Steve Jobs once pitched Dell on a deal to preinstall Mac OS alongside Windows on PCs

Today marks 10 years since Steve Jobs passed away, and Apple is honoring the late Apple cofounder with a tribute on its homepage. Meanwhile, Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell has sat down with CNET to discuss Jobs’ legacy — and spill the beans on a deal that Jobs proposed between Apple and Dell in 1997.

Dell is making the rounds in the press this week as he promotes his new book, Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader, which was released today. Speaking to CNET, Dell reflected on Jobs’ legacy:

“Anybody who’s going to do something amazing has to have a somewhat different and unconventional approach,” Dell, 56, said in an interview when asked about Jobs’ legacy. “You can’t be following the rules and making amazing things happen. Steve was certainly exceptional in that regard.”

In 1993, after Jobs had been ousted from Apple and founded NeXT, he pitched Dell on using the NeXT operating system instead of Windows, saying it was better than Microsoft’s offerings:

Dell says Jobs came to his house in Texas several times that year, trying to convince him to use the Next operating system on Dell PCs by arguing that it was better than Microsoft’s Windows software and could undermine the Unix workstation market being touted by Sun Microsystems. The problem, Dell says he told Jobs, was that there were no applications for it and zero customer interest.  

Then, in 1997 when Jobs was back at Apple, he pitched Dell on another idea. Jobs offered the option to license Mac OS to Dell, “telling him he could give PC buyers a choice of Apple’s software or Microsoft’s Windows OS installed on their machine.”

There were, however, some issues with what Jobs’ proposition, according to Dell. Jobs didn’t want Apple to pay a licensing fee for every PC sold with Mac OS — he wanted Dell to “load Mac OS alongside Windows on every Dell PC and let customers decide which software to use,” and then pay Apple for every Dell PC sold.”

CNET continues:

Dell smiles when he tells the story, saying the deal was a nice try on Jobs’ part, but it wasn’t “an economic proposition that made a lot of sense” since he’d have to pay Apple hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees even if his PC buyers didn’t use the Mac OS. Another problem: Jobs wouldn’t guarantee access to the Mac OS three, four or five years later. That could leave Dell customers using Mac OS out of luck as the software evolved. 

Still, Dell acknowledges that the deal was a moment in history of what could have been.

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

Meanwhile, in a separate interview with CNBC, Dell said that Apple has “continued to innovate” in its post-Jobs era, but in a way that is “certainly different from what Steve would have done.”

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