Steve Jobs and Bill Gates took the stage together at the D Conference in Carlsbad, California, in what was billed as a historic reunion (the last time they had been interviewed together was by Fortune magazine in 1991 and a lot has happened since then). The reunion lived up to expectations. And at the end of it, all the tech luminaries in the Four Seasons ballroom rose and gave them a standing ovation.
Before their joint appearance, president of Yahoo! News, Scott Moore, who had caught Jobs' solo speech earlier in the day, told me, "Now I know what they mean, when they say that Jobs has 'a reality distortion field' around him. I went into the speech skeptical about the iPhone and iTV... but I walked out determined to get both an iPhone and iTV." Scott was hoping that during their joint appearance, Jobs and Gates would reprise those Apple/PC TV spots. And they sort of did.
"The goal of the commercials," Jobs said tapping into his 'reality distortion field,' "is that the two guys like each other."
"PC guy is great," Jobs continued, dressed in jeans, New Balance sneakers, and a black turtleneck. "Yes," Gates responded wryly, dressed in dark pants, loafers, and a striped shirt. "His mother likes him better."
"PC guy is what makes it all work," Jobs persisted. And they both demurred when Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg asked them if they are still rivals. But when Gates brought up all the people at Microsoft working on the Zune, Jobs, with a big smile on his face, retorted, "We love them because they are all customers."
Nevertheless Esther Dyson told me afterwards: "It was like being the child of divorced parents and seeing your parents get together and speak for the first time in years."
Talking to Steve Jobs after his speech, I got a hot tip on how to be one of the first people to score a new iPhone when they go on sale in June. "Don't go to an Apple store," Jobs told me. "It will be a madhouse there. People will be lined up around the block, sleeping on the sidewalk to get one. Go to an AT&T/Cingular store. Most people don't know that they will be selling them too." Uh, they do now, Steve.
Earlier in the day, I had lunch with biotech entrepreneurs Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki (who earlier this month married Google's Sergey Brin) and whose amazing mother Esther Wojcicki, also at the conference, teaches journalism at Palo Alto High School and has blogged for HuffPost. Anne and Linda are getting ready to launch 23andMe, a biotech company developing new ways for people to make sense of their genetic makeup. In the middle of our conversation, Jeff Swisher, a San Francisco anesthesiologist, offered the informational nugget that redheads need more anesthesia for surgery than blondes or brunettes (one of the world's less trafficked urban myths). Anne and Linda told us that if enough redheads sign up for their service and get geo-mapped, they'll be able to figure out why this happens. And since 23andMe's site is not fully up and running yet, I offered to collect the email addresses of any redheads who want to participate in this genetic exploration. Note: they have to be real redheads.
Incidentally, it was Anne and Linda's company that recently proved beyond a doubt that, as much as they would have liked it, pals Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett are not blood relatives.
At one point, Indian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla joined the discussion and told us that since he was "a data-hound" he wanted his complete genome profile done -- and wanted to get "all the news, good and bad." Indeed, the concern that bad news would lead to insurance companies refusing to cover certain people has led to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act , which passed Congress last month. The law makes it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate based on genetic information. So Gattaca will remain science fiction. At least, for now.
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