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Walter Isaacson: Bill Gates Was 'Conventionally Smarter' Than Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs Bill Gates

First Posted: 11/15/11 11:54 AM ET Updated: 11/16/11 07:36 AM ET

What made Steve Jobs special?

It wasn't the smarts, according to Walter Isaacson, the author of a recent biography of Jobs.

Isaacson argued that another tech titan, Bill Gates, was "conventionally smarter" than Jobs, but lacked the Apple co-founder's artistic instincts. He likened Jobs to two of his other subjects, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, because all three innovators succeeded at marrying "emotion" and "aesthetics" with technology.

"Smart people are a dime a dozen," Isaacson said at a PCMag.com event hosted Monday evening in New York City. "What matters is the ability to think different [...] to think out of the box."

Though Gates' open approach to software clashed with Jobs' quest for complete control over a device and its operating system, Isaacson maintained that the greatest difference between the two men was not philosophical, but personal: Gates lacked the Apple co-founder's artistic inclinations.

"I actually think Bill Gates is conventionally smarter, even though it's a dumb word., but mental processing power -- I've watched him use four different screens, process information, get to the right answer, boom boom boom," said Isaacson. "He didn't have the aesthetic feel or that control freakiness that comes from an artist sensibility that Steve had."

Before his death in October, Jobs leveled similar criticisms at Gates.

"Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology," Jobs said, according to Isaacson’s biography. "He just shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas."

Gates dismissed Jobs' reproaches in an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, maintaining that "none of that bothers me at all" and that Jobs "said a lot of very nice things about me and he said a lot of tough things."

Isaacson recounted a visit Gates paid to Jobs at the end of his life and noted that Jobs' youngest daughter Eve, then 11 years old, didn’t know who Gates was.

While Gates and Jobs eventually acknowledged that both of their approaches had merit, Isaacson noted that Jobs never dropped his grudge against Adobe after its refusal, in 1997, to develop programs for Apple devices.

Not a single mobile device from Apple could run Adobe Flash, a program used to play video and other multimedia, and last week, nineteen months after the iPad's release, Adobe announced that it would cease developing the mobile version of Flash.

“If you’re wondering why last week they [Adobe] gave up on Flash, it’s not because Flash is a spaghetti bowl piece of technology,” said Isaacson. “Steve Jobs was never going to let Flash on any Apple product again like that after in 1997 -- he’s got a long memory -- they said no and Bill Gates said yes."

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