Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was taken into custody with the launch and structure of the Apple iTunes Store in 2003, with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once again putting Gates in catch-up mode, according to an internal email that appeared this week.
Dug up by Internal Tech Emails and posted on Twitter, Gates’ correspondence was published in Coming v. Microsoft lawsuit from 2000.
In the letter to Microsoft executives, Gates talked about Apple – specifically Jobs’ ability to beat the industry when it came to obtaining favorable license agreements for the then new iTunes Store.
At the time, Microsoft was working to provide its own music distribution service through limited partnerships and joint ventures.
As Gates notes, no one, including music companies, had nailed a user-friendly digital shopping experience. Apple was primed to lead the segment with iTunes and iPod.
“This is very strange to me. The music companies[‘] own business offers a service that is really unfriendly to the user and has been reviewed that way consistently. “Somehow they decide to give Apple the opportunity to do something pretty good,” Gates wrote.
Apple’s iTunes library was already a mainstay for digital music enthusiasts, with an intuitive user interface and smart features such as automatically generated track records for ripped CDs, audio processing and content sharing. Adding a store front to the software was in many ways the next logical step.
The ports in the email express an urgent feeling for Microsoft to create its own distribution product for music now that it – at the time – much smaller competitor had a winning solution.
“Now that Jobs has done that, we need to move fast to get something where UI and rights are equally good,” Gates wrote. “I’m not sure if we should do this through one of these JVs or not. I’m not sure what the problems are. But I think we need some plan to prove that even if Jobs has us some flat legs left , we go fast and both match and make things better. ”
Microsoft finally launched MSN Music in 2004. The service closed in 2008 to make way for the unfortunate Zune Marketplace and other similar heinous content delivery products.
Interestingly, Microsoft at one point considered a subscription service instead of the content licensing scheme adopted by iTunes.
“Who can promise you with the subscription that the cool new things you want (or old things) will be there?” Gates asked.
After more than a decade of dominating digital music sales, Apple introduced its own subscription service in Apple Music to follow a market that had largely switched to streaming.
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