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Steve Jobs praises a retiring Bill Gates

In an interview with the New York Times, the Apple chief says his longtime rival "should be honored for the contributions he's made." Jobs also offers a dim forecast for Amazon's Kindle, saying "people don't read anymore."

While most of Steve Jobs' energy on Tuesday was spent touting the new MacBook Air, the Apple chief did take some time to praise longtime rival Bill Gates, who plans to stop working full-time at Microsoft at the end of June.

"Bill's retiring from Microsoft is a big deal," Jobs told the New York Times. "It's a significant event, and I think he should be honored for the contributions he's made."

I'm guessing Jobs probably won't issue a Bill Gates edition iPod, but the two have been making nice in public, including a rare joint appearance at last year's D: All Things Digital conference.

In the same interview, Jobs also notes that Apple went through 100 design prototypes before coming up with the final MacBook Air design and suggested that Amazon may have trouble selling the Kindle--and not because of the product's design.

"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," he said. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

I guess that shoots to heck my prediction that Apple would soon add e-books to the iTunes Store.