1997: Steve Jobs Was Wrong and Microsoft Saved Apple

It was 12 years ago today, at MacWorld Boston, that Microsoft announced it was saving Apple from almost certain doom. That was a different industry and certainly a different Apple, but without Bill Gates today's Apple probably wouldn't exist.

Wired.com has a wonderful recounting of the event posted today, but it gives too much credit to Steve Jobs, who at the time uttered a quote that sounded true but turned out to be absolutely false.

Here's what I saw at the time:

On August 6, 1997, Apple and Microsoft announced the end of legal hostilities and that Microsoft would invest $150 million in Apple by purchasing non-voting shares in the struggling company. It also promised to continue publishing Office for Mac for another five years.

At the time, the two companies were mired in a user interface lawsuit that had gone on for years, Apple was losing money, and Microsoft killing Office for Mac looked to be the final blow.

Myself and other industry-watchers, including (as I remember) Rob Enderle were pushing Microsoft on Apple's behalf. I really did look like Office for Mac might go away and with it any chance for Apple in business or business users' homes. Like I said, it was a different time. The end of Apple seemed mighty close.

The lawsuit appeared to be swinging Apple's way, but any settlement might be delayed until after Apple's doom had been sealed. Microsoft really had nothing to fear in the Windows vs. Mac battle, but was losing badly in the court of public opinion.

By bailing out Apple, and this is where my view differs from that expressed by Wired, Microsoft got out of a lawsuit for between pennies and dimes on the dollar, compared to the likely, but eventual, award to Apple.

Better yet, Microsoft later sold the $150 million worth of Apple stock it purchased for a profit and sales of MacOffice continue to this day, albeit with releases still feature-retarded compared to the Windows versions.

As for the Jobs' quote, here's what Wired has to say:

"And while the fanboys didn’t exactly know what to make of the new friendship between the corporate equivalents of a mongoose and a cobra, their instinct was, of course, to be against it. As reported at the time by The Seattle Times, 'The unexpected revelation … prompted gasps of disbelief and loud boos from the audience of thousands of Mac users and software developers.

"Jobs, the Times reported, 'attempted to soothe the audience, saying: 'We have to let go of a few notions here. We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose.'"

That, of course, turned out to be competely false. Apple's success has not been built atop Macintosh nearly so much as the iPod and iPhone, both of which catapaulted the company to riches by trampling Microsoft (and everybody else). Yes, Apple won and Microsoft is still trying to recover, without any success.

Finally, as a reminder of what a different time this was, another quote from the Seattle Times story:

"News of the alliance sent Apple's stock up $7 a share, or 35 percent, to $26.75 in late Nasdaq trading. Microsoft, meanwhile, was up $1 to $144.313 on the Nasdaq."

And that's the way it was.

David Coursey has been writing about tech since 1981. He tweets as @techinciter when Twitter is working and can be contacted via his Web site.

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