Gates urged Apple to make the Macintosh OS a standard

| Friday, February 24th, 2012

It seems that in 1985, a young Bill Gates encouraged then-CEO of Apple John Sculley and Jean Louis Gassée of the Macintosh team to open up the Mac OS as a standard. Microsoft was on the verge of releasing Windows 1.0 as a software bundle, and Gates felt his expertise of having worked closely with computer hardware manufacturers would be wisdom for Apple.

In the memo, archived by Letters of Note, Gates outlines his suggestions.

“Apple should license the Macintosh technology to US and European companies in a way that allows them to go to other companies for manufacturing…. Microsoft is very willing to help Apple implement this strategy. We are familiar with the key manufacturers, their strategies and strengths. We also have a great deal of experience in OEMing system software.”

Apple, considering themselves a hardware company, sold their hardware and software as a complete package, as they do today. Apple did not want to cannibalize sales of it’s high-profit-margin hardware by licensing out the software.

Gates believed that opening up the market for their software by licensing to hardware companies like H-P or Sony would help the Mac OS have a much larger reach in the world. He may have been right. Clearly, it worked very well for Microsoft in the early years of personal computing.

The argument he makes in the letter is compelling. Would it have been best for Apple to have done at the time? Hard to say. By the time Apple did venture out into the “clone” market ten years later, Windows had huge majority share of the computer-using world — Apple had only 7%. For a myriad of reasons, the clone project was a failure, and Jobs canned it upon his return.

The rest is history, and Apple is doing quite well in terms of both hardware and software sales. Though their current strategies — which include the sandboxed iOS and the wall-garden, curated App Stores — are not without their critics, it doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone in Cupertino. Stockholders aren’t complaining either, now that Apple is (ocassionally) the most valuable company in the world.

Source: Letters of Note

Photo credit: The Gadgets

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