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Bill Gates changes his tune on Apple’s iPad, now that one surfaces running Windows

Daniel Eran Dilger

Bill Gates is really excited about the iPad now that Microsoft has copied it. But he wasn’t always so impressed with a thin tablet leveraging the ARM architecture to destroy the WinTel PC, particularly when Steve Jobs was showing off the original.
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Gates was against it before he was for it

“You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen, and a real keyboard–in other words, a Netbook–will be the mainstream on that,” – Bill Gates, at the launch of Apple’s first iPad, 2010.

“So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’”

Ok, so this kind of sour grapes from an embittered Mr. Gates is understandable. But there’s something else that isn’t.

In 2010, while Microsoft feverishly tried to bring Windows Mobile closer to the iPhone, Gates was at least saying that the iPad was nothing to strive after. But he wasn’t telling the truth, because the core of Surface is an effort to copy the design of Apple’s iPad.

One can observe that the Surface is an iPad with a Smart Cover, albeit running an operating system that eats up more of its available storage and doesn’t run Apple’s iOS App Store titles, nor even Microsoft’s legacy library of x86 Windows software. But the truth is even bigger than that.

Even Gates can’t swallow this

Introduced by a deadpan presenter focusing on the “huge amount of excitement” around Windows 8, Gates appeared to be gagging on his own lines as he delivered a pep rally talk to the Microsoft faithful.

At one point, Gates appeared pained to relate how ordinary users want to “consume email,” particularly because “they want it to be awfully simple” and they now have expectations set by the multitouch interface popularized by Jobs, rather than Gates’ mouse and stylus-driven Windows with a Start button.

Gates talked about how unique and special it is that the Surface uses a keyboard, while dry heaving as if sickened by his own attempt to convince his audience to believe that the iPad lacks the ability to type, or connect to a keyboard, or that a mouse is “just so natural in most settings [when using a tablet].”

Through the entire video, he looks like a cat about to throw up a Bluetooth hairball of horseshit.

Gates claims credit for thinking about tablets in 2000, just 10 years after Apple

While trash talking the iPad as nothing special, Gates also loves to claim credit for having tried to do what Apple did, before Apple did it.

In July, Julie Bort of Business Insider wrote based on Gates’ comments, “Gates first demonstrated a tablet PC way back in 2000 and released a tablet OS version of Windows in 2005.”

Perhaps she wasn’t aware that following Gates’ 2000 demo of a Windows-based tablet concept, Microsoft’s tablet version of Windows arrived a decade after Apple brought its Newton MessagePad to market in 1994.

Apple started work on the MessagePad in the late 80s, so early that it had to co-create ARM, a new processor architecture appropriate for mobile devices, because no acceptable alternatives existed yet.

ARMed and dangerous (to WinTel)

The Surface “RT” uses the same ARM Architecture that Apple developed with Acorn to launch modern mobile devices over 20 years ago. This marks Microsoft’s first attempt to run its “full Windows” on an ARM device.

Previously, Microsoft spent years failing to copy Newton with Windows CE, a simple OS (technically unrelated to the desktop “full Windows,” with a different kernel and API architecture) that could run on ARM (WinCE is the basis for Windows Phone 7, KIN, Zune and the Auto PC inside Ford Sync).

Gates’ big epiphany on display in 2000 was not “the tablet,” as Bort wrote. It was that tablets should run the “full Windows,” not the scaled down WinCE Microsoft had failed to do anything valuable with in the late 90s or afterward.

This is evident from the first line of the PR statement Microsoft made following Gates’ 2000 demo: “First and foremost, the Microsoft vision for a Tablet PC is that it’s a full Windows computer.”

“Full Windows” was the problem for Tablet PC, not the solution

The problem was that Microsoft’s “full Windows” required an Intel x86 CPU. This is what killed the Gates Tablet PC (as envisioned below by Microsoft in 2000). Intel’s chips weren’t as good as ARM for mobile applications in 2000, and still weren’t in 2010 when Apple released the ARM-based iPad.

While Apple ported its OS X to ARM in 2007 for the iPhone, Microsoft didn’t even realize this was important until 2010, when it first announced a Two Year Plan to deliver a version of Windows 8 capable of running on ARM. It’s now bringing this to market more than five years after Apple.

The development of ARM was so important that that back in 2006, when cnet.co.uk reviewed a new Samsung Q1 (a second generation Microsoft “UltraMobile PC” product based on an x86 Intel chip required to run the “full Windows”) against the 1997 Apple Newton MessagePad 2000, it awarded the decade old Newton as the overall winner, in large part due of the superior mobile characteristics of the ARM-based Newton.

Microsoft wasn’t a decade early in tablets. It was more than a decade late in 2000! And ten years later, it would continue to lag Apple by years in the whole recognition of how important ARM was. How does a person who writes for “Business Insider” not know this?

Gates bought Apple technology just to catch up

Not only was Microsoft very late to the 90s Tablet Party, but it had also directly benefitted from Apple’s previous work in the field (and not just in relation to ARM).

In 1998, Microsoft broadly licensed technology from General Magic, a tablet engineering startup that originated within Apple in 1990, was spun off, and eight years later transferred much of its technology to Microsoft before Paul Allen bought up most of its patents in its 2002 going out of business sale.

General Magic was a hotbed of innovation that the Old Apple didn’t quite know what to do with. In 1990, the team was competing for attention within Apple with the Newton group, which effectively won. While Newton wasn’t wildly successful, it did ship a real product.

General Magic and its partners tried to, but once they were compared against the Newton (and in particular its handwritten recognition that the General Magic “Magic Cap” products lacked) the game was over; Apple’s first choice beat its second discarded one.

General Magic is where Tony Fadell rose to prominence before heading to Philips to work on Windows CE devices powered by Microsoft. Fadell had the idea for the iPod, which Philips wasn’t so interested in, so he brought it to Apple, which used the idea to destroy Microsoft’s aspirations of using Windows CE to monopolize music playback. That’s a strategy that Microsoft was intently focused on after repeatedly failing to find another use for its “Windows in name only” mobile OS.

Another guy who worked at General Magic: Andy Rubin, who after three years at Apple spent three years at General Magic before joining WebTV in 1995 (which was purchased and destroyed by Microsoft in the late 90s), then founded Danger in 1999 (purchased and destroyed by Microsoft in the late 2000s), and then founded Android in 2003 (purchased by Google in 2005 to destroy Microsoft).

Andy Rubin, from Apple to Android

Rubin, at Google, is now trying hard to replicate Gates’ spectacular arrogance in pitting Apple’s technology against Apple while vilifying the original rather than according it a modicum of respect. Both Rubin and Gates are losing at this, if you count the game in dollars. Or in any other metric.

If “having the idea first” is so awesome, why were all of Microsoft’s products rip-offs?

I’m willing to bet Gates remembers the 90s better than I do, so it’s not exactly a misunderstanding of events that’s allowing him to now claim credit for thinking about the iPad 10 years earlier, when in reality he just bought Apple’s secondary team and failed to take it anywhere, the same way Microsoft also bought up WebTV and Danger and lots of other promising startups since the 1990s and did to them what Google is doing to promising startups today.

Yes, Bill Gates is lying about having invented the tablet, and he knows it. That’s why he leaves it up to ignorant journalists to pencil in the story from his broad, fictitious outline.

But even if you look at Gates’ actual, successful products, it’s hard to say they came from Gates’ brain. Windows? Please. The Xbox 360? It’s a PC version of the PlayStation. Windows NT he obtained from Digital, and so on.

Which there’s nothing wrong with, but you can’t then banter around how you actually had the idea for the iPad first, but couldn’t quite bring anything to market successfully because you only had the resources of the most powerful tech company on earth for a mere decade and a half leading up to it. Especially when you bought and or stole most of those ideas from the company you imply took your ideas and ran with them.

I mean, Mr. Gates, that’s quite below the stature of a man who ruled the PC with an iron fist for a decade and a half. Man up.

No shame in growth by acquisition, unless you incompetently just destroy billions of value

Saying Microsoft invented tablets is like saying it invented “natural user interfaces,” when in reality it just stole the graphical interface from the company that refused to license it, then licensed the digital pen technology Apple discarded in General Magic, then acquired a startup to catch up with the Wii and PlayStation in motion-controlled gaming.

Mr. Gates, you are not a visionary. You are a cutthroat accountant who knows how to write up one-sided business contracts that screw over everyone but yourself. That’s what you can claim credit for, because you did very well at that. But stop giving yourself credit for envisioning the original things other people actually created.

Also, your ability to buy ideas would be more impressive if you had a success rate closer to Apple’s near 1:1 acquisition to execution success rate (NeXT, Emagic, FingerWorks, PA Semi, Placebase, Lala, Quattro, Intrinsity, Siri, Poly9, Polar Rose, IMSense, C3, Anobit, Chomp).

How many ideas has Microsoft aquistroyed? Just recently: Danger (buried in the KIN fiasco) cost half a billion dollars, eQuantive cost $6 billion, and Microsoft even paid $8.5 billion for Skype, something Apple had essentially duplicated in-house in a matter of months, albeit with more modern and flexible technology behind its original FaceTime and iMessage products.

Mr Gates, your company looks like the path of destruction behind a nouveau riche asshole with a checkbook, not the product of a genius visionary who can execute. You’re no Steve Jobs.

Please return to giving away the money you collected and stop claiming to have invented anything important about tablets.

18 comments

1 kyle braund { 10.22.12 at 4:39 pm }

Another excellent article. Love this: “Thorough the entire video, he looks like a cat about to throw up a Bluetooth hairball of horseshit.”

2 The Mad Hatter { 10.22.12 at 5:08 pm }

Mr. Gates, you are not a visionary. You are a cutthroat accountant who knows how to write up one-sided business contracts that screw over everyone but yourself.

Remember, his father is a lawyer. I suspect that his family background may have had some impact on his actions.

Wayne

3 Raymond { 10.22.12 at 5:09 pm }

Daniel, while you’ve written many good articles on Google. Obviously Microsoft gets your juices flowing.

4 Ralph { 10.22.12 at 5:25 pm }

No on in Microsoft said “Hey, guys, ‘WinCE’ looks a lot like ‘wince’. We should change that.”?

5 The Mad Hatter { 10.22.12 at 5:33 pm }

Now isn’t this amusing. ZDNet UK says Microsoft is out of stock on 32GB Tablets without the Keyboard. I got curious and checked the Canadian Microsoft store, and it shows the base tablet out of stock too.

There’s a couple of possible answers:

1) Microsoft thought everyone would want the keyboard, and didn’t produce hardly any base units.

2) Microsoft had better than expected sales on the lower end unit because they don’t understand that the tablet market is price sensitive.

3) Nobody who is buying a tablet wants a keyboard.

4) Someone is lying about sales, trying to drum up some excitement.

This is going to be really amusing to follow, because there’s no way in hell that Microsoft’s tablet can beat an iPad 2, which is far, far, less expensive.

Wayne

6 jalguire { 10.22.12 at 5:35 pm }

You neglected (or not) to list that one of Microsoft’s most fundamental software products (next to Windows and Office), DOS, was also not invented by Bill or Microsoft, was also a purchase (and one that they managed to turn to gold rather than manure.

7 disorderly { 10.22.12 at 5:41 pm }

I have wondered often how much of Gates’ and Microsoft’s success was the result of brilliance and hard work and how much was good timing and an almost sociopathic willingness to screw anybody who got in their way. They’re the Walmart of tech, achieving great things by running a steamroller over everyone they come in contact with. I saw it firsthand at Borland, which was caught between the partner Windows group and the competitor development products group. Not a place I’d ever want to be again.

8 bitburn { 10.22.12 at 8:07 pm }

@The mad hatter… I go with option 3!

9 Maniac { 10.22.12 at 11:49 pm }

Gates’ biggest problem is that he has zero understanding of consumers. Instead of consumerizing his products, he tried to geekify consumers. Didn’t work.

Gates *does* understand business. He’s managed to lock corporate IT shops into expensive ironclad contracts, and PC OEMs into forcing their corporate and home customers to pay the dreaded Windows Tax.

Gates’ second biggest problem? He has no taste. And that lack of taste permeates everything Microsoft has ever done. It’s baked into Microsoft’s corporate culture. Microsoft will never have taste. Just look at Ballmer.

10 JPTJr { 10.23.12 at 4:51 am }

I always learn something here.

My favorite touch is the sad clown on the Danger device. Fantastic.

11 kent { 10.23.12 at 7:25 am }

I am a serious Apple investors. I have been long Apple ever since having read a Walt Mossburg column suggesting the Mac as a very solid alternative for those wanting to avoid viruses. That column made me think security would become a big issue, so I bought a Mac and Apple stock. I have added more stock whenever I could since then. As an investor, I am always looking for intelligent commentary on Apple, its technology, what gives it competitive advantage, the nature of the advantage, its competitors and how serious a threat they pose, etc. As Apple has grown from an “also ran” computer maker to the leading tech firm in the world, I have been amazed at how little real informed commentary there is on this amazing company. I had developed a sense several years ago that a major sea change was going on that would end the Windows empire and shift the world to the Apple product set, given no other options and the inherent quality Apple offered. Most of my core beliefs about Apple were based on my own product experiences, informed by detailed analysis I found in Roughly Drafted, plus experience in a small back water tech industry seeing dominant players unseated by innovative upstarts. Daniel Eran Dilger is the only reliable journalist I have found with the actual technical understanding of all the players to explain where things are going. The analyses are always detailed so a semi-literate student like me can get the picture. I want to thank you Daniel for what you do, and encourage you to continue. I also suggest to industry executives that you tap into Daniel’s brain, for a fee, because he understands the forces driving things forward better than any other analyst writing today. He would benefit from a larger platform. There are big things coming in this space and it would benefit us all to understand the pros and cons, and I think Daniel and Roughly Drafted could help shape public knowledge in this area. Thanks again Daniel for what you do here. Best of luck in your future ventures.

12 stefn { 10.23.12 at 7:45 am }

Great article, Daniel. Again.

13 jmfree { 10.23.12 at 9:48 am }

@kent: I second that emotion, many times over.

Clearly one of the reasons no one (least of all I) can keep up with Daniel is his encyclopedic and precise knowledge of what has gone before. Just the inventory of Windows attempts at mobile is staggering.

Anyone remember “Get Smart”? With the inimitable Don Adams as Maxwell Smart trying to talk his way out of situations by making one absurd proposition after another with “Well, would you believe…?”

Inspired by Gates, that’s the Microsoft way. In the mobile space alone it’s been:

“Well, would you believe Netbook?”

“No? Well, would you believe UltraMobile PC?”

“No? Well, would you believe Windows Mobile, Surface, Windows 8, Tablet PC, Surface ‘RT’, Windows CE, Windows Phone 7, KIN, Zune Auto PC, or Tablet Windows?”

Comedy? Tragedy? Farce? So much to choose from!

Whatever its riches, Microsoft has from the beginning proved itself to be a monstrous noise machine, fully exemplifying every possible meaning of the phrase “caveat emptor”.

Once again, I am refreshed with facts and thank DED.

14 Grant Dilger { 10.23.12 at 3:49 pm }

You never cease to amaze; I wish I could think half as well as you write!

15 dsotirescu { 10.23.12 at 8:26 pm }

This article is fantastic! Full of incredible historical data! The message is clear: praise the innovators, the companies that truly advance the state of the art.

16 The Mad Hatter { 10.24.12 at 8:12 am }

Anyone remember “Get Smart”? With the inimitable Don Adams as Maxwell Smart trying to talk his way out of situations by making one absurd proposition after another with “Well, would you believe…?”

Yep. Don Adams was one heck of a funny guy. Too bad there aren’t any comics/actors like him. At least not in the States. You want good TV you have to watch Canadian or British television, or the American independents.

Wayne

17 gus2000 { 10.24.12 at 9:55 pm }

And…loving it

18 gus2000 { 10.24.12 at 9:57 pm }

Maybe Gates and Romney should collaborate on the new “Windows Etch-A-Sketch CE™”

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