Bill Gates Loses His Cool

As someone who has been following the Apple/Microsoft relationship for almost twenty years, this week offered a real first for me – Bill Gates losing his cool in the face of relentless questions about Microsoft Vista vs. Apple Mac OS X.

It starts with this Newsweek interview with Bill Gates about the launch of Vista.

There is no doubt that Bill comes off suprisingly snippy and defensive, and a few blogs have picked up on this. For example, the Open Sources blog at Infoworld had a few things to say about it.

Here is an example of Bill being overly riled up about some fairly run-of-the-mill questioning:

In many of the Vista reviews, even the positive ones, people note that some Vista features are already in the Mac operating system.

You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first, if you care about the facts. If you just want to say, “Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along,” that’s fine. If you’re interested, [Vista development chief] Jim Allchin will be glad to educate you feature by feature what the truth is. I mean, it�s fascinating, maybe we shouldn’t have showed so publicly the stuff we were doing, because we knew how long the new security base was going to take us to get done. Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine. So, yes, it took us longer, and they had what we were doing, user interface-wise. Let’s be realistic, who came up with [the] file, edit, view, help [menu bar]? Do you want to go back to the original Mac and think about where those interface concepts came from?

Hiss.  Down Kitty. I have never seen Bill Gates lose his cool like this, certainly not in print. Maybe it’s because Microsoft has been kicked around too long about Vista, and he’s taking it personally. Maybe it’s because, after a while, you’re tired of the guy with 5% market share getting all the adulation when you’re the guy who really won the fight.

Usually, the rule of thumb for PR is to not even acknowledge the second place player. If you do, you almost want to be overly welcoming, showing that you are not threatened at all by the challenger. It’s almost like you want to treat them like a kid brother trying to challenge you to a race. You should be empathetic, just shy of condescending, as if you understand their desire to win, and you want them to be happy, but you know there is no chance of them winning.

Arnold Schwarzenegger did this exactly right during the 2006 California Gubernatorial race to Phil Angelides during the debates.

Bill is normally far more statesmanlike with the press, and measured in his responses. He normally handles Apple questions with aplomb and diplomacy.

Maybe he’s feeling the end of his life in software coming up fast (2008) as he moves to a purely philanthropic role, and he doesn’t like the tenor of the market as he exits. Maybe he genuinely wanted to go out on top, with the Xbox 360, Zune, Vista and Live growing to dominate new markets. Instead, he’s faced with the Nintendo Wii, Apple iPod, Mac OS X, and Google getting all the limelight.

Maybe he’s taking the new Apple commercials just a little too seriously?  (I personally like the new ones up on Apple’s Website.  The imposter one is just too funny.)  Maybe he’s upset because iTunes is still not Vista compatible, and people actually care?

I don’t know, but somehow it makes me feel sad.  Despite my affinity for Apple products, I have a lot of respect for Bill Gates, and somehow this type of weakness on public display is just a downer.

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