Bill Gates internal email reveals shock and awe at iTunes Store deal

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

What you need to know

  • A new internal email has revealed how Bill Gates reacted to Apple's iTunes store back in 2003.
  • He said the deal Apple was struck was better "than anyone else has gotten for music", and that it was "very strange" to him.
  • He also said Microsoft needed to move fast in order to generate a competing product.

A newly-uncovered internal email sent from Bill Gates to Microsoft employees has revealed how he was seemingly awestruck by the deal Apple struck with the music industry for iTunes, and how he thought Microsoft needed to move quickly to keep up.

The email comes from the Comes vs Microsoft antitrust case and was uncovered by Internal Tech Emails. Bill Gates sent the email on April 30, 2003, subject title 'Apple's Jobs again... and time to have a great Windows download service...'. The email states:

Steve Jobs' ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right and market things as revolutionary are amazing things. This time somehow he has applied his talents in getting a better licensing deal than anyone else has gotten for music. This is very strange to me. The music companies' own operations offer a service that is truly unfriendly to the user and has been reviewed that way consistently. Somehow they decide to give Apple the ability to do something pretty good.

Gates goes on to reference Microsoft discussions around "EMusic" and how that would be better than a subscription because users would know what they were paying for before stating:

I'm not saying this strangeness means we messed up - at least if we did so did Real and Pressplay and Musicnet and basically everyone else.

Gates also told employees We need to move fast to get something where the UI and Right are as good", describing how Jobs "has us a bit flat-footed again".

Gates sent the email just two days after Apple announced the launch of its iTunes Music store, at the time Apple stated:

Apple® today launched the iTunes® Music Store, a revolutionary online music store that lets customers quickly find, purchase and download the music they want for just 99 cents per song, without subscription fees. The iTunes Music Store offers groundbreaking personal use rights, including burning songs onto an unlimited number of CDs for personal use, listening to songs on an unlimited number of iPods, playing songs on up to three Macintosh® computers, and using songs in any application on the Mac®, including iPhoto™, iMovie™ and iDVD™.

At launch, iTunes had more than 200,000 songs, as well as exclusive tracks. At the time Steve Jobs said "The iTunes Music Store offers the revolutionary rights to burn an unlimited number of CDs for personal use and to put music on an unlimited number of iPods for on-the-go listening... Consumers don't want to be treated like criminals and artists don't want their valuable work stolen. The iTunes Music Store offers a groundbreaking solution for both."

iTunes has since been superseded for the most part by Apple Music, its all-you-can-eat streaming service that now features Spatial Audio and Lossless audio for premium listening on headphones likes its AirPods Max and AirPods Pro.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9