Jobs and Gates, Old Friends

“You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” From the Beatles song “Two of Us.”

It was getting late, with dusk setting in just beyond his office windows. He did a quick search on his computer. There was Steve, in his standard black turtleneck and jeans, looking frail. So frail that he still shuddered at the sight, despite having visited him several times in the final weeks of his life.

“Last footage of Steve Jobs” was still showing in his browser’s search bar. He’d assumed one of Steve’s epic keynote presentations would have topped the search results. Instead, what came up was his presentation of a real-estate development project at a meeting of the City Council of Cupertino, California.

Steve Jobs’ presence in the room was obviously a huge draw: looking through the room, there did not appear to be any empty seats. And the council members were clearly excited to be welcoming their town’s most famous citizen. But Steve, of course, seems immune to displays of admiration. He focuses on his presentation, the key matter at hand, and only responds to people’s enthusiasm when he echoes the sentiment. For example, when he says architecture students across the country will come to the new Apple headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop, to learn and experience what will be his final legacy.

Viewing the plans Jobs shows to the City Council, it figures to be a spectacular development. A project that Steve himself would see approved, but not completed…

However, it is not the project that captures his attention, but rather the time when his friend is talking about the land that was purchased for the development. It is the acres of land that once housed the HP headquarters in Cupertino, a place Steve visited many times as a teenager and where his partner Steve Wozniak worked.

It was his first shrine, the first place where he was hired to work on projects that introduced him to the world of IT. It’s no surprise to him that the genius behind Apple tells the story much like he had heard it firsthand many years ago, when they were friends and partners… out to conquer the world. What a wonderful coincidence: childhood memories that become his final words spoken in public, a prologue and epilogue.

Bill Gates sets his glasses down on his desk and rests his eyes. So many memories. He can still hear Steve’s voice shouting a few hours after finding out about the Microsoft-IBM deal to create the standard for the new information age, leaving his former partner and Apple out in the cold.

In his mind he replays the call, almost 15 years later, in which Steve offered a last-ditch effort, in 1996, to keep Apple from falling into bankruptcy… and save Microsoft from being condemned as a monopoly.

And once again, he distinctly sensed the mixed chorus of cheers and jeers when he appeared live via videoconference at the conference where Apple introduced its deal with Microsoft. And everything that would follow: the stubborn defense of Jobs early on, criticism of Microsoft’s absolute lack of taste, and the pure competition that would put Apple on top and take down its main competitor and one-time partner.

So many memories, indeed! But what a coincidence that the last footage of Jobs contained the oldest, least known of all… For his part, he would always remember the talks at the bedside of his dying friend. Because after all those years, he could not consider Steve as anything but his friend. No one had insulted him so much, few had been disappointed and betrayed more than him, and yet their friendship had mysteriously solidified.

Ultimately, Steve knew all too well what he had done. They were settlers, pioneers of a new world, blazing the trail as they went along. He had staked everything on the creation of the new industry standard, through software and network economies tied to operating systems. Jobs, meanwhile, had never ceased to believe in beauty as the infliction that drives a person to explore, and reinvent the future. And many years and countless defeats later, the world seemed to have finally acknowledged that Steve was right.

He certainly had acknowledged that. He saw it every day in his work with the Foundation that he had started with his own money. He saw it in the beauty of the relationship with his wife, his children, and with Steve himself in that brutal final stretch. The same beauty that he had scorned in his products initially; the same beauty that had been present in the joint interview with Steve and him years ago; when Jobs chose to punctuate their friendship by quoting the lyrics of a Beatles song…

“You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”