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Tuesday is the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ passing and industry heavyweights are sharing stories about the late tech guru, with one tidbit from Michael Dell revealing a potential deal that could have reshaped history.
Dell discussed his relationship with Jobs — and his upcoming memoir, “Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader” — in an interview with CNET, saying that he first met the late Apple co-founder at a computer user group. While that information has been public knowledge for some time, Dell expounds on a business offer involving Jobs and Apple that has not been previously reported.
According to Dell, he became friends with Jobs in the years after he solidified his company’s position as a leader in the PC industry. In 1993, Dell said that Jobs visited his house in Texas multiple times to pitch adoption of the Next operating system. Jobs created NeXT after being ousted from Apple, but the expensive workstation and its revolutionary operating system were not seeing the commercial success he expected.
Dell declined the overtures citing a lack of software and consumer interest.
Jobs tried again in 1997 when he returned to Apple as interim CEO after the struggling computer firm acquired NeXT, asking Dell to license a version of Mac OS that was built on NeXT’s Mach software. At the time, Apple engineers had ported the OS onto an x86 machine.
“He said, look at this — we’ve got this Dell desktop and it’s running Mac OS,” Dell said of the pitch. “Why don’t you license the Mac OS?”
Dell was interested and said he would pay a licensing fee for every PC sold with Mac OS, but Jobs was concerned that the strategy would eat into Apple’s Mac sales. Countering, Jobs proposed installing Mac OS and Windows side-by-side on all Dell computers, allowing customers to choose which system to use. Dell would pay Apple a cut of all computer sales for the privilege.
The proposal didn’t make sense for Dell, who notes that he would have to pay Apple licensing fees even if his customers didn’t use Mac OS. Further, Jobs was unable to guarantee continued access to the software.
“It could have changed the trajectory for Windows and Mac OS on PCs,” Dell said. “But obviously, they went in a different direction.”
Jobs and Dell were rivals in a cutthroat sector and sometimes traded barbs in open discourse. For example, when asked what he would do with a then-underwater Apple, Dell in 1997 said he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”
Despite the public jabs and intense competition, the pair remained friends, Dell said.