Steve Jobs wanted Dell to license Mac OS

Posted:
in General Discussion
Tuesday is the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs' passing and industry heavyweights are sharing stories about the late tech guru, with one tidbit from Michael Dell revealing a potential deal that could have reshaped history.

Michael Dell and Steve Jobs


Dell discussed his relationship with Jobs -- and his upcoming memoir, "Play Nice But Win: A CEO's Journey from Founder to Leader" -- in an interview with CNET, saying that he first met the late Apple co-founder at a computer user group. While that information has been public knowledge for some time, Dell expounds on a business offer involving Jobs and Apple that has not been previously reported.

According to Dell, he became friends with Jobs in the years after he solidified his company's position as a leader in the PC industry. In 1993, Dell said that Jobs visited his house in Texas multiple times to pitch adoption of the Next operating system. Jobs created NeXT after being ousted from Apple, but the expensive workstation and its revolutionary operating system were not seeing the commercial success he expected.

Dell declined the overtures citing a lack of software and consumer interest.

Jobs tried again in 1997 when he returned to Apple as interim CEO after the struggling computer firm acquired NeXT, asking Dell to license a version of Mac OS that was built on NeXT's Mach software. At the time, Apple engineers had ported the OS onto an x86 machine.

"He said, look at this -- we've got this Dell desktop and it's running Mac OS," Dell said of the pitch. "Why don't you license the Mac OS?"

Dell was interested and said he would pay a licensing fee for every PC sold with Mac OS, but Jobs was concerned that the strategy would eat into Apple's Mac sales. Countering, Jobs proposed installing Mac OS and Windows side-by-side on all Dell computers, allowing customers to choose which system to use. Dell would pay Apple a cut of all computer sales for the privilege.

The proposal didn't make sense for Dell, who notes that he would have to pay Apple licensing fees even if his customers didn't use Mac OS. Further, Jobs was unable to guarantee continued access to the software.

"It could have changed the trajectory for Windows and Mac OS on PCs," Dell said. "But obviously, they went in a different direction."

Jobs and Dell were rivals in a cutthroat sector and sometimes traded barbs in open discourse. For example, when asked what he would do with a then-underwater Apple, Dell in 1997 said he would "shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."

Despite the public jabs and intense competition, the pair remained friends, Dell said.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 51
    He is just trying to sell its book! Almost the only thing that remains of his company past!

    Do he remember that he said to sell everything on Apple and give back the money to shareholders?

    Did he remember that when Apple surpassed Dell in cap value… Steve Jobs refused to mock him saying: “Things come and go”?

    Cheap marketing action!
    killroywatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 51
    XedXed Posts: 1,432member
    lmasanti said:
    He is just trying to sell its book! Almost the only thing that remains of his company past!
    Of course he is, but that doesn't mean he's lying.

    This bit sounds like Jobs and Dell was prudent not to take the deal.
    Jobs proposed installing Mac OS and Windows side-by-side on all Dell computers, allowing customers to choose which system to use. Dell would pay Apple a cut of all computer sales for the privilege. […] [Dell] would have to pay Apple licensing fees even if his customers didn't use Mac OS. Further, Jobs was unable to guarantee continued access to the software.

    dk49CloudTalkinking editor the gratemike1killroywatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 51
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,063member
    lmasanti said:
    He is just trying to sell its book! Almost the only thing that remains of his company past!

    Do he remember that he said to sell everything on Apple and give back the money to shareholders?

    Did he remember that when Apple surpassed Dell in cap value… Steve Jobs refused to mock him saying: “Things come and go”?

    Cheap marketing action!
    "Do he remember?" Probably, because that's literally discussed in the CNET interview. Have you never seen anyone do a press tour for an autobiography before? What a bizarre comment.
    muthuk_vanalingamCloudTalkinking editor the gratemike1watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 51
    jimh2jimh2 Posts: 401member
    The only other person who can confirm this conversation is dead so there is no need to drag Jobs into his need to sell his book. 

    I'd like to meet 10 people who buy this book and read it. Of course it will be on The NY Times best seller list but by now everyone should know by now that bookstores by this garbage sell a few and return the rest to the publisher where they will be resold to the stores that peddle other non-interesting zero value books and merchandise that cannot be sold in legitimate store. This process does get authors on best seller lists.

    Another thing that happens is the company (Dell) will buy enough of these to give to their employees and this counts as a sale. At least his employees will have some kindling.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 51
    glennhglennh Posts: 56member
    Michael Dell does not need the money from any book sell either today or yesterday. 

    What he says made more sense for Apple but not Dell at that time. Had this happen we could be looking at a different landscape today for both companies and those two founders! 

    Take the story for what it is… just another personal Reminiscence of the genius and relevance of Steve Job.

    RIP… you did change the world including mine for the better! 
    KTRmuthuk_vanalingamgregoriusmkillroy9secondkox2stevenozfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 51
    Fred257Fred257 Posts: 164member
    Thank goodness this never happened.  Apple has refined their hardware to match the software because of this.  Thanks Mr. Dell for making a better decision for humanity, your rejection was absolutely our gain!
    KTRvedelppaJWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 51
    designrdesignr Posts: 677member
    Very believable story. Especially the licensing payment arrangement Jobs proposed. Classic Jobs.

    Good thing it didn't happen though.

    One of the key things that make Apple unique is "the whole widget" thing...the ability to control the hardware and software together. They can make great hardware "sing" better than anyone. This ability would have been very limited with such a licensing arrangement.

    This is one of those fortuitous decisions (in hindsight).

    What's especially amusing is the publicly displayed rivalry and the private friendliness. I mean that photo...that's two guys clearly friendly and at ease with each other. The more public rivalry is a show for the masses.
    muthuk_vanalingamfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 51
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,651member
    designr said:
    Good thing it didn't happen though.

    QFT! 

    Hindsight is 20/20. I can understand how SJ might have been exploring every angle to save apple at that time. And truth be told, in the late 90s, the Mac was in desperate straits. So I get it. 

    But he is (and we are) so dang lucky dell refused. 


    muthuk_vanalingamAlex_Vfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 51
    XedXed Posts: 1,432member
    jimh2 said:
    The only other person who can confirm this conversation is dead so there is no need to drag Jobs into his need to sell his book. 

    I'd like to meet 10 people who buy this book and read it. Of course it will be on The NY Times best seller list but by now everyone should know by now that bookstores by this garbage sell a few and return the rest to the publisher where they will be resold to the stores that peddle other non-interesting zero value books and merchandise that cannot be sold in legitimate store. This process does get authors on best seller lists.

    Another thing that happens is the company (Dell) will buy enough of these to give to their employees and this counts as a sale. At least his employees will have some kindling.
    Geez, man. Dell is a college dropout that started his company in late teens bayk in 1984. He's going to have stories about people who are now deceased. If you have a fucking problem with it then you shouldn't click on links that mention Jobs. Did you also bitch on threads where Tim Cook and Jony Ive recant stories about Jobs on the 10th anniversary of his death? I'm guessing yuo didn't.
    muthuk_vanalingammike1fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 51
    Wait ... I have heard this song before!

    lkrupp
  • Reply 11 of 51
    I don't believe this story.  Jobs was the guy that Killed Mac clones and made OSX upgrades free.  Money grubbing by putting his baby on the beigest of beige boxes just does not seem consistent with his demonstrated record.
    edited October 2021 bloggerblogdk49asdasdwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 51
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,022member
    skingers said:
    I don't believe this story.  Jobs was the guy that Killed Mac clones and made OSX upgrades free.  Money grubbing by putting his baby on the beigest of beige boxes just does not seem consistent with his demonstrated record.
    Vertical integration had burned Steve badly at Next, and the Mac was not in a healthy place; I'm not at all surprised that he was considering licensing options.  The clones didn't work, but a partnership with a major player like Dell would have been a very different proposition.

    And don't forget Steve's own words:
    If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth – and get busy on the next great thing.

    The man changed his mind.

    CloudTalkinmike1tokyojimuJWSCfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 51
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,651member
    crowley said:
    And don't forget Steve's own words:
    If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth – and get busy on the next great thing.

    The man changed his mind.

    How did he change his mind? I think he did pretty much what he said he’d do. He got the Mac back on track with the iMac and then came out with the iPod — the next great thing at that time. 

    The Mac in the late 90s was truly not a great product, but they did manage to milk it for all it was worth. 

    Today there exists a product called Mac, but aside from the name and some cosmetic UI similarities, it’s actually a NeXT computer. 

    Maybe part of the genius of Steve Jobs is that he could tell you exactly what he was going to do, go ahead and do it, and many people are still confused as to what happened. 
    fastasleepthtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 51
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 1,368member
    As described, this sounds like a ploy to first extract some free cash from Dell Windows PC sales, because most Dell customers would’ve ended up paying for the Apple license with their purchase, but opting to use Windows. After that, those that did use MacOS would be future Apple customers after Apple discontinued the licensing deal with Dell. It says right there that Jobs wouldn’t guarantee future licensing. It was a ridiculous offer for a cash grab. 

    When Jobs returned to Apple, they were already licensing MacOS to third party PC makers. Jobs ended that, but this could’ve been an idea for a cash grab in the transition. Boiled down, it was an offer for Dell to give Jobs free money while packaging an ad for future Mac sales into every PC he sold. It also was probably never a serious offer, because there’s nothing in that deal for Dell. Dell saw right through it and didn’t take it. 

    Even if he had, it wouldn’t have changed the trajectory for Apple, aside from the short-term cash boost. There’s nothing here that suggests Jobs was considering a long-term plan to license MacOS after his return to Apple. 
    muthuk_vanalingamfastasleep
  • Reply 15 of 51
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,989member
    Well, here’s the bottom line for Michael Dell. In terms of innovation, moving technology forward, invention, making a dent in the universe, Michael Dell is a big, fat nothing burger. All he did was start making cheap boxes with off the shelf parts and hawking them to the market. There were numerous other ‘entrepreneurs’ doing the same thing. He got rich doing it. Big yawn. And he’s still doing it today. You don’t hear his name mentioned when the discussion turns to innovation, paradigm changes, making lives better. Dell sells boxes running Windows. So what?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 51
    thedbathedba Posts: 677member
    jimh2 said:
    The only other person who can confirm this conversation is dead so there is no need to drag Jobs into his need to sell his book. 

    I'd like to meet 10 people who buy this book and read it. Of course it will be on The NY Times best seller list but by now everyone should know by now that bookstores by this garbage sell a few and return the rest to the publisher where they will be resold to the stores that peddle other non-interesting zero value books and merchandise that cannot be sold in legitimate store. This process does get authors on best seller lists.

    Another thing that happens is the company (Dell) will buy enough of these to give to their employees and this counts as a sale. At least his employees will have some kindling.
    People alive write books or talk about dead people very often.
    I was watching a show about mathematics the other day and the narrator, very much alive, was talking about Pythagoras, Euclid, Newton, Leibniz, Gauss ... etc.
    Guess what all these great mathematicians have in common? ........ They're all dead.

    Back to topic, why wouldn't Michael Dell reminisce about that moment in history, especially since he was personally involved in it? 
    mike1tokyojimumuthuk_vanalingamfastasleep
  • Reply 17 of 51
    thedbathedba Posts: 677member
    skingers said:
    I don't believe this story.  Jobs was the guy that Killed Mac clones and made OSX upgrades free.  Money grubbing by putting his baby on the beigest of beige boxes just does not seem consistent with his demonstrated record.
    Let me introduce to you the Motorola Rokr E1.



    Also known as the "iTunes phone". 
    From Wikipedia:  Launched on September 7, 2005, in San FranciscoCalifornia, the E1 is the first phone to be integrated with Apple's iTunes music player. 

    This phone was released and failed 
    obviously, years after the proposal to Michael Dell. 

    Also let's not forget this.  
    Steve Jobs wanted Sony's Vaio computers to run Mac OS X
    Conclusion: Michael Dell's account is pretty consistent with other deals SJ made or tried to make back then. 
    muthuk_vanalingamfastasleep
  • Reply 18 of 51
    It’s not surprising at all that there would be talks in 1997 about licensing Rhapsody on x86 hardware (and others, like Unix-friendly RISC architectures) — that was the whole point of NeXTSTEP.  It wasn’t until 1998 that the decision was made to keep it all in house, and this story helps illuminate why.

    It is interesting to try to imagine what things would be like today if Apple had gone down that road and licensed Rhapsody for x86 and Unix workstations at that time. But what actually happened is even more interesting, as the rest of the industry stood still and just let Apple make adjustments based on the architectural flexibility built into Rhapsody/OS X from inception. The seeds of the Intel and Apple Silicon transitions were already in place in 1997.
    thtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 51
    I was part of the 1993 discussions. Andy Grove and Steve Jobs were good friends. I was told that Andy encouraged the NeXT/Dell discussion. See Steve demoing NeXTSTEP 3.0 on Dell DGX my team developed: https://youtu.be/_GwlvZcXig8?t=6270 
    AppleZuludesignrtenthousandthingshexclockvedelppafastasleepthtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 51
    Sounds like an embellished story. For one thing, Dell used NeXT software in developing and running their webstore back in the mid to late 90’s. IMHO, this is how the two knew each other. The timing of the story doesn’t mesh with the announcement of Apple killing the clone market and the subsequent explanation by Jobs of why. 

    The crack by Dell was never forgotten by Jobs or Apple. 

    applesauce007watto_cobra
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