In addition, a lot of young adults are graduating from college over the next few weeks and beginning their careers in the technology market. Now may be a good time to look back at the lessons, both good and bad, we can take away from both leaders.
Take Care of Your People
Bill Gates spread the wealth, and then later seemed to regret it; Steve Jobs didn't and also was the only one of the two to get fired. We often think of the road not traveled -- for Bill, his comments that sharing the wealth broadly was a bad idea weren't sourced in greed but in his belief that the loss of critical skills Microsoft endured was caused largely as a result of people realizing they could afford to go off on their own.
Steve Jobs wasn't as generous, and when push came to shove he didn't enjoy the kind of support Bill Gates had; Steve was fired by the very same CEO he had recruited. While Microsoft clearly had turnaround issues, Apple's issues were far worse, and while Microsoft rose to dominance for much of the '90s, there was constant speculation that Apple was going to go under until the iPod came along.
If you look at Google, arguably the most successful company currently in Silicon Valley, you see that it is following Microsoft's and not Apple's lead here, and actually going beyond what Microsoft did (granted, this is helped a great deal by Google's stock market performance creating a higher level of loyalty then either Microsoft or Apple currently enjoy).
The adage "take care of your people and they'll take care of you" has been proven true first by Microsoft and then by Google.
Protect Your Brand
You can't say the name "Microsoft" without thinking "Evil Empire." On the other hand, Apple has a very positive brand image effectively cultivated and nurtured by Jobs and his marketing staff. It is the only company, so far, that has weathered post-dating stock options, and it has one of the most loyal fan bases in the tech market. It constantly advertises key products and brand, which has paid dividends in sales and stock market performance.
Microsoft and marketing, when taken together, is almost an oxymoron. Its latest offering, Windows Vista, while vastly improved, has been struggling to find a market, and the majority of the Windows installed base appears uninterested in the offering (at least when compared to earlier offerings). It has tried campaigns but often the products (Zune) didn't live up to the marketing, or the marketing (Origami) didn't live up to the product. The Xbox seemed to be one of the rare exceptions, though some provide compelling evidence that even the Xbox isn't really a success.
Here Google has largely emulated Apple. While it doesn't use that much TV, mostly leaving that expensive medium to Yahoo, it does husband its brand very closely, and recently won best in show at the Liquid Brand Impact Awards as a result. Its brand is now ranked higher than Microsoft's. As a result, Google has been able to pull key employees and executives out of Microsoft while Microsoft can't claim the same benefit.
You Can't Always Do It Alone
The technology market is often defined by companies known for having the "not invented here" problem or that are unable to partner. The worst at the latter has historically been Apple, and the field is littered with companies that include Microsoft, HP and Motorola who deeply regret ever partnering with the firm. Apple even tried to license its OS at one time and then literally put their licensees out of business by breaking their promise to support them because it was not convenient. With corporate buyers, it tried to wed them up until the mid-'90s and then abandoned them as well, leaving many to regret ever trusting the company to begin with.
Microsoft, on the other hand, actually tried to make the Apple partnership work and, when Apple needed money, gave it $100M -- to its regret. Microsoft's partnership with IBM, while it didn't end well, put it on the map, and it is largely defined by its historic partnerships with AMD, HP, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Lenovo and EMC. The word "cooperatition" was coined to define what Microsoft did, and its success has often been defined by partnerships. Where it has failed, it has also seemed to be connected with letting partners down.
These partnerships allowed Microsoft to sell in markets around the globe, and from consumer retail to the largest of enterprises and governments. It currently enjoys more success in more markets than any other single vendor in its class, and appears to enjoy nearly unmatched market power.
Here EMC, rather than Google, probably is the best example of a firm that has learned this lesson to good measure, partnering with Dell and Microsoft very successfully. EMC is now defined as an emerging power pillar called "information management" on par with Cisco for "Networking" and Microsoft for "Middleware."
The lesson learned is that partnering is a good thing, and that going it alone is often a quick way to ensure you never grow to the size and scale you otherwise would be capable of. A good lesson for anyone starting out, or at the peak of their career.
You can learn a lot from both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs; it is interesting to note that they could have also learned a lot from each other. The lessons are classic: Take care of your people; protect and own your brand; and partner successfully.
As Bill Gates moves on to try and save the world and Steve Jobs moves on to save the iPod and the iPhone, we should remember these lessons and the people who taught them to us. It may also be important to take a final lesson -- long term, image is transitory, what you do with your time and how you live your life isn't. Of the two men, Bill Gates appears to have learned that lesson; it's doubtful that Steve Jobs is even listening. There is clearly something to be learned from that as well.
In closing, I wonder what would have happened if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had partnered successfully? We'd all likely still be running Windows, but I'll bet more of us would think that was a good thing ...