Friday, April 09, 2010

I, Cringely » Blog Archive » Masters Tournament - Cringely on technology:

That’s the interview I did for my ill-fated Vanity Fair piece on the relationship between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It is almost sixty minutes entirely devoted to Bill talking about Steve. Quite a historical document, especially since its contents have never been published. And they won’t be here, either, except for one short quote that stood out when I listened to the tape today after almost 12 years.

“What I can’t figure out is why he (Steve Jobs) is even trying (to be the CEO of Apple)? ” wondered Bill. “He knows he can’t win.”

It is easy to see what Gates meant if you look at a comparison of the two companies in June, 1998. Microsoft stock was around $29 with a market capitalization of $250 billion. Apple’s stock was at $7.25, triple what it had been a year before when Microsoft had stepped-in to bolster Apple with a $150 million investment, but still worth a market cap of only $6 billion. In terms of products, market share, cash flow, and general strategy Microsoft had it all over Apple in 1998 and the idea that Jobs would ever catch up to Gates was, at the time, ludicrous.

But look at the two companies today. Jobs is still running Apple despite cancer and a liver transplant while Gates has moved on to saving the world at the Gates Foundation. Microsoft is worth $240 billion, a tiny drop from 12 years ago, with the shares now around $27 (down from $29). Nothing gained in more than a decade. Apple shares, on the other hand, have gone from $7.25 to almost $240, Apple’s market cap has risen more than 33X from $6 billion to $220 billion. And Cupertino’s cash hoard today is almost exactly the same as Microsoft’s at around $40 billion.

It’s pretty easy to argue that Jobs did win.