Gates' Legacy Will Loom Larger Than Jobs'

With Bill Gates long gone from Micrsoft and with the news that Jobs is stepping down at least temporarily from the top post at Apple, it's time to consider which of the two will be better remembered by history. I have no doubt that Gates will be long-remembered, while Jobs will most likely be not much more than a footnote.

As I wrote back on June in Computerworld, Gates' greatest legacy may well be his philanthropic work. He founded the world's largest philanthropic organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has already given away at least $26 billion, and that's just a start. And he does it in a way that maximizes effectiveness, without courting publicity. The foundation targets what may be the world's most intractable problems, disease and poverty in the Third World. The work of the foundation isn't geared to getting headlines, but it is saving countless lives.

And even though Gates will never be seen as a great technical innovator, George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research Inc. believes that by establishing Windows and Office as near monopolies, Gates "created tremendous value in the standardization of systems. Because of him, we take it for granted that you can easily share word processing files, spreadsheets and other documents."

As for Jobs, what will be his lasting contributions? He oversaw the creation of very pretty and elegant computers and popularized MP3 players with the iPod. Neither of those are groundbreaking or economy-changing feats.

As for philanthopy, Jobs has so far shown no interest. Gates was a philanthropist long before he retired; Jobs is unlikely to become one at this late date.

The upshot? Gates wrote a big chapter in history; Jobs will be a footnote.

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