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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates

In this second story about the second best, I am going to talk about two of the most well-known individuals on planet Earth.

Oooh I can already sense strong feelings from you.

First of all I must stress that I won't go into too many details in this article. Whole books have been written about Steve and Bill.

Second, unlike in my first story, here I don't believe that either of these guys need any more publicity. Best or second best, they both have way more fame and money than anyone should have.

What I intend to do in this essay is to show you how starkly different their personalities and work styles are. And also to examine their success from more of an "environmental" point of view.

Such as the people they knew, and the context they were in.

So how different are they?

1. Steve Jobs is the consummate Uber-Salesman. He is charismatic, expressive, creative and extremely aggressive.

He is superb at understanding the psyche of his customers and appealling to their sense of values to drive sales. In addition, his habit of micromanaging people and obsession with detail is also legendary.

Put up for adoption at birth by his unwed mum, Steve grew up in a working-class environment supported by his adoptive parents. After high school he worked as a summer employee at Hewlett-Packard where he met engineer Steve "Woz" Wozniak. He then attended Reed College, but dropped out after only one semester when he couldn't see the purpose of it.

To search for philosophical enlightenment, he backpacked around India with a college buddy. After he returned to the USA he worked at Atari for a while, but when he saw a computer that Woz had designed for personal use, he convinced Woz to market it. Together, they set up Apple Computer Co. in 1976.

2. Bill Gates on the other hand is the quintessential Super-Geek. He is reserved, technically-inclined, opportunistic and has a more passive-aggressive style.

He is uncomfortable dealing with people, such that some have speculated that he may have Asperger's Syndrome. However, he has deep knowledge of computers and was directly involved in writing software code until 1989. More importantly, he is very clear about his financial goals and has an excellent understanding of how the business world works.

Bill had a more privileged childhood - his father is a lawyer and his family lived in an upper middle-class environment. Even as a kid he was obsessed with computers - he had already started a computer program company with fellow student Paul Allen even before he graduated from high school!

With excellent grades in maths and science, he successfully enrolled into Harvard pre-law, but even there his heart was still in computers. In the meantime, Paul pushed Bill hard with the idea that they should start a software company.

When an opportunity appeared, he left school in the third year to spend more time on his new business of selling software for a kit computer. That company he founded with Paul in 1975 was Micro-Soft (later Microsoft Corp).

3. It is obvious that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have very different personalities. There are however, interesting parallels. For example, they both started with one business partner each who shared a common vision. To me though, the most important thing they both share is that they positioned themselves at the right time to take advantage of a massive growth surge in personal computing.

Since they both started at the same time, why does 97.5% of the computers in the world run Microsoft Windows? Why does Bill Gates (US$50 billion) have 11.4 times more net worth than Steve Jobs (US$4.4 billion)?

4. There are numerous reasons. At the company level, Apple and Microsoft use different strategies to become the huge corporations they are today.

Apple makes easy to use, high quality, high-tech products for a competitive price. Their focus is on the consumer - fulfilling their needs and creating desire for Apple products.

Microsoft initially used the open architecture of the IBM PC, and the solid reputation of IBM to their advantage. They marketed their operating system to as many IBM PC clone manufacturers as possible and earned money through licensing fees. They achieved market dominance by a series of shrewd business decisions.

5. At the personal level, the work styles of Steve and Bill may also play a role in their comparative success.

Although Steve Jobs has some sort of personality cult surrounding him, people who work with him find him picky, unpredictable and bad tempered. He was so unbearable that he was once dismissed by his own company in 1985.

In contrast, despite widespread public dislike of Bill Gates (comparing him to the Devil), he has remained at the helm of his own company all the way until June this year, when he made the decision to take a backseat and spend more time at his foundation.

Steve's pet peeve are people who don't do what he wants. Bill hates managers who don't think through about their business strategies carefully.

However, they do have some similarity in work style - both are extremely direct and often dismiss other people's ideas as stupid.

Also, Steve may be more creative than Bill, but neither of them are truly original thinkers. In essence they are both prolific copy-cats.

Let me illustrate this with a quote from, when Steve confronted Bill about Windows:

"You're ripping us off!", Steve shouted, raising his voice even higher. "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us!"

But Bill Gates just stood there coolly, looking Steve directly in the eye, before starting to speak in his squeaky voice.

"Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

You should read the whole story, it's really funny because it's all true.

6. So to sum it up, if achieving market dominance is the measure of success, then Bill Gates is clearly the best.

And Steve Jobs is second best.

Even to Mac lovers, because nobody can beat Woz.

More information:

Jobs vs Gates - A Comparison

Jobs vs Gates: Who's The Star?

PBS - Triumph Of The Nerds!

Movie - Pirates of Silicon Valley