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Gladwell: Forget "shameless" Jobs, history will favour Gates

Malcolm Gladwell has stirred up quite the controversy in tech circles with an off-the-cuff remark that history will remember Bill Gates fondly while Steve Jobs slips into obscurity.

Speaking at the Toronto Public Library's Appel Salon last month, the author of The Tipping Point and Outliers likened Gates' charitable work to the German armaments maker Oskar Schindler's famous efforts to save his Jewish workers from the gas chambers during World War II.

Gladwell said that contrary to the current fascinations with the business successes of people like Gates and Jobs, future generations will remember them more for what they gave back to society then for how they went about enriching themselves.

Gates, who stepped down from his role as head of Microsoft several years ago to devote himself to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other charitable and advisory work, will be remembered as a giant among entrepreneurs a few decades from now, according to Gladwell.

Jobs, who is currently revered for co-founding Apple and then returning to the company to rescue it from irrelevance before his death with a series of hugely popular products like the iPhone and iPad, will be largely forgotten, said the author - his full thoughts in the video below.

"So Gates, sure, is the most ruthless capitalist. And then he decides, he wakes up one morning and he says, 'Enough.' And he steps down, he takes his money, takes it off the table ... and I think, I firmly believe that 50 years from now, he will be remembered for his charitable work. No one will even remember what Microsoft is.

"And of the great entrepreneurs of this era, people will have forgotten Steve Jobs. Who's Steve Jobs again?

"But Gates, there will be statues of Gates across the Third World, and people will remember him as the man who ... you know, there's a reasonable shot, because of his money, we will cure malaria."

For all his dismissal of Jobs' legacy, however, Gladwell remains utterly fascinated with him. He spoke at length about the iconic Apple leader at the Toronto Public Library event, far longer than he spent talking about Gates. Here's the main part of what the author said about Jobs:

"Every single idea he ever had came from somebody else. And by the way, he would be the first to say this. ... He would also take credit [for other people's ideas]. He was shameless. ... I say all of these things, [but] he was an extraordinarily brilliant businessman and entrepreneur. He was also a self-promoter on a level that we have rarely seen.

"Think about it, look, all the things that made him a brilliant self-promoter, they overlapped with what made him a great businessman. He was brilliant at understanding the image he wanted to craft for the world.

"What was brilliant about Apple, he understood from the get-go that the key to success in that marketplace was creating a distinctive and powerful and seductive brand. And he was as good as doing that for laptops as he was at doing it for himself.

"Look at the cover, for goodness sake, of the cover of the [Walter Isaacson] biography that was written about him, he designed the cover! Who does that, right? Someone's going to write your biography, and by the way, you can say whatever you want but I want control of the packaging!

"To me the most extraordinary moment in the biography of Jobs ... he's on his deathbed. He's undergoing one last medical procedure and he's shrunken-it's over and he knows it. And they're trying to put an oxygen mask over him.

"And on, I forget, three, four occasions, he refuses the mask because he is unhappy with its design, it's just not elegant enough. He's like, 'Send it away, bring me back [something different].

"That's who he was. Right to the very end, he had a set of standards. If he was going to die, dammit, he's going to die with the right kind of oxygen mask. To him it was like making him send his final emails using Windows."