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History of Apple and Microsoft: 4 decades of peaks and valleys

Matt Kapko | Oct. 8, 2015
The decades-long relationship between Apple and Microsoft is packed with ups and downs, but it also shaped the evolution of personal computing. The companies have again cozied up to one another, and this time they have a new endgame: enterprise.

Jobs didn't pry significant market share away from Microsoft during his time with NeXT, but he did continue to regularly lob insults at Microsoft. "The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste," Jobs said in the 1996 "Triumph of the Nerds" TV documentary. "They have absolutely no taste. And I don't mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their products," 

Jobs also said Microsoft's applications for Mac were "terrible" and called the company's products "third rate." He eventually spoke to The New York Times about the documentary and his decision to call Gates and apologize for his comments, but his statement felt disingenuous. "I told him I believed every word of what I'd said but that I never should have said it in public," Jobs told the newspaper. 

An awkward period of harmony

When Apple acquired NeXT in 1997 and brought Steve Jobs back into the fold, the company was in disarray amid growing uncertainty about the future of Microsoft Office for Mac. During his keynote address at the Macworld Expo that year, Jobs extolled the virtues of partnering with industry leaders and spoke of the need to improve Apple's partner relations.

Jobs suggested Apple needed help from others and that destructive relationships weren't helping any tech companies. Then he announced a new pact between Apple and Microsoft, which was received with a chorus of boos from the audience.

The previously unimaginable deal had many components, including a perpetual cross license for all existing patents and patents issued during the next five years; IE became the default browser on Mac; Microsoft said it would release Office for Mac for the next five years; and Gates's company invested $150 million in Apple.

"Microsoft is going to be part of the game with us as we restore this company back to health," Jobs said before asking Gates to address the crowd via satellite. The "kumbaya moment" continued when Gates told attendees that some of the most exciting work of his career was done with Jobs on the Mac.

"We think Apple makes a huge contribution to the computer industry," Gates said. "We think it's going to be a lot of fun helping out."

When Gates finished and the attendees' collective blood pressure dropped, Jobs tried to frame the deal in a way Mac users and Apple fans could appreciate. "We need all the help we can get. If we screw up and we don't do a good job, it's not somebody else's fault, it's our fault," Jobs said. "I think if we want Microsoft Office on the Mac we better treat the company that puts it out with a little bit of gratitude. We like their software. The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I'm concerned."

 

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