Google Chairman Weighs In on Apple vs. Microsoft

Eric Schmidt calls Steve Jobs the best CEO in 100 years

Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman and former CEO, offered his thoughts Thursday on why Apple has seen such tremendous success over the past decade, especially in comparison to competitor Microsoft.

Schmidt was on stage at the Dreamforce technology conference in San Francisco, and he made sure to praise Steve Jobs, who himself recently announced that he would be stepping down as Apple CEO and become the company's chairman.

"What Steve has done at Apple, it's certainly the best performance of a CEO in 50 years, and maybe in 100 years," Schmidt said.

He acknowledged that he's a bit biased, since he's a "very proud" former member of Apple's board of directors. (He resigned in 2009, when it became clear that Google would be competing with Apple on multiple fronts.) And when pressed on why Apple succeeded, especially with the iPhone and iPad, while Microsoft stumbled, Schmidt couldn't resist a swipe at Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: "Well, there's differences in ability."

Beyond the executives, Schmidt said there's a clear difference in the philosophy of the two companies.

"Microsoft was built around a model of control and licensing," he said. "And they did a brilliant job of making sure the hardware guys did not innovate around them. They did not organize around the consumer, they organized around the industry structure."

Apple took the opposite approach, Schmidt said, realizing that "if you organize around the consumer, then everything will follow." You can see that in the way Apple hides all the technological complexity of its products to deliver a simple user experience. That's a lesson that Google has learned too, he said.

Also noteworthy about Schmidt's interview: How little time he spent talking about Google itself. Of course, some of that may have been driven by his interviewer, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, but Schmidt seemed most engaged when he started talking about broader economic and political issues.

"Now that I'm executive chairman I have more time to work on [advising President Obama about economic issues]," he said, before launching into an analysis of the U.S. economy. (Schmidt said the most important step is to make sure "every arm of government is doing everything it can to make sure people have jobs.") And while he talked about Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility, saying that the deal was for "more than just patents," he also offered a longer critique of the U.S. patent system.

Schmidt also confirmed that he's writing a book, which he said would focus on the interaction between the technology industry and the government. Specifically, Schmidt said he's become interested in ensuring that when other countries adopt American technology, "American democracy and communication values are the ones that become set."