This year was the 5th addition of Walt Mossberg's and Kara Swisher's "All Things Digital" conference. I'm sure that it will come as no surprise to you that I have attended all five and intend to attend the next five as well. They say that first year conferences are a huge crap shoot because of the chicken and egg problem of attracting fantastic speakers and a fantastic audience -- you need one to get the other but can't get one without the other. By force of personality and reputation, Walt and Kara blew that away the first year by simply getting the most amazing speakers ever. The fabuloous audience quickly followed. But they created a problem for themselves.
The speakers at their first "D" were just too good: Gates, Jobs, Diller, Larry and Sergey, Meg Whitman, Terry Semel, Mark Cuban. I mean, give me a break. Year two: Gates, Jobs, Ellison, Carly Fiorina, Masa, Henning Kagermann. Year 3: Gates, Jobs, Mel Karmazin, McNealy, Zander, Diller, Jerry Yang and Dave Filo. Year 4: Gates, Al Gore, Howard Stringer, Terry Semel, Vinod Khosla, Bob Iger (Jobs couldn't make it and was sorely missed). So what were Walt and Kara going to do to make their 5th anniversary "D" a special one? They touted the answer on their homepage -- "Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to Make Historic Joint Appearance at D5."
Now I have to admit that, as much as I looked forward to seeing Gates and Jobs spar on stage, I thought that perhaps Walt and Kara had gone a bit too far calling the Gates/Jobs smackdown a "historic joint appearance." The cardinal rule of showmanship is to under-promise and over-deliver. It is hard to imagine that calling a chat "historic" could be viewed as under-promising, and harder still to imagine that after advertising a talk as "historic," one could possibly over-deliver. But I was wrong.
The "historic" joint appearance of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs wasn't just historic, it was, in fact, awe inspiring. I envisioned a half-hearted quarrel, punctuated by clever but cynical jabs at one another. What I got was a history lesson taught by the principal protagonists of the story. As I sat and listened to Gates and Jobs recount their 30 year journey to bring the best possible personal computers to the world, it struck me that no two living humans have had a bigger impact on my quality of life than they (case in point, I am typing this blog post on my MacBook on Microsoft Word).
It would be hard to replicate the energy and mood of the room with simple words. It may even be hard to replicate with video. Nonetheless, I strongly urge you to watch the videos of the conversation over at Kara and Walt's great new "news and opinion site" called AllThingsD.com. In the videos you will see a pair of mature, thoughtful moguls. Bill Gates was erudite, statesmanly, and utterly charming. Steve Jobs remained the consummate performer, yet managed a bit more humility than is his norm. They traded fours like an old married couple. And their recounting of the history of the personal computer industry had the cadence of an on-again off-again romance. In the end, Jobs had the turn of phrase that brought us to our feet -- a snipped right out of a love letter -- "There's that one line in the Beatles song, 'You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead,' and that's definitely true here."
Great conferences are all about great theater. And I have never seen better theater than Jobs and Gates on stage together, modestly recounting how they changed all of our lives, in incalculable ways, forever. Hats off to Walt and Kara for orchestrating this once in a lifetime event. When can I register for D6?