Iconic tech journalist Walt Mossberg is about to retire. In his last hurrah, he appeared on stage at Vox Media’s Code Conference on Wednesday and recounted stories about Steve Job and Bill Gates.
Mossberg was interviewed by former improv comic and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (currently CEO of his stealth startup Chorus), who was hilarious.
Mossberg grew to fame and fortune through his Personal Tech column for The Wall Street Journal, where he made technology understandable for the average person. Over the years, he reviewed many a PC and device from Apple and from Microsoft. And along the way, he received many a post-column personal phone call from Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.
Costolo teased out several stories about Jobs and Gates from Mossberg onstage Wednesday. For instance, there was a point in the late 1990s, right before Jobs came back to lead Apple, that Apple was 90 days away from bankruptcy and was in talks to sell itself to Sun Microsystems.
Mossberg wrote a column that he described as an “obituary for Apple.” In it, he said that Gates had outfoxed Jobs, and that even though “Steve made boulder leaps in tech, Bill was a better business guy.”
Sure enough, the morning after the column published, Mossberg got a phone call from Gates. He was irate.
“I’m just a business guy?” Gates said, according to Mossberg. “I’m sick and tired of Steve being the tech guy and I’m the business guy.”
It turns out, this was a characteristic both tech moguls had in common: neither one of them took criticism very well, even minor critiques, according to the stories Mossberg told about them.
Mossberg said Jobs also used to call him after he had reviewed Apple products.
“I’m not calling to complain about the column,” Jobs would say, according to Mossberg. But “then he’d complain about the column,” Mossberg said.
No matter how much Mossberg raved about an Apple product, and recommended people buy it, when Mossberg pointed out its drawbacks (which he did for every product), it seemed to annoy Jobs.
“I think this is unfair,” Jobs would tell him about the things the column critiqued, Mossberg said.
Even so, over time they seemed to listen, Mossberg said. “The tech industry got the memo,” he said, and started making their products something ordinary people could more easily learn to use.