I was first introduced to computers when I was 5 years old. By my grandmother. In 1983. It was an IBM XT, their only second model produced. It had 64KB of RAM and hard drives at the time were still the size of washing machines, so it obviously didn’t have one. It cost her $7,000. But she had to have one because she had been what we now call a software engineer for the defense department during the 60s. I was taught the basics of the difference between an operating system and software. You used one 5.25 in floppy disk to boot it up, and then put in another for whatever program you wanted to run. If none of this had ever happened, I would not have had a career as a systems engineer decades later. She wanted me to be a hacker. I’m not sure why, since if you’re the honest kind there’s no money in it. You break in just to prove you can, and to show whoever it is where their vulnerabilities lie. For some reason she saw glory in it. I had a very unique grandmother.
At the same time Apple was cranking out their own variety of basically the same thing. But they were far less versatile. But easier for beginners to use. OS and software were usually on the same 5.25 in floppy. So there’s no swapping disks, and most importantly, no commands to enter at a Microsoft DOS prompt to start the desired program. I saw them as kids toys, and IBM PCs and their “clones” (the same type of machine running MS-DOS built by some other company) as “real” computers.
Lately Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, has been getting a lot of attention. A movie about him, and a CNN documentary. Much of this is probably because he’s deceased. And much of it is because he was quite the fascinating personality. But little has been shown about how he, and his friend and arch rival Bill Gates acquired their most important assets; the graphic user interface, or GUI. If you’ve read the book, Nerds 2.0, or simply seen the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, you’d know the answer. They both stole the entire concept, and the software that drives it, from Xerox. Xerox saw zero value in it and freely gave Apple all of it. The mouse, icons on the screen representing programs, everything. Xerox had no clue what they had, and their aging executives didn’t even understand it. So out the door it went.
Bill Gates is not, nor ever has been, the brilliant innovator that Jobs was. But he’s a far better, more shrewd, shark of a businessman. When he approached IBM with the prospect of an operating system for their new Personal Computer, he not only didn’t even have anything remotely close to what he was offering, he made a few demands of stipulations in the contract that would eventually make him the wealthiest man on the planet. Paul Allen, Gates’s top engineer, flew to Texas and bought DOS from some relative nobody for $50,000, a sum this guy was overjoyed with, having no idea how he was being ripped off (he later sued Microsoft, and they gave him something like $6 billion to go away, pennies for them). One demand was that Microsoft retain ownership of DOS (disk operating system), and every single copy of it put on their PCs would be a licensed copy. Meaning IBM would pay a fee for each one. IBM mistakenly assumed all the profit was in the hardware. Their hardware. Wow were the wrong. Second, and this was pure genius, he insisted that they be allowed to sell DOS to anyone else they wanted. This is what gave rise to “PC clones”, identical machines to the IBM variety, running Microsoft DOS. This crushed IBM’s corner on the market on PCs. And made Microsoft billions in no time. Meanwhile Apple wanted everything they produced to remain proprietary. Selling nothing to any other company.
Another thing that sets the two men apart is how they ran their companies and treated their engineers. Jobs was notorious in the early days, especially during the Macintosh development for 90 hour work weeks for the software engineers. Gates had seen this first hand and was reportedly disturbed by it. Microsoft engineers were treated far better. It probably helped that Gates actually is a software engineer. Jobs wasn’t. Jobs was capable of fantastic ideas, but it was up to “Woz” (Steve Wozniak) to actually get those ideas to come into existence. He’s the engineer behind Jobs.
I’m not sure where Jobs’s fortune went upon his death. I’m sure his daughter Lisa is very well off. But otherwise I don’t know. Gates’s net worth constantly fluctuates. He owns 10% of Microsoft stock, which is the bulk of his $60 billion, give or take. He’s always pledged that all but $10 million would be given to his charity foundation. His parents had roughly that much, so I’m guessing he just wants his kids to have the same start he did. He’s given over $20 billion to the foundation so far. And to top it off, the second wealthiest man, Warren Buffet, has pledged to give just about all of his $50 billion, give or take, to Gates’s foundation upon his death. That’s well over $100 billion, the largest charitable contribution in the history of the world.
Say what you want about Bill Gates, but he’s definitely not the major asshole that everyone who knew Jobs says he was, and he’s a new kind of capitalist. One who is a monster in business, but will give it all back when he’s finished playing the game. Oh, and Gates is an atheist 😉