Apple forbidden fruit in Gates household

Posted: March 3, 2009 in society
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Microsoft founder Bill Gates has banned iPods and iPhones from his household, the software billionaire’s wife, Melinda, has revealed.

The rivalry between Microsoft and Apple, and Gates and Apple founder Steve Jobs, is legendary, but the pair have made valiant efforts to conceal any animosity. A rare public appearance together at a conference in 2007 was described by journalists as a “love fest”.

But behind the scenes, Apple is the forbidden fruit in Microsoft quarters.

“There are very few things that are on the banned list in our household. But iPods and iPhones are two things we don’t get for our kids,” Melinda Gates said in a recent interview with Vogue.

But the rule has evidently been difficult to follow for Gates now that the Apple wundergadgets are the talk of the town.

“Every now and then I look at my friends and say, ‘Ooh, I wouldn’t mind having that iPhone,’ ” she said.

Melinda Gates, 44, is the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organisation with about $US35 billion in assets. The Vogue interview centred on her efforts to enhance global health care and to reduce extreme poverty.

The couple have three children, Jennifer, 12, Rory, 9 and Phoebe, 6.

Gates’s no-iPod rule probably has nothing to do with the quality of the product. In a rare comment on the iconic music player, Newsweek reporter Steven Levy revealed that, when he showed Gates the iPod for the first time in 2001, before it was released, Gates said: “It looks like a great product.”

Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who has taken over the day-to-day running of Microsoft now that Gates has stepped back to focus on philanthropy, also forbids the use of iPods in his household.

In 2006, asked by Fortune whether he had an iPod, Ballmer said: “No, I do not. Nor do my children … I’ve got my kids brainwashed: you don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”

At Microsoft’s headquarters for its Zune music players, which have not yet been released in Australia and have struggled to dent the iPod’s market share in the US, an “iPod Amnesty Bin” invites people to throw away their iPods. The bin features a picture of an Apple with bites taken out of it above the tagline “bite me”.

But any rivalry from Microsoft’s side has been outweighed by Apple’s highly successful “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” advertising campaign, which has relentlessly bashed the Windows-based PC since 2006, labelling it boring, bland and uncool.

Microsoft fought back last year with an “I’m a PC” campaign featuring celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld but the ads were criticised for not doing enough to mention Microsoft and Windows.

Research shows Apple’s campaign did lasting damage to Microsoft’s brand and framed the public perception of the PC. A ranking of global brands by CoreBrand, released last year, showed Microsoft slipping from 11th in 2004 to 59th in 2007.

But if there was any love lost between Jobs and Gates, that was far from evident when the pair appeared together for the first time in 10 years at a US conference in 2007.

“What Steve has done is quite phenomenal,” Gates said, commending him for taking risks and producing products with “incredible taste and elegance”.

“Bill built the first software company in the industry,” said Jobs. “Bill focused on software before anyone.”

The pair traded compliments several times during the 90-minute joint interview. When asked for the greatest misunderstanding about their relationship, Jobs joked: “We’ve kept our marriage secret for over a decade now.”

Check out the funny Melinda Gates “Dirty Secrets” spoof on the UKMac site.

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