Tech's greatest flip-floppers: When big shots change their tunes

If you don't like their answer, wait a while, maybe it'll change

Maybe it's not fair to expect consistency from business leaders working in an industry as fast-moving as technology. But thanks to the Internet, the pronouncements of these luminaries are preserved online forever and are easy to find -- and some of their changes of heart have been pretty dramatic. We present for your amusement, in (mostly) their own words, some of the greatest flip-flops in the history of the tech business.

David Karp on advertising, 2010

In the heady pre-acquisition days after Tumblr had shot to prominence but before it anyone was demanding that it make any money, founder and CEO David Karp spoke contemptuously of what just about every other Web publishing company saw as its main source of revenue. "We're pretty opposed to advertising," he said. "It really turns our stomachs."

Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Chernin
David Karp on advertising, 2013

Three years later, after Yahoo had ponied up a cool billion to acquire his company, Karp's public attitude towards advertising had pivoted from nausea to over-the-top admiration. "You guys are more talented than anyone in the Tumblr office or in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale," he told an audience of ad execs at Cannes. "We're constantly in awe, constantly in service." (No word on what any of his employees thought of this comparison.)

Bill Gates on software patents, 1991

At the dawn of the Internet age, Bill Gates sent a message to his employees at Microsoft, now famous as the "Challenges and Strategies memo," in which he discussed the near future of the industry. One topic he dwelled on was software patents, which recent Supreme Court rulings had made easier to obtain. "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today," he said. "I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique."

Credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Bill Gates on software patents, 2008

Since 2008, in between his humanitarian ventures, Gates has been lending his name to patents for Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures, a company that many have accused of straight-up patent trolling, since it has no intention of ever manufacturing any of the ideas it "invents." Among Gates's more recent legally protected brainstorms: a device that creates images and movies based on text.

Steve Jobs on PowerPC chips, 2003

In the early aughts, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was still publicly very bullish on the IBM- and Motorola-built chips that powered its desktops and laptops. Although he admitted that the still-new OS X could be ported to other architectures, "we don't see a compelling need to switch processor families," he said. "We have all the options in the world, but the PowerPC road map still looks very strong."

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Steve Jobs on PowerPC chips, 2005

Just two years later, Jobs went onstage at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference to tell the world that the Mac would be transitioning to x86 chips from Intel; you can watch the announcement in this video. "We want to be making the best computers for our customers going forward," he said, "[and] we haven't been able to deliver that to you yet.... We can envision some amazing products we want to build for you and we don't know how to build them with the future PowerPC roadmap." Since chip roadmaps tend to be made several years out, one wonders how sincere he was about that PowerPC roadmap in 2003.

Credit: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
Google on banner ads, 2005

In 2005, Google was firm that its search results page would remain text-heavy, especially when it came to search advertising. "There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results pages," then-Google exec Marissa Mayer said in a blog post. "There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."

Google on banner ads, 2013

While they haven't been officially rolled out yet, Google's been experimenting with banner ads in search engine results over the past few weeks, as spotted by several users over the past few weeks. "We're currently running a very limited, US-only test, in which advertisers can include an image as part of the search ads that show in response to certain branded queries," a company spokesperson said when asked about it. Check out the ad: It may not be a "crazy, flashy, graphical doodad," but it's definitely a banner ad.

Steve Ballmer on acquiring Yahoo, 2008

In 2008, Microsoft was pressing hard to get Yahoo to accept its unsolicited buyout offer, and CEO Steve Ballmer was talking up synergies. "By combining the strengths of our companies," he said in a press release, "we can deliver an efficient and highly competitive offering for our customers. Our complementary assets will give us increased talent and scale to compete in the markets of search and online advertising, and pioneer new innovations in the areas of video, mobile services, online commerce, and social media."

Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Steve Ballmer on acquiring Yahoo, 2011

Three years later, after the deal had fallen apart, Ballmer was relieved. "You ask any CEO who might have bought something before the market crashed in 2008, 'Would you be glad that you didn't buy something'? Hallelujah! Everything else aside, the market really kind of fell apart. If you think about the timing, if Yahoo had accepted our bid ... we would have closed post Lehman Brothers. So, yeah, sometimes you're lucky." (At the time, rumor was that he was actually preparing another bid for Yahoo, but it never materialized.)

Larry Ellison on the cloud, 2003

Oracle chief Larry Ellison never says the word "cloud" in an interview with Businessweek in 2003, mostly because the computing concept hadn't been given that name yet. But what he describes sounds an awful lot like it: "The thing I'm most interested in is software as a service. That idea that every customer who wants to do accounting on computers, or every customer who wants to do inventory, or manufacturing, has to figure out what computer to buy, what operating system to buy, what Cisco router and switch to buy, what database to buy, is just nonsense."

Credit: YouTube.com
Larry Ellison on the cloud, 2008

Five years later, as "cloud" became the buzzword of the moment, Ellison was busy petulantly pushing back on it, as you can hear in this recording: "When is this idiocy going to stop? What the hell is cloud computing?" (Another half-decade later he had come full circle and embraced it again.)

Google's legal department on net neutrality, November 2012

Late last year, Google signed onto a friend of the court brief in favor of Slingbox that praised the way net neutrality had made the service possible and useful. "Sling was able to overcome initial resistance by Apple and AT&T for inclusion in the iPad platform.... Overcoming this initial barrier has promoted infrastructure investment in two ways. First, the demand for the Sling equipment has risen many times over, partly due to the product's availability on the iPad platform. Second, the consumption of content through Sling has increased commensurately, driving further demand for access and inviting greater infrastructure investment."

Google's legal department on net neutrality, July 2013

When it comes to people running servers on their home Google Fiber connections, though, Google is significantly less in favor of net neutrality. "Your Google Fiber account is for your use and the reasonable use of your guests," Google said in a legal response to a customer who complained about the no-servers policy. "Unless you have a written agreement with Google Fiber permitting you do so, you should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection, use your Google Fiber account to provide a large number of people with Internet access, or use your Google Fiber account to provide commercial services to third parties (including, but not limited to, selling Internet access to third parties)."

Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Mark Zuckerberg on teens, July 2013

This past summer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that teenagers were not abandoning his social network and leaving it a contracting wasteland of old people. "Based on our data, that's simply not true. What may be true is that they're not gravitating toward the service in increasing numbers anymore," he said, then speculated awkwardly that this was because "we've been fully penetrated in the teen demo for a while now."

Credit: Ebersman's Facebook page
Facebook CFO on teens, October 2013

Only three months later, Facebook CFO David Ebersman admitted on a company earnings call that Facebook might be in a bit of teen trouble. "This is a hard issue for us to measure ... we've developed other analytic methods. ... our best announcement on youth usage [is that] among U.S. teens [it] was stable overall from Q2 to Q3, but we did see a decrease in daily users partly among younger teens." He downplayed the significance of the decline but noted that he was sharing the data "because we get a lot of questions about teens," which is a pretty funny sentence for the CFO of a multimillion dollar company to say.