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Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer calls 1997 investment saving Apple “craziest thing we ever did”


“In a way you could say that was the craziest thing we ever did.”
In a Bloomberg interview this morning former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spent some time discussing competition with Amazon for talent in Seattle and then moved on to Apple and Tesla.

With regard to Apple, Ballmer first said that Apple has “done a good job” and took credit for saving Apple with an investment in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned – which was part of a patent lawsuit over Windows 95/stolen Quicktime code. Ballmer went on to describe the investment this way: “In a way you could say that was the craziest thing [Microsoft] ever did.”

Ballmer then moved to the current landscape where he said that Microsoft is the only company (in addition to Samsung) really competing with Apple with its SurfaceBook in a new category.

Ballmer currently is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team and now owns around 4% of Twitter stock. The relevant clip can be found here with Apple conversation starting halfway through.


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  1. Ballmer was the wrong choice for Bill Gates to make when he made Ballmer CEO. Microsoft never caught onto the mobile craze and they have never caught up. Gates had wanted to license the OS that Apple had because he knew that it was far superior to the Windows OS and still is and Windows 10 is a good point.

    • I always thought M$FT was trying to stave off an anti trust suit. They probably didn’t believe Apple had a future so, to whatever extent the money kept Apple alive, to that extent M$FT had “competition” to point to. Just a theory.

  2. quiviran - 7 years ago

    Ballmer still doesn’t get it. Without Apple MS would have had no one to copy. Every bad MS idea would have just been magnified with no guidepost on the horizon to show them the direction. The personal computing industry would have imploded under the accumulated weight.

    • TfT_02 - 7 years ago


    • Jake Becker - 7 years ago

      And then as a result everything today would be Google. Big no thanks.

      • bowersrob - 7 years ago

        As a one-trick pony, MS would have crushed Giggle. Giggle only had mild curiosity in mobile until they saw iPhone.

  3. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    It wasn’t the $150 million that “saved” Apple. What was more important was Microsoft’s commitment to ship Office for Mac. The $150 million was symbolic. That said, as Ballmer alludes to, it was in reality a settlement of a potential lawsuit. Steve Jobs rightfully realized that the public display of support and commitment to Mac development was worth more to Apple than the potential financial gains from a protracted legal fight.

  4. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    Bill Gates spoke at a gathering of the higher-ups at my employer shortly after Microsoft made the investment. From what tricked down to us, he basically said that Microsoft wanted to help Apple stay alive because it was innovative and visionary. I’m sure he also had the anti-trust lawsuit in mind (though Microsoft wound up losing that case, anyway).

    • Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

      Here’s some information about the lawsuit, it was actually over Stolen Quicktime code.

    • Robert Nixon - 7 years ago

      Bill Gates was being extremely disingenuous, then. The settement had nothing to do Microsoft being an altruistic and trying to keep Apple alive. Microsoft(along with Intel and a software company contracted to develop Video For Windows) was wrapped up in litigation over the fact that VFW contained code lifted directly from QuickTime for Windows(developed by the same contractor mentioned before). They were being sued for billions of dollars, and it was looking like they were going to lose. As retribution for the lawsuit, Gates threatened to cease development of Office for Mac.

      One of the first things Steve Jobs did as CEO of Apple was meet up with Bill Gates and negotiate a settlement in which Microsoft would invest upfront $150 million in non-voting stock(although they actually agreed to pay much more than $150 million, just in installments over time), agree to continue to develop Office for Mac, and mutually share patents with Apple.

  5. Julien (@FLKone) - 7 years ago

    Love the play button on ballmer’s face. Tried to click on that one for a minute, but yet he is still not dancing around.

  6. Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

    The lawsuit was actually over stolen Quicktime code, not Windows 95 itself.

    • jkdman123 - 7 years ago

      This. For Ballmer to say it was ‘crazy’ to do the deal just shows he’s still just as delusional as he ever was. It was a cheap alternative to potentially paying out $BILLIONS to Apple for the Quicktime theft, which was blatant. The guy was the single biggest detriment to MS, bar none. It’s actually kind of a testament to Gates that he created so much upward momentum that they still made some money despite Ballmer dropping the ball oh, so many times.

      • thenogin - 7 years ago

        You do realize that, if Microsoft had decided to not settle, it could have drawn out the case until Apple went bankrupt right?? which would mean they wouldn’t have to pay anyone anything at all.

        This is pure Apple fanboy pride talking here, from a legal and logical standpoint, Apple could have been dead if Microsoft had desired it to be…… And I’m not even a MS fanboy.

  7. Just think of Microsoft would have bought $150 million of Apple stock back in 1997. That would be worth a fortune today.

  8. galley99 - 7 years ago

    If Microsoft hadn’t sacked his sorry ass, they might’ve been out of business in five years. At least Nadella has a better vision.

  9. Umm. Steve Jobs could have dumped $150 million of his own cash into the company if it needed it badly enough and he felt it was the only way to move forward. MS’s commitment was a bit of a show-piece, but that cash didn’t help save the company, not by a long shot.

  10. scumbolt2014 - 7 years ago

    Anything old Ball-hair does is crazy. Plus he wasn’t the f-n CEO then so nice slam from him to his lover Bill Gates.

  11. Chris Cicero - 7 years ago

    The $150m investment, guaranteed in the eyes of the govt, MS had a competitor and was not a monopoly, thus making sure the breakup of MS that the DOJ was seeking did not happen. Its that simple.

  12. Andrew Robert Holguin - 7 years ago

    Ballmer is clueless as usual, Microsoft saved Apple because they had to, Apple at the time was Microsoft’s only competition and Microsoft was being heavily investigated for acting like a monopoly, which it was, both acting and was, so they had to keep Apple alive to help counter the government’s arguments.

  13. chickenandporn - 7 years ago

    Thing is, Microsoft is filled with smart people working on cool things. The translation from that to coherent products just isn’t happening. I may be currently a fan of the way Apple is closer to the “it just works” intuition, but there’s a lot of talent at MS that could eventuallt swing the needle and bring real challenge to Apple.

  14. Julian Alexander - 7 years ago

    That’s the craziest batshit I’ve read. Microsoft’s “investment” in apple was a paltry $150M and a token gesture to show its support (and also the tip of a much larger iceberg, skewed very much in Apple’s favour). The “real deal” was an agreement to continue developing MS Office for Mac for at least 5 more years and that was in itself at the time considering Apple’s then-market share a no-brainer, considering the number of licences MS was selling to Mac owners and the price gouging going on. It also got the DoJ off Microsoft’s back. If they’d withdrawn support for MS Office on the Mac it would have killed Apple and MS would have been in rather deep doo-doo. Not to mention the pending lawsuits around all the patents MS had ripped off being put aside….

  15. Dave Huntley - 7 years ago

    Ballmer as ever is frugal with facts… They had to buy into apple to avoid anti trust issues and part settlement of a suit because windows ripped apple off.
    Maintaining Office was big, but if they hadnt done it, the US and EU would have declared them a monopoly needing regulation. So crazy for MS or just good sense?

    Well Ballmer held MS back, look how he scoffed at the iPhone and let everyone develop the mobile space while he even struggled to get Bing ready for prime time… Idiot. So why would anyone go to him for a POV, MS got by despite him being there, much of what happened under him was disastrous… nOkia, vista among others. I did like Bob though.

  16. Valan Chan - 7 years ago

    The craziest thing thing was ditching the concept of giving all computer users software to use. Ballmer failed to go where the people wanted to be and we left him behind. He made himself and Microsoft close to irrelevant.

  17. gargravarr - 7 years ago

    He really is a delusional former soap salesman. The computer industry would have been a lot less crazy if he had stayed at Proctor & Gamble.

  18. 311sie - 7 years ago

    I respectfully disagree with Mr. Ballmer on this one. I believe the craziest thing Microsoft ever did, was name Steve Ballmer it’s CEO.

  19. Bob Flavell - 7 years ago

    About once a year, I log on to a Windows machine just to remind myself of the nightmare of using a whiny, high-maintenance, demanding brat of an operating system. Then I rush back to the warm, welcoming, predictable, intuitive, elegant, crash-free land of Apple.


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