Gates bans iPods and iPhones from his home; latest chapter in epic rivalry

Anyone who has followed all the twists and turns in the long, siblingesque rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs must have felt a special thrill on hearing the latest news: Bill Gates has banned Apple products from his home.

For millions of Americans, who have long seen him as a sort of computer-based Willie Wonka, the image of the cranky Microsoft founder telling his kids to keep their damned iPod and iPhones out of his house is more than a little amusing. Add in the image of Melinda Gates, an Edith to Bill's Archie, expressing a secret desire to own an iPhone, and the whole thing starts to sound like a sitcom.

The really funny thing is, though, that if history is any indication, it seems likely that Bill has his own iPhone tucked away somewhere.

The animosity between Gates and Jobs is well established. For anybody who missed the eighties and nineties, their battles are lovingly recounted in Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine's book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. For the quick version, there's Pirates of Silicon Valley, the 1999 made-for-TV movie with Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall.

The interesting thing about Gates and Jobs' relationship is the fact that it has been punctuated by periods of odd tenderness. For example, in 1983, Bill Gates was recorded speaking fondly of the Mac, noting that, "To create a new standard, it takes something that's not just a little bit different; it takes something that's really new and really captures people's imagination. The Macintosh, of all the machines I've ever seen, is the only one that meets that standard."

It's also notable that, in 1997, Microsoft bought $150 million of Apple Series A nonvoting convertible preferred stock. Whether this was a bailout, as many have assumed, or a sly attempt by Gates to settle lawsuits that Apple had filed against Microsoft, is ultimately immaterial. For all their public battling, it's pretty clear that Gates was invested (literally) in Apple's health. Even now, with Apple and Microsoft no longer financially tied to each other, Gates and Jobs still seem to have an uncomfortable sibling relationship.

As a side note, Wikipedia is good for a lot of things, but when it comes to the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft, it is pretty much useless.

On Apple's listing, it makes a brief mention of Microsoft's 1997 investment in Apple, but that's about it. Neither the Apple entry nor the Bill Gates one alludes to Gates' occasional compliments towards the Macintosh, the battles over users, and the ways that the two have brutally carved out market share.Perhaps most surprisingly, there is no reference to the war between Gates and Steve Jobs, which is now going into its fourth decade. Based on their Wiki listings, it would appear that Apple and Gates exist in a parallel, but completely separate universe.

That may reflect how devotees of Apple and Microsoft experience the world. But for those of us more agnostic in the computer wars, watching the twists and turns of Gates and Jobs' complicated relationship play out in the headlines is at least as much fun as a re-run of "All In The Family."

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