Gates vs Jobs: Who's the Innovator?

5 reasons Bill Gates is more innovative than Steve Jobs.

Opinion by Tana Kantor, Publisher of 

I often hear corporate executives using Steve Jobs as an example of innovation. Many of our interns are dedicated Mac fans, having bought them at student discounts.  But I believe Bill Gates is the model for the way innovation is evolving to meet the needs of a changing energy, water and transportation landscape.

  1. Millionaires
    I personally know Microsoft millionaires.  There’s an alumnae club where employees and ex-employees network with each other and purchase Microsoft products at reduced prices.  I know of no Apple millionaires in similar jobs.  Apple boasts their billions in reserved cash, but doesn’t appear to spread that among the folks that make their success possible.
  2. Systems vs. Commodities
    Microsoft built a system and let everyone tap into it.  Apple builds commodities that don’t play well with others, and must be constantly ever newer or no one will buy them. iTunes was their most brilliant product: it is a never ending revenue stream that has made music accessible to anyone. Microsoft created an operating system that dominates the PC market, continuing to drive business.
  3. Collaboration
    The Windows operating system has enabled a level of collaboration that is unprecedented. That system has spawned thousands of hardware and software companies, creating wealth across the country. While the roll outs are often flawed, the system is extremely complex because it integrates so many 3rd party products. Apple may have created a market for personal devices, but the lack of collaboration has reduced their market share to under 50% of the market they created—tablets--and around 20% of Smartphone market.   
  4. Competition
    Microsoft’s systems have made competition possible on a grand scale, which has brought down prices for PCs and peripherals such as printers, headsets, cameras and more. Small businesses, with the exception of some media firms, buy PCs because they can afford them.  $1,200 can buy three excellent PCs, or one Mac.
  5. Problem Solving
    Bill Gates' foundation is working on solving some of the systemic problems in the world. Between his and Buffet’s billions, they have built a nonprofit that runs like a business: hard research, accountability and a focus on results. “What’s the problem and how do we solve it” has driven innovation in the Gates’ world, while "Figure out what they want and give it to them” the Jobs' approach. 

There are mistakes. Vista was a mistake. Not supporting XP a bigger one, although Microsoft is apparently supporting XP in the military. Their internet browser was a poor competitor, as Microsoft now admits. Both companies are ruthless competitors. But that spirit of innovation as collaboration--rather than the lone cowboy--is what is needed to reinvigorate the green economy. Jobs may be the hero for Facebook, Twitter and Dell, but Gates is the hero for those like Elon Musk, who are creating clean energy at scale, smart transportation and the future of our crumbling water infrastructure. We predict that Microsoft will still be influencing how we do work after Apple is on display at MOMA, known for inventing things that others eventually do better.