Microsoft's bitter billionaire: Steve Jobs is a monomaniac

Apple boss Jobs actually comes out pretty well from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's latest broadside - unlike Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 22 Jul 2011
Captains of industry don't often describe their contemporaries as monomaniacal, but that was the word (meaning ‘pathological obsession with one idea or subject’, the dictionary informs us) chosen by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen this weekend to describe Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ single-minded focus on consumer experience - and as far as we can tell, he meant it as a compliment. Allen also lambasted his old company for a ‘decade of missed opportunities’, during which it has failed to innovate as quickly as competitors like Apple, ‘the ultimate auteur company’, Google or Facebook. Although that's not to say he's a massive Google fan...

Allen’s an interesting character: known as the ‘bitter billionaire’ after a long-running dispute with Bill Gates over his share allocation (despite the fact that he’s worth an estimated £8bn), he’s also highly guarded – according to the rare interview in the Sunday Times, guests to his parties (many of which are aboard his 414ft, seven-storey yacht) even have to sign non-disclosure agreements. However, he has some memoirs to flog - and having already come out with some headline-friendly Gates-bashing, it's perhaps no wonder he was happy to talk about rivals. Microsoft and Apple may have never been the best of friends – but he still described it as a ‘flagship company’. ‘Everybody takes their hats off to Steve’, said Allen.

But he was less complimentary about another of Microsoft's big rivals, Google. Allen was damning of the company’s ‘don’t be evil’ mission statement, which he suggested had been flagrantly ignored on various occasions - like the time its Street View camera cars ‘accidentally’ stole the usernames and passwords of houses it passed, or the time it revealed Gmail users’ private contact lists. What really seems to rile Allen is Google pretending to be something it isn't. ‘If your default is to push the boundaries, to just go for it and get pushed back, don’t say you’re not evil’.

As Allen makes clear, technology's a tough industry - you're only as good as your last product, and if you fail to keep up with the pace of change, today's front-runners can very quickly become tomorrow's back-markers. Take Nintendo; it forged ahead in the games console market thanks to the huge success of the Wii, but in the last year or two it has been hauled back by competitors like Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Kinect. Nintendo's profit for the year to the end of March fell by more than half; it's now banking on its new its handheld 3DS device, released in February, to shore up its profits in the next year. Time for a bit more monomania, perhaps...

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