It’s an irresistible comparison. At first glance, Jobs benefits enormously from the comparison. A charismatic design visionary, he built two great companies with great products. The Apple II, the Mac, the iPod, the iPad, the iStore, the iPhone, and Pixar films enrich our lives. Gates forms an almost comically anti-charismatic and corporate contrast to Jobs’ rebellious genius. Gates built a great company by developing and selling undeniably useful, generally less original or beautiful products.
Still, in my book, Gates wins by a mile. To understate things, Jobs was a mercurial and difficult man. To paraphrase George Steiner’s take on Albert Einstein, the bright light of Jobs’ genius cast its shadows on many surrounding lives.
More to the point, Gates has used his huge wealth to save literally millions of lives and to attack America’s tremendous difficulties in our education system. He’s done so in an admirable, evidence-based way that has altered the fields of philanthropy and global health. Perhaps Jobs might have done the same, had he been granted a few more creative decades on this earth. In what we got the chance to actually see, Gates was the more visionary figure in this domain.
The New Yorker’s Barry Blitt paid tribute with an inspired and touching cover of Steve Jobs at the pearly gates, with Saint Peter referencing Jobs’ records on an iPad. When Bill Gates’ own time comes to pass, St. Peter may not have access to an equivalently inspired Microsoft product. Then again, Saint Peter will have less reason to look things up. I’m told that God cares a lot more about the new malaria vaccines than he does about the iTunes store.