Nov 10

The day Steve Jobs was wrong


It happened in 1997. Can’t quite remember exactly when or where. It doesn’t show up on Google, so I’m thinking it came at some internal Apple event or agency meeting.

Though some details are hazy, I remember Steve Jobs’ words precisely, because they were sober and stinging: “The battle for the desktop is over. And we lost.” *

Of course, he wasn’t tossing in the towel. He was simply trying to dispel the “beat Microsoft” mentality that still lingered in the Cupertino halls. What Apple needed more than anything was to be Apple again.

He compared Apple to BMW, which owned less than 5% of the world’s car market, but was still one of the world’s great brands. This was Steve’s vision: to cede quantity, but stun the world with quality and innovation.

Flash forward about 13 years and we find that the vision wasn’t exactly 20/20. It turns out that the desktop war wasn’t lost — it simply became irrelevant.

Technically speaking, the desktop war remains lost. Microsoft continues to own about 90% of it. Yet Apple is the most valuable technology company on the planet, and Microsoft now fights off the perception that it’s on the oblivion express. A thought that was unthinkable just a year or two ago.

Microsoft hauls in the cash with Windows 7, but plays second fiddle to Apple in music players, smartphones and tablets — consumer technologies that are all changing the face of business.

Funny, you don’t hear people talking about how Apple lost the desktop wars anymore. Certainly not Steve.

* At Macworld Boston in 1997, Steve did say “Microsoft won. The OS wars are over.” Close enough.

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  • BDD

    He brought this statement up at the AllThingsD conference when he shared the stage with Bill Gates in 2007, stating that Apple had to remember who APPLE was. This was Steve’s defining strategy for Apple when he returned, above all. This was the value that they subscribed to, and it worked out immensely to their benefit. Put this statement into question form, and you’ll find that everything Apple does is always reflected in this one value.

  • rd

    Installed base is meaningless unless you
    can monetize it every month like
    the cell phone or Google ad business.
    That is why microsoft is busy trying
    to sell cloud to their customers.

    If people don’t upgrade to latest software
    than power of Microsoft is lost.

    This is state of desktop business even
    Off the Shelf Software business is not growing.
    Like Larry Ellison said computer business is
    like a fashion business everything is dependent
    of buzz and cyclical trends where old tech
    is repacked as new to sell to the unsuspected.

  • ChuckO

    Gawker liked your post (not in the Facebook sense) in case you didn’t know.


  • Not only has Steve stopped saying they lost the desktop, he’s wondering aloud if maybe they can get it back. Check out the last paragraph:


  • Tom B

    I wouldn’t write off the desktop war, either. Apple continues to slowly making gains there. Given that every who tries the Mac never settles for Windows again, and that Windows itself has pretty much stagnated technologically under Ballmer, I think we are approaching a “tipping point”.

  • thegreatwhiteIhope

    Hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up that your quote “Microsoft won. The OS wars are over” doesn’t seem to appear in Steve Jobs 1997 MacWorld event, or at least I didn’t hear it. However in Feb 1996, Steve was quoted as saying “The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”, I think that’s the one that you were looking for.

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