June 21 - 30: Bill Gates Offers To Help License Mac OS
Published September 23rd, 2004

[Authors Note: Owen and I are still behind in this series, but are working hard to catch up - Bryan]

This week, we have one of our favorite stories about Apple, especially from the early days of the Mac. It was this week in 1985 that Bill Gates, the very same Bill Gates that heads Microsoft, tried to get Apple to license the Mac OS to third party vendors. Not only did he try to get Apple to do so, he actually went out and lined up prospective licensees for Apple, going directly to the head of some of the biggest players in the computing industry at the time. When initially ignored by Apple CEO John Sculley, Mr. Gates continued his efforts to help Apple set his plan in motion by trying to keep communications open between the prospective parties.

Now, there are many valid arguments both for and against Apple licensing the Mac OS. For instance, it's a fact that the Mac experience is as good as it is in part because Apple controls both the hardware and the software. On the other hand, the Mac's market share is very limited simply because there are no forces to bring the cost of Mac hardware down, an issue that affects the corporate market more than the consumer market. Endless iterations of these arguments have (and do) rung back and forth in the ranks of tech watchers throughout the ages, and there may well not be a right or wrong answer in this issue.

That's not the point about Mr. Gates' efforts, however, as the real story in this is about our perceptions of the head of Microsoft. Many Mac fans tend to look at Mr. Gates as the root of all evil who has always been out to spread his inferior technology to all corners of the world, and to control various markets in the process.

While these accusations have their place, the reality is that at one time, Mr. Gates was the biggest Mac fan around. If you read his letter to then-CEO John Sculley, which you can find in Apple Confidential 2.0, you will see that Mr. Gates wanted to spread the Mac OS, to make it more widely used, so that his company could profit from selling software for this new GUI-based operating system.

Things may have changed in the intervening 19 years, but we find this little-known story from Apple's history as a fascinating one, and something that raises a lot of "what ifs."

There's more from this week in Apple history, though.

It was this week in 1993 that Sharp got the golden master of the Newton OS to start ramping up production of its own, licensed version of the Newton.

Speaking of cloning, it was this week in 1997 that Power Computing filed to go public. This was, of course, shortly before Apple pulled the rug out from under its partner by ending Mac OS licensing.

Lastly, it was this week in 2003 that Apple crossed the 2 GHz speed barrier with the first Power Mac G5.

You can find more information on many of the entries below in Owen Linzmayer's excellent Apple Confidential 2.0. The other entries can be found in TMO's archives, and we link to articles whenever we can.

June 21-30

1985: In a remarkably prescient letter to Apple CEO John Sculley, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates urges Apple to license Macintosh technology or suffer the fate of marginalization. "The industry has reached the point where it is now impossible for Apple to create a standard out of their innovative technology without support from, and the resulting credibility of other personal computer manufacturers. Thus, Apple must open the Macintosh architecture to have the independent support required to gain momentum and establish a standard," argues Gates. Despite offering to help broker licensing deals, Gates received no reply from Sculley. It would be almost a decade later before Apple would officially license the Mac, but by that time Gates' predictions had come true and Apple was struggling to hold on to its single-digit market share.

1986: The Shoreline Amphitheater opens in Mountain View, California. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak invested $3 million in legendary rock promoter Bill Graham's $19 million venue, despite having lost untold millions with the two US Festivals produced by Graham in the early 1980s.

1993: Electronics manufacturer Sharp gets the "golden master" -- the final (hopefully bug-free) version of a product under development -- of the Newton MessagePad software, allowing the company to ramp up production. Whereas Apple had been widely criticized for not licensing the Macintosh, Apple decided to follow a different path for its PDA, and Sharp was the first licensee. Sharp helped engineer and manufacture the MessagePad, and would eventually market a slightly modified version as the Sharp ExpertPad.

1994: Less than eight months after resigning as Apple's chairman of the board, John Sculley is retained as a consultant for Eastman Kodak. Sculley's quarter-time contract calls for him to serve as a "marketing advisor to assist Kodak in building its digital imaging and brand marketing strategies."

1997: Power Computing, the first legal Macintosh clone manufacturer, files an S-1 with the SEC, the first step towards an initial public offering. On the strength of churning out more powerful computers than Apple, the firm had become the fastest-growing PC company of the 1990s, with 10 percent of the Mac market.

In an unrelated event, someone sold 1.5 million shares of Apple stock for roughly $15 apiece. Many speculated that Steve Jobs, then an Apple advisor, had dumped the shares he received when Apple bought NeXT the previous year. After initially refusing to comment, Jobs finally admitted two months later that he had "pretty much given up hope that the Apple board was going to do anything," and thus had divested the stock.

2002: Dan Case, a venture capitalist and former CEO of the investment banking firm Hambrecht & Quist, dies of brain cancer at age 44. Case helped take Apple public in 1980, and H&Q's client list included some of the biggest names in the Internet boom, including Adobe, Amazon.com, and Netscape. Case was also a board member of Steve Jobs' NeXT Computer, and older brother of Steve Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner.

2003: Apple unleashes a flurry of new products at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, including the dual 2.0 GHz Power Mac G5 (the world's first 64-bit desktop and arguably the world's fastest PC), iSight (an elegant FireWire webcam), iChat AV (a simple instant messaging and audio/video conferencing application), and Safari 1.0 (a new browser available exclusively for Mac OS X).