The Biggest Apple vs. Microsoft Disputes You Should Know About

It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Apple and Microsoft are constantly at arms with each other. In fact, Apple vs Microsoft is arguably the biggest brand bust up so far.

The bust-up is strange, though; so strange that Jobs and Gates were in fact friends that respected each other immensely until the Apple CEOs unfortunate end in 2011, yet their brands have been arguing with one another for the better part of 30 years at this point.

It’s unlikely the tension between these two tech giants will ever subside completely, but let’s get caught up on the bigger disputes they’ve had throughout the years.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Consulting Together
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – image Credit: Leandro/Flickr

1985: Microsoft sneaks into an Apple-dominated industry, then copies their “ideas”

Microsoft launched rather silently, back in November 1985 becoming the second GUI-based operating system on the market at the time. If you guessed Apple to be the other GUI manufacturer, treat yourself to a shiny macintosh apple from the fridge! GUIs weren’t heavily trusted at the time, but Mac had the corner on the portion of the market that wasn’t elbow deep in endless batch files and command line entries at the time.

Microsoft detractors at the time took one look at Windows 1.1 and proclaimed the tech developer would never, ever surpass the Mac. Plenty went on between Microsoft’s early release and the 1988 release of Windows 2.0 — a release that triggered the first official lawsuit from Apple.

The suit, which Apple lost a year later, accused Microsoft of updating their bland first release with Apple’s “patented” display windows in the second version (a judge dismissed the suit saying Apple’s displays were “ideas” and ideas couldn’t be patented).

Strangely, Microsoft had obtained these ideas as a result of an agreement made years earlier by Apple CEO John Scully (ie., the man who ousted Jobs from Apple for over 20 years) and Bill Gates, which made the company mutually beneficial dance partners in bringing Word and the early version of Excel (MultiPlan) to Mac users.

This was one of the biggest disputes between the two to ever take place, as the two tech companies had worked together rather closely to this point since Gates and Jobs met in the 70s, and the lawsuit put a wedge in between the two. Jobs wasn’t a part of Apple at this point in time, after being ousted earlier in the year for insisting the company lower its prices to revamp dwindling sales of their products.

Steve Jobs in 1995
Steve Jobs – photo credit: YouTube

1995: Apple issues billion-dollar suit, Gates threatens to end Microsoft Office for Macs

This time around, Apple had a great argument for their newest lawsuit which included Microsoft, Intel Corporation, and a software developer Apple and Microsoft had each used called San Francisco Canyon. San Francisco Canyon had been tasked with porting its QuickTime media player technology to work with Windows. A year later in 1993, Intel Corporation hired the same firm to improve on Microsoft’s Video for Windows media player, which Microsoft would then license from Intel.

Apple sued all three companies, stating there was thousands of lines of code included in the Microsoft driver software that was built when San Francisco Canyon was working for them (Apple). In the end, despite the hooplah and potential monetary consequences to Microsoft, a judge halted the release of the offending software from Windows until the Apple code was removed.

Microsoft threw a dig at Apple after changing the code, stating in the new release notes for the new version that Video for Windows “did not include the low-level driver code that was previously licensed from Intel” (which people in the ‘know’ understood to be Apple’s code!)

During this same time, Microsoft controlled approximately 85% of the market and started to dig its heels into the back of Apple, using their reputation to not just squash Apple’s lawsuit-happy legal department, but also segment themselves completely as the preferred operating system in the world.

Bill Gates and Windows 95
Bill Gates and Windows 95 – photo credit:

1995: Microsoft wants it all, and they want it now!

Apple had a number of suits circulating around Microsoft and the various developers it used at this time. In the hilarity that ensued after the Microsoft for Video code theft scandal, Microsoft punched back by releasing Windows 95 without releasing any beta versions to Apple developers. This was an issue for a few key reasons:

  • Both companies, as the top GUIs on the market, traded information about their products so their software would work with each other’s operating system, an ability that was essential to consumer preferences and each company’s proprietary software sales.
  • Apple’s success was waning, and they were fighting (and suing) tooth and nail to hang on to their 15% market share.
  • It showed Apple that Microsoft had their sights set on pushing them completely out of the operating system war, rather than working with them to benefit each other.

Microsoft basically said that they made a habit of releasing betas only to software companies that can offer input to improve the product, and to those whose livelihoods depend on Window’s software products. Their position was that neither applied to Apple and their developers. Microsoft tried to hold them hostage by demanding they cancel all lawsuits and cease development on a major competing program Apple was creating called OpenDoc.

This dispute ended abruptly when Steve Jobs returned to the helm of Apple, when the company was rumoured to be just days away from bankruptcy. Apple withdrew its lawsuits, Microsoft purchased $150-million in non-voting stock from the company (saving it). It’s also rumoured they also privately paid Apple $100-million for previous infringements on the company’s copyrights, though this isn’t official public information.

Steve Jobs and iPhone
Steve Jobs and iPhone 4 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

1997 and beyond: Apple separates itself from the desktop battle

This was right around the time the tech bubble burst back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Microsoft suffered a decline in sales in the dark years between Windows 98 and the beginnings of the brand’s resurgence with the bug-riddled Vista. Apple, under the guidance of Jobs, began to craft and create a brand new area of tech with their trendy iMac lineup, the innovative iTunes and iPod platform, one of a kind iPhones, and other products that allowed them to get out from underneath the clutches of Microsoft.

Modern day Microsoft has received a lot of praise for Windows 10 and how well it renders on PCs, laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices. However, it’s widely accepted they’ll never hold a candle to the popularity of iTunes; the loyal consumer preferences toward iMacs in the art industry as a whole; or the popularity of Apple’s lineup of mobile smart devices.

While the two are now still competitors, each has a certain exclusivity in their product offerings that effectively insulate them from each other and other emerging competitors in the market. This means that while the disputes will still continue, the major battles from the days of old will be the ones we remember the most.