Yes, Halley's Comet shows up only once every 75 years, and the Red Sox may win the World Series only once every century or so, but to everyone gathered in Carlsbad, California, for veteran tech reporter Walter Mossberg's annual digital schmoozefest, these rare wonders of the world were nothing compared to what was witnessed on stage last night: Bill Gates! Steve Jobs! One stage! Sitting next to each other and answering moderately exciting questions!
But seriously, as the video shows, it was an interesting talk. A few observations:
- Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are rival professionals with tons of mutual respect. They don't hate each other.
- For someone who is arguably the most important single human being in the world of computers and technology, Bill Gates can seem awfully loopy sometimes with regard to what he's interested in seeing technology accomplish.
He might just still be high on the Surface prototype shown at the same conference the day before, but does he really believe that someday our homes will have rooms in which "every vertical and horizontal surface will have a projector so you can put information—you know, your desk could be a surface where you could sit and manipulate things?" Or that, in response to a hilarious audience question basically asking "When can I have a Holodeck?" we'll all be blessed to find that "short of the transporter, most things you see in science fiction are, in the next decade, the kinds of things you'll see. The virtual presence, the virtual worlds . . . movement in space as a way of interacting with a machine" will all show up in the next 10 years?
More evidence to this point can be found in Gates's hokey CES 2007 keynote. I saw it in person, and man, it was weird.
It may seem ridiculous for Popular Science to fault an overly ambitious view of the future (and hey, I'm about as excited about the future and its technology as anyone can be), but coming from a man who actually has the power to shape this future, such pie-in-the-sky visions just don't feel right. Maybe Bill's lived in his super-connected house for too long.
- Jobs's ruminations on the longevity of the PC form factor, as well as the skyrocketing growth in the "post-PC" device category (specialized gadgets with powerful microprocessors like iPods, smartphones and so on) and the "cloud" of Internet services like Google Maps fueling them seems pretty spot on. His trademark insistence on simplicity seems to resonate more than Gates's envisioned forest of devices stuffing our homes and pockets.
But Jobs is still a jerk.
- Many mentions of tech CEOs "betting the company" came up—Apple "betting the company" on the Mac in the 1980s, both Apple and Microsoft "betting the company" on the graphical user interface versus text interfaces (duh), AT&T "betting the company" on IPTV and building digital infrastructure. Maybe Apple and Microsoft (and corporations in general) have simply grown too large and diverse to bet the company on any single idea, but this is something I'd love to see more of, in as extreme a form as possible: $100 billion on R&D!
- Another interesting bet: How much longer can Jobs ride out the black turtleneck and jeans?
- Not only do they not hate each other, but Gates and Jobs might have a bond deeper than anyone may have known. The best part of the interview by far came at the very end, with Jobs summing up their relationship with these words: “I think of most things in life as either a Bob Dylan or a Beatles song, but there's that one line in that one Beatles song ["Two of Us" (!!)], "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead." And that's clearly true here.” So adorable.
All right, enough blabbing. Check out the full interview videos after the jump. —John Mahoney