D Conference Upshot: Gates Looking Back, Jobs Looking Forward

Includes: AAPL, MSFT
by: Paul Kedrosky

The entertaining NY magazine Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)/iGod piece is now online. As I explained in a previous post, it is fun to scan, but it really shouldn't move markets, as there is no news here, but then again, there is no explaining market skittishness.

And one other comment. Was writer Heilemann at a different "D" conference in a different Carlsbad than I was? Here is his take on the Gates/Jobs on-stage zero-content contretemps:

The Jobs-Gates onstage duet lasted nearly 90 minutes and was mostly sweetness and light. But then, at the end, a question from the audience elicited an outpouring of sublimated rage: What had each man learned from the other?

Gates stroked his chin for a long moment, then smiled a mischievous smile. “Oh,” he said, “I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste.”

Jobs stared down, shooting daggers at the floor. Then, when it came his time to answer, he said wanly, “Because Woz and I started the company based on doing the whole banana, we weren’t so good at partnering with people … Bill and Microsoft were really good at it.”

The joint interview was revealing on other levels, too. Whereas Gates came across as entirely at ease, almost avuncular, Jobs was coiled as tight as a spring. Whereas Gates spoke happily about the marks, technological and philanthropic, he would leave on the world, Jobs squirmed at the notion of bequeathal, with its intimations of mortality. “I don’t think about legacy much,” he said. “I just think about being able to get up every day, and go in and hang around these great people, and hopefully create something other people will love as much as we do.”

Huh? "Shooting daggers"? I thought Gates nailed precisely why Jobs' company's stock has been kicking Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) ass for the last few years. Tech markets have gone consumer, and Gates' Microsoft has the design sensibility of a Pravda editorial committee.

Further, having been at D, I would have said Gates seemed semi-retired and mostly backward-looking, while Jobs came across as urgent and connected, like he was still doing things that mattered and that he was passionate about. I guess you could have called Gates "at ease", but turning his recently-retired status into a competitive attribute is something of a stretch.