a more agile keyboard and ready to use straight out of the box. No longer was it necessary to have a temperature controlled room like had been the case with the “first computers”.
Unlike Apple, which invested and has continued to invest in both software and hardware from the beginning, Microsoft specialised in software. Its first hardware was only launched in 2012 – the Surface. Thus, at the same time as Jobs was launching Apple II, Gates was presenting Microsoft Frontran.
The Cold War
The decade of the 1990s brought a new phase of this Cold War. In 1995, the year of the appearance of the Internet, Microsoft brought out Windows 95, a complete and complex operating system for personal computers.
On the other side of the barricade, Jobs, who had abandoned Apple following an internal struggle to start NeXT, returns in 1997 and finds a company in disarray. His mission was to return Apple to the vanguard of innovation. To that end he launched the iMac in 1998, a computer with an unprecedented design in terms of the material used – translucent and colourful plastic – that served the death sentence to the standard colour of PCs (beige).
Aesthetics allied with marketing was the Steve Jobs formula for the success of any Apple product.
Since ambition never sits still, Gates launched a series of updates to Windows 95, including Window 98 and Window XP in 2001.
Shortly before the turn of the new century, Apple, following up on the sales success of its iMac, prepared another revolution and launched the Mac OS X in 2000. This new operating system enabled the company to recuperate and even increase sales of Apple products.
Another of the great victories regarding Apple’s market position was the branching out of its market. It broke into the telecommunications market with the iPhone, digital music with the iPod, and the sale of online music and films with iTunes.
Jobs presented the iPhone on 9 January 2007. It went on sale in the U.S. on 29 June 2007 and hundreds of customers stood in line all night outside shops all over the country in their excitement to buy the latest Apple technology.
In 2001, Microsoft also diversified its product line and broke into the videogame market, becoming the biggest competitor of Sony. The Xbox was Microsoft’s biggest success in this market.
The Xbox was presented for the first time by Bill Gates on 15 November 2001 in the U.S.
In 2008 Bill Gates left Microsoft to devote himself exclusively, together with his wife Melinda, to the foundation they had created in 2000. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to fighting poverty and to investing in research related to the fight against infectious disease.
Steve Jobs, on the other hand, never devoted himself to any charity work. He turned over control of Apple in 2011, due to his failing health which proved fatal that very year. Shortly before his death, Jobs received a visit from Gates where the two of them spoke about their discoveries, their companies and families.
After the death of Steve Jobs on 5 October 2011, Gates said, “There was no peace to make. We were not at war. We made great products, and competition was always a positive thing”. The Cold War of Computing never caused damage or injury. It was a healthy rivalry that brought a whole new pace of life to the world.