Bill Gates & Steve Jobs once great friends were also big rivals, a popular story about them, lead to the question, Did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs idea? We will narrate the story and answer it now.
There has been a lot of mystery about how GUI came into existence and Did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s Idea of GUI.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were really good friends, they both worked on the Apple II, Lisa, & 1st Mac. The cooperation between Apple and Microsoft lead to their mutual growth for many years.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had been great friends, but there seems to be 1 dark spot in their almost perfect friendship.
It is the Birth of GUI, which for Apple began with Lisa and then the Macintosh, and for Microsoft happened with Windows, unfortunately, the release of Windows turned out to be a huge controversy between the 2, and lead to the question Did Bill Gates Steal from Steve Jobs?
Back in the early 1980s, Microsoft and Apple were still young and unproven, working hard to change the world. Bill Gates built a lot of software for Macintosh and was even present at a Game for Apple Employees before the Mac launch in 1983. They had a strong bond.
Then in 1985, Microsoft released Windows, which was like Mac, based on GUI. Steve Jobs did not like it, he believed Bill Gates was backstabbing. And that leads to Apple and many questioning Bill Gates.
Steve Jobs said “They just ripped us off completely, because Gates has no shame,” when asked about the Windows. No doubt he was furious at Microsoft.
Bill Gates later replied to Steve Jobs’s remarks “If he believes that, he really has entered into one of his own reality distortion fields.”
Incase you are wondering Reality Distortion Field is Steve Jobs ability to Make People Believe in Unreal things
So back to the question we go.
Did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs’s idea? No. The Answer is No, Bill Gates did NOT steal Steve Jobs’s idea. The GUI was first built by Xerox. Steve Jobs used the idea to build Macintosh and later Bill Gates did the same with Windows.
And while we are at it, you should also checkout the meaning of popular Steve Jobs quote “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish”
So let’s understand the entire Story, and give you a detailed explanation about Did bill Gates steal from Steve Jobs.
How it All Started
The world before GUI was really different. The 1980s were the times when IBM lead the Computer Industry. Personal Computers were rare and having access to one was a big achievement.
Many companies were trying to build their own products to leverage the rapidly growing technology industry.
One such company was Xerox.
Yes, the same Xerox company that today we most commonly know for photocopy machines.
They had a place for research and development in Palo Alto, called Palo Alto Research Center (PARC, commonly pronounced as ‘park’).
The Xerox PARC had many amazing developments as the GUI, they also had some other amazing inventions, that we will discuss in a while, but for now, Xerox PARC was a gold mine of technological wonders that no one had ever imagined.
You might be wondering why are we discussing Xerox, when we are disuc
Well, you are right, but have patience, the story of Steve Jobs and Xerox’s Idea is very similar to the story of Bill Gates, and therefore crucial in answering the question, Did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs’s idea.
Steve Jobs got into Xerox PARC and saw their inventions, he was shown GUI, and he was blown away by it.
He headed back to Apple and headed all the teams to develop based on the idea of GUI. Though, Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI was far different from the one of Xerox. Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI was much more useful and had far better features compared to anything of its kind.
Ironically many years later Bill Gates would do the same by being blown away by Macintosh and developing his own GUI, which would lead many to wonder did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea.
The main focus of Apple at that time was on the Apple II computer, as it was highly profitable and selling well.
They feared that the newer machine GUI-based might hurt the sales of Apple II and cause financial problems. Steve Jobs ignored and pushed forward the Steve Jobs idea of GUI. He took over an under-development project at Apple called Macintosh, it was being headed by Jeff Raskin.
This gives rise to another question that we need to answer “Did Steve Jobs steal from Xerox”?
Incase you are interested in technology and development of tech over the years, checkout [History of Tech] Is The Tech Industry Saturated in 2021
Did Steve Jobs steal from Xerox?
The story to did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea goes through the story of did Steve Jobs steal Xerox’s idea. Therefore we must examine both stories.
So, it’s obvious that the GUI was not Steve Jobs’s idea. And Steve Jobs himself got to know about it from Xerox.
But there were many things done by Steve Jobs, and lots of key User Experience things, like Calculator, and having rounded edges along with many other ideas, that distinguished them from Xerox, thus making it the Steve Jobs idea of GUI.
We now know that the first usable GUI was first built by Xerox, and not by Apple.
Even though we are discussing did Bill Gates Steal from Steve Jobs, the story of how Steve Jobs got the GUI will be crucial.
Apple back then was a young company. Xerox was far bigger than Apple financially.
Apple and Xerox had struck a deal, which allowed Xerox to buy shares of Apple at a pre-IPO price, which was $10 per share. In return, Apple’s Macintosh team would get an “open-kimono” tour of Xerox PARC.
Over the 2 visits to Xerox PARC, Steve Jobs and his team were shown the most cutting-edge technologies of all time.
This included the GUI, the Mouse, and a primitive version of the Internet.
This would be one critical argument that makes people believe that Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs idea of GUI, Steve Jobs was allowed to visit the Xerox PARC and was not shown its code implementation and details, Steve Jobs was shown just a brief demo, whereas Bill Gates would have the entire source code of Macintosh with himself for many months (discussed later) which generated suspicion over did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI.
Steve and his team were blown away by what they saw there.
Returning to Apple, they took the next 4 years to build their own version of GUI, which was similar to Xerox in some concepts but had many different things.
It is important to understand that their would be lot of similarities between Bill Gates stealing from Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs stealing from Xerox, therefore it is important that we discuss the entire Xerox story in great detail here itself.
Besides that, there were many subtle things Apple did by themselves too.
So, Steve Jobs was actually allowed by Xerox themselves to visit the Xerox PARC and view all the innovations.
Therefore it was by no means an invasion into their secretive location. Also, he was only given a “demo” of their innovations, and not allowed to take anything back.
This won’t be true for Bill Gates when we discuss Did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI.
This meant, that Steve Jobs did not take back any of the GUI from them, or he did not steal any code of Xerox to be repurposed in the Macintosh.
In fact, all of the GUI from the ground up was built from scratch by the Macintosh team. The development of Mouse and many other parts happened in Apple’s walls.
Some major software and Applications of Macintosh were built by Microsoft, that’s when Bill Gates came into the picture, and the entire controversy of Did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea began
So Steve Jobs was allowed to see GUI/Mouse by Xerox themselves, and the Software of Macintosh was all built by Apple itself meaning there are no chances of direct stealing of code.
For adding more features and programs to the Macintosh, Microsoft came into the picture and developed a Word Processor to ship with the Macintosh, which we shall now discuss, the involvement of Bill Gates in the development of the Macintosh.
That was an era of massive innovations and groundbreaking improvements, the early day of the Golden Age of Apple saw huge leaps every so often.
But, today some believe that Apple has changed and, Apple has Stopped Innovating in 2021?
In those days Bill Gates would have access to details about the implementation and working of Macintosh, and even have the source code of the entire software. This is the key difference between how did Steve Jobs steal Xerox’s Idea, and how Bill Gates stole from Steve Jobs.
Enter Bill Gates in the Macintosh Team
During the days of the development of the Apple II computer, which was Apple’s first fully assembled computer, the main programming was done by Apple’s other co-founder Steve Wozniak (Woz).
Apple required a technology called Floating Point for the Apple II, unfortunately, Woz didn’t know Floating Point. That was the first time Bill Gates came in to help Apple.
Microsoft at the same time had a really good Floating Point BASIC. Apple asked them to help, Bill Gates flew to Steve Jobs, and they spent a couple of days for it, Apple paid them $31,000 for the help.
That was the first involvement of Bill Gates in Apple products.
After that, the partnership and the bond between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs kept getting stronger for few more years, until Windows released and the battle of GUI, led us to the question of Did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI
During the development of Macintosh, Apple needed some great software to bring out the benefits of the GUI and give people a compelling reason to buy the Macintosh.
The Microsoft team built the Excel, PowerPoint, and Mail for the Macintosh, and indeed the Version 1.0 of Microsoft’s best apps was first built for Mac.
While Steve Jobs did many things right in his life, there is one thing he did particularly wrong, learn more about how Steve Jobs was wrong about phone sizes getting to big.
For doing this Microsoft Engineers were given in-depth mission-critical information about Macintosh with a lot of trust in them, however, this trust would be broken when they would fear Microsoft to be misusing it for Windows and would start believing that to stories that claimed Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI.
Apple made a deal to allow Microsoft to write all of the BASIC programmings for Macintosh, in return for an agreement under which Microsoft will not make a version of its Spreadsheet software for the next 2 years.
Microsoft grabbed the deal.
The initial plan to bundle Microsoft Applications with core Macintosh software was dropped, as it would upset other developers. The decision to unbundle Microsoft software was financially beneficial to Microsoft as well. Microsoft Excel was launched for Macintosh at a separate press dinner at New York’s Tavern on the Green.
It was later revealed that during the development of this Sofware, there were more people in Microsoft working for Macintosh, than people in Apple working for Macintosh.
The relationships and bonding between the 2 companies were at an all-time high and it was good for both.
Then came the big Bomb.
So did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs Software?
As we see, Bill Gates just did to Apple, what Steve Jobs did to Xerox.
Steve Jobs saw GUI at Xerox and got inspired to build his own GUI for Macintosh.
Bill Gates saw GUI at Apple and got inspired to build his own GUI for Windows.
Here another crucial piece of information about the situation comes from 2017, Bill Gates did an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit, where when he was asked the question “Did Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea”.
This answer of Bill Gates from Reddit is really a great explanation for it.
He answered, “The main “copying” that went on relative to Steve and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox Parc did in creating graphical interface – it wasn’t just them, but they did the best work. Steve hired Bob Belville, I hired Charles Simonyi. We didn’t violate any IP rights Xerox had, but their work showed the way that led to the Mac and Windows.”
Bill Gates and Microsoft broke no law, there were some lawsuits launched by Apple against Microsoft and Bill Gates, which we will discuss later, but more or less, legally they broke no law, and they never had been proven guilty.
Apple’s argument for how Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of Microsoft was that Microsoft copied the “look and feel” of Macintosh which made them a clone of Macintosh. However, the case was quickly dismissed by the Judiciary.
Other lawsuits, where Microsoft was seriously involved would later be settled outside court in 1997, we will discuss that later, for now, let’s focus on some incidents that cause people to believe this theory of Bill Gates stealing GUI.
If it was so similar then why did people think that Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs software?
Well, because there is more to the story. Unlike Steve Jobs’s visit to Xerox, where Steve Jobs was just shown a demo, Bill Gates was actively involved in the development of the Macintosh.
Steve Jobs himself had made the Macintosh Operating System source code available to Bill Gates. Apple never permitted them to use the Macintosh source code for anything other than developing software applications for the Macintosh user market.
Nevertheless, they still had the code that could probably help them to understand how crucial things functioned in the code of the Macintosh, which could be helpful in development.
Another big incident that grew suspicion over the question of Did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs idea of GUI, was the fact that an Apple employee Andy Hertzfeld had suspected foul play by Microsoft Employees working on Mac. He feared Microsoft Employees to be secretly tried to extract critical information about GUI.
Andy was really crucial for Apple.
During the days of Macintosh development, and engineering Microsoft had many employees closely working with Apple. One such Microsoft employee named Neil had been working on Mac for quite some time, started asking questions about implementations and details about Macintosh that were irrelevant to his work.
He had a really big curiosity over how things were implemented, and the employee would build up his own theories hoping to get confirmation from employees.
His behavior caught the attention of Andy Hertzfeld, according to Andy “Aside from intellectual curiosity, there was no reason to care about the system internals unless you were trying to implement your own version of it”.
He informed Steve Jobs of this incident and suspected Microsoft to be making the clone of Macintosh.
Steve Jobs wasn’t concerned, and he was confident of Microsoft being incapable of doing a similar implementation. He couldn’t in his wildest dreams have imagined a scene where Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea. He trusted them.
A few months later, Microsoft in November 1983 announced a GUI software called Windows with full mouse support.
This made Steve Jobs’s blood boil. He felt backstabbed and why wouldn’t anyone? Steve Jobs had almost all details of Apple’s developments in hands of Microsoft, and Microsoft could have been misusing it against Apple itself.
“Get [Bill] Gates down here immediately. […] He needs to explain this, and it better be good. I want him in this room by tomorrow afternoon, or else!”
Bill Gates answers to “Did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs’s idea”
Bill Gates was relatively calm and more cool handling the whole bombardment of questions from Steve Jobs.
In a meeting with Apple employees, after the Windows launch, Steve Jobs was quite literally firing at Bill Gates.
Bill Gates, when given the chance to speak said, “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
He rightly put forth the statement as an analogy to how Steve Jobs got the GUI himself from Xerox, so Steve Jobs didn’t own it either.
Apple and Microsoft employees both tried to calm down things, and they tried to explain how Bill Gates did not Steal GUI from Apple.
Another major reason Apple was in trouble was because of its foolishness while doing an agreement with Microsoft.
Apple had agreed that Microsoft could not launch any GUI-based software until 1 year after the release of Macintosh.
This agreement happened in 1981, and back then the date for the release of Macintosh was fall 1982, so the dates in the agreement were written accordingly, limiting Microsoft from releasing GUI-based software until 1983 fall.
However, the Macintosh got delayed many times and ended up launching up in January 1984. But the agreement ended in 1983. So, Microsoft was able to release software even before the Mac launch, because of a poorly written agreement.
Apple was Foolish to not get the dates changed and were careless to not keep the initial dates floating which could have taken into account delays in Macintosh.
This further increased tensions in the Apple camp.
The slow sales of Macintosh in 1984 would create fights inside the Apple camp itself, and this controversy would go under the carpet for more than a decade.
Windows 1.0 and Windows 2.0
Born was one of the most talked-about fights among tech CEOs in Silicon Valley.
Steve Jobs would leave Apple in 1985, and start his new company.
He would stay away from Apple for the next 12 years until 1997. His sore relations with Bill Gates would make both of them somewhat diverge their roads.
While Microsoft was busy developing the software and apps for Macintosh, they were also building their own operating system.
Microsoft was also building Windows on the concept of GUI.
Today Windows is an operating system, but back in the day, Windows was not an entire Operating System, it was a Graphical Operational Environment that ran on MS-DOS operating system.
Microsoft had announced their product Windows, in 1983, but it wasn’t shown publically for the next 2 years. Apple didn’t see it as a potential threat until the actual release in 1985.
Here we need to understand what the first Windows actually was. Without a complete understanding of Windows 1.0, it is difficult to explain did Bill Gates Steal Steve Jobs’s idea.
This started a chain of events that resulted in a competitive feud between the two tech companies that spurred years of back-and-forth insults until things improved again in 1997.
This was all spiced up by the lawsuits that Apple started with the birth of Windows 2.
In 1985 Macintosh was somewhat establishing its name in the industry. Microsoft was the biggest software developer for Macintosh, and Apple valued it a lot.
This made the then CEO of Apple, John Sculley sign a deal with Microsoft giving them the non-exclusive right to use Apple’s technology in their products. In pressure, John Sculley gave in and signed the deal.
Time passed and Windows 2 came, which showed a striking similarity to Macintosh, which made the Apple crew suspicious.
And resulted in many lawsuits being initiated by Apple in the late 1980s, to protect their Macintosh.
The public bad-mouthing of Bill Gates, and many other lawsuits made people believe Bill Gates stole Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI.
Regardless, things don’t end up like this.
After almost decades of being under the carpet, old books were reopened, and a friendship was restored.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Reunite
Apple camp always kept believing the fact that Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI, and Microsoft camp kept believing that Bill Gates did not steal GUI from Apple.
But even during these times, Microsoft kept developing software and releasing new versions of their Office applications for Apple products.
The cooperation between the 2 companies still existed, even when many lawsuits were being fought.
While the case of Microsoft copying “Look and Feel” of Macintosh was dismissed. This finished all allegations about Bill Gates stealing Apple’s Idea of GUI. Many cases were still unsolved.
Some were quite deep, and Apple was likely to win many,
But unfortunately for Apple, the mismanagement of John Sculley and many CEOs after that had brought Apple was not in great condition
Declining sales, incompetent software, and no new ideas made them look out of the box. Many Apple employees recall that knew Apple was lacking the “Steve Jobs magic”
Steve Jobs meanwhile, was busy with 2 companies NeXT and Pixar. Pixar, a part of Disney, was doing good, but Steve Jobs at NeXT was struggling too. NeXT lacked sales, though their product was great.
They had really great software but couldn’t manage to sell it well.
Apple showed interest in NeXT’s NeXTSTEP software and ended up buying them. This brought Steve Jobs back to Apple.
The then CEO Gill Amelio really valued Steve Jobs’s opinion, and soon Steve Jobs was seen moving across the Office and made everyone aware of his presence.
But things weren’t normal, Apple was 90 days from Bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Microsoft was a big company now, they were the market leaders, and as GUI became popular, the dominance of IBM was dissolved.
Microsoft was doing really well. Many Windows versions later, they were really unique and had become an independent operating system. Windows and Intel relations were in the early stages.
At the same time, they also feared the growing opinion of Microsoft’s anti-competitive behavior, which was meant to prevent any other company to grow up to the level of Microsoft.
Bill Gates recalls Microsoft be negotiating some deals with Gil Amelio, he was trying to call Gil on a weekend, and then he received a call from Steve Jobs, where he said, “Don’t worry about that negotiation with Gil Amelio, you can just talk to me now.” A bit surprised as he obviously was, he was happy to see Steve back at Apple.
Steve Jobs approached Microsoft, a deal was made, that would make Apple withdraw all pending court cases, which would have been worth in Billions, when they concluded, (Apple did not have time to wait), in return for Microsoft investing $150 Million in Apple.
This saved Apple from Bankruptcy, and gave them time to fine-tune their company making themselves profitable, for Microsoft this $150 Million saved them Billions that they would have paid once those court cases concluded. Microsoft had invested in a “rival” company, this silenced the people who were accusing them of anti-competitive behavior too.
It was a win-win for both.
And it rebuilt the friendship between the 2 legends, which had been destroyed due to a misbelief that Bill Gates stole Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI for Windows.
In the end, there were mistakes made by both sides.
A great friendship and cooperation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the early 80s became sour due to a belief that Bill Gates steal Steve Jobs GUI.
While courts concluded Microsoft to be innocent, a lot of cases were closed due to deals made outside court in 1997.
Steve Jobs did to Xerox, what Bill Gates did to Apple.
The striking similarity in both cases really explains why Bill Gates did nothing wrong.
In short, Bill Gates did not steal Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI.
Though we cannot say Steve Jobs was the only one to be blamed. Bill Gates has some potential wrongdoings too in my opinion.
Overall Steve Jobs trusted Bill Gates when in 1983 he was told, that Microsoft could potentially be building a Macintosh lookalike.
It would have been harsh for Apple to see some-what breaking of trust by their best friends.
Steve Jobs was too harsh in considering and believing Bill Gates stole Steve Jobs’s idea of GUI. Steve Jobs blamed Bill Gates for launching Windows before Macintosh, even though it was Apple’s careless Policymaking to blame. Steve Jobs bad-mouthed Bill Gates publically to the point, where even to this day people believe Bill Gates stole Steve Jobs’s idea.
While Bill Gates, had his employees deliberately try to extract information about Macintosh from Apple employees, Bill Gates could have potentially read and misused the source code and other information available to him. The striking similarity between Windows 2 and Macintosh, was a clear indicator that Bill Gates wanted Windows to match Macintosh in every aspect.
Overall this Friendship remained spotless ever after until death separated Steve Jobs from our lives.
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