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One more round in the battle of Gates vs. Jobs

It doesn't take much to touch off a wildfire of debate about what's better--Apple or Microsoft? Windows XP or OSX? Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? And truth be told, the ongoing feud between fans of each side can be tiresome, with neither side emerging unscathed. But a recent column running on Wired has taken a different tack in evaluating the two companies' leaders. Columnist Leander Kahney looks at records of charitable giving to determine which tech magnate most deserves his rock star status.

Kahney argues that Gates comes out on top. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has given billions of dollars to various charities, primarily focusing on public health in developing nations. Jobs, however, has virtually no charitable giving on record. Kahney points out the possibility that Jobs may be donating money anonymously, but without anything on record, one can only carry on with Kahney's contest with the assumption that Jobs isn't giving up much of his hard-earned cash.

It's undeniable that a lot of good has come of Gates' philanthropy. But, unsurprisingly, the villified billionaire has still taken many hits in the blogosphere--even on this count. Some of that is based on a disdain for how Gates came into his fortune. And some is just further evidence that most hard-core Mac and Windows fans will take their loyalties to the grave. In that sense, this newly rekindled debate is fruitless.

But the most interesting facet of the debate has nothing to do with the tech industry or these two of its icons. The question many bloggers have posed is how a person should be judged. Is it fair to weigh someone's merit based on the amount of money they give back to the community? And is it anyone's business how much they choose to give?

Blog community response:

"Has there been a country, state or gov't agency that hasn't convicted MS of some illegal activity--illegal activity that cost us money but lined the pockets of MS and eventually Bill Gates? So, basically--hasn't he taxed us all and is now just re-distributing the weath?"
--Anonymous comment on Wired

"But I'm also glad to see someone stick up for Gates as well--face it, whatever your feelings about his company's products, you have to admit that what he's doing with the wealth he's gained from those products is completely admirable. It's well known that his parents purposely raised him to be philanthropic, and it's nice to see a public reminder of the fact that that lesson has stuck."

"This just shows how hard it is to evaluate people. Gates built MS with a real culture of bullying and thuggery. They go around threatening to cut off people's air supply, they've killed off good companies with vaporware stories, they have contempt for government regulators, etc. But that same guy is the greatest philanthropist in the world, by a wide margin. It's not just the amount, either--he's not building opera houses, he's building up public health infrastructure in Africa, etc. Stuff that really makes a big difference in countless lives. I know it's because he's got the dough, but he's done more good than Mother Theresa (and a lot more bad). Jobs is just another self-absorbed tech CEO. He's good at it, and all, but he's more of a guy that central casting would send up. If you want a real good guy in his relationship with technology, go with Linus. But gates is just a colossal figure in philanthropy, and no one else touches him."
--astrashe on Ars Technica

"What I find interesting about all this is: why in the world would Wired commentator, Leander Kahney, evaluate who's better by what they give to charities? or how much they support their political positions? In either case, wouldn't it matter more who's more efficient with their company (evaluating this more from a business perspective)? Or perhaps maybe it's more important to evaluate it from how they treat people they know and don't know?"
--Animus Ex Machina