Bill Gates and Steve jobs were as different as night and day, yet they had much in common. This probably explains the bitterness of their rivalry. The fruits of their enmity? The creation of the personal computer.
First, the differences: Gates was an upper-middle-class kid who went to Harvard. Jobs grew up in a family of modest means and didn't attend many classes at Reed College. Deeply technical, Gates wrote the code for Microsoft's early products himself. A born marketer with enough technical chops to be persuasive, Jobs relied on collaborator Steve Wozniak to create the first Apple computer. Gates was the poster child for geeks everywhere. Jobs, meanwhile, was suave from the start. Gates understood scale and leverage; Jobs grasped style and message. (The more charismatic figure, Jobs, will have been played on film by both Noah Wiley and Ashton Kutcher.) Gates and Jobs became the opposing poles of the frantically growing computing revolution.
Above all else, though, these rivals understood business. Neither had formal training in the black arts of balance sheets and income statements. Indeed, neither had graduated from college. Yet both were preternaturally shrewd about making a buck -- and how to stick it to the competition.
Gates dominated the first two decades of their rivalry, overseeing Windows' rise as the world's default operating system. Eventually Jobs welcomed a $150 million investment from Gates in 1997 when Apple (AAPL
, Fortune 500
) was looking death in the face. (Attendees of the Macworld conference where the deal was announced booed Gates' appearance by video.) But during the last 15 years of his life, Jobs flipped the switch on Gates, dominating beyond-the-PC segments like music players, smartphones, and tablets -- all areas of heavy, and mostly fruitless, investment by Microsof (MSFT
, Fortune 500
)t. (Irked by this, perhaps, Gates' wife, Melinda, banned their children from having iPods and iPhones in the house.)
The two were known to trade not-so-subtle barbs. Jobs diagnosed Microsoft's essential problem as a lack of taste. Meanwhile, Gates summed up one of Jobs' greatest achievements, the iPad, by saying simply, "It's okay."
Born seven months apart (Jobs was older), they were friendly in the years before Jobs died. Having fought each other for so long, they knew better than anyone what the other had accomplished.
: Steve Jobs