Apple is within striking distance of becoming not only the world’s most valuable technology company but the world’s most valuable company full stop. It is now worth more than Intel and arch-rival Microsoft combined.

The epic battle of the tech world-Microsoft versus Apple-seemed decided long ago, with Bill Gates clearly the winner, but Steve Jobs stands ready to cap one of the most amazing come-back stories in business history.

Jobs might be able to claim victory over Microsoft, but from his worryingly gaunt appearance, he might be losing another more important battle, the fight for his life against an undisclosed disease. It is no wonder, then, that our thoughts turn to Jobs’, and thus Gates’, legacy. What will these tech giants leave behind?

Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates. Getty Images

Jobs and Gates can both claim their place in tech history, but who deserves the higher position will never be decided. The Mac versus PC debate is one of the great religious debates of technology. Apple fans are known for their devotion, so much so that one of the most well known columns to follow the company is Leander Kahney’s Cult of Mac. PC owners profess a more pragmatic admiration, but if you ever want to kick off a good argument online, pick a side in the Mac versus PC battle and stand back.

Aside from their business and technology achievements, the two men have taken very different paths in the last few years. Bill Gates has pulled back from corporate life, stepping down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in June 2008. He wanted to work full-time on his charitable work, devoting his energy to important causes including eradicating polio, fighting HIV/AIDS and ending the scourge of malaria.

For more than a decade, Gates has been committed to giving away much of his fortune to charity after being shocked by poverty and illness in the developing world. Gates was the richest man in the world almost continually from 1995 until this year. He’d still be the richest man in the world if he hadn’t donated a third of his wealth to his foundation.

And Gates, alongside his close friend Warren Buffett, has used his philanthropy to encourage others to give. Together they have called on the richest Americans to follow their lead and give away a majority of their wealth in a campaign called the Giving Pledge.

As for Steve Jobs, he has also pulled back from his day-to-day responsibilities at Apple but only because of his health. One of a handful of public appearances since taking a third medical leave of absence was to lobby the local city council to allow Apple to build a huge new headquarters, which a local official called it a “legacy building”.

In addition to this sprawling headquarters, Jobs will leave behind a number of iconic computers and gadgets, but he has faced criticism for not being as generous with his wealth as Gates or even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who recently pledged $100m to support a school district in New Jersey. Kahney of Cult of Mac said of Jobs:

“On the evidence, (Jobs is) nothing more than a greedy capitalist who’s amassed an obscene fortune. It’s shameful. In almost every way, Gates is much more deserving of Jobs’ rock star exaltation.”

Jobs did establish a foundation in 1987 to support social entrepreneurship, but it closed after a little more than a year. Apart from some donations to the Democratic Party, Jobs has no public record of philanthropy.

But Apple and Jobs are famously secretive, and some believe that this secrecy extends to any possible charitable giving. In 1993, Jobs told the Wall Street Journal:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

Does doing something wonderful mean creating iconic gadgets or quietly giving to charity?

If it comes to light that Jobs has been giving away his wealth, would you admire him more for not seeking publicity for it? Both men will be remembered for their technical innovation. Who do you think will leave the most lasting legacy?

Steve Jobs testifies before Cupertino City Council

Bill Gates last day of work

Publish date: August 3, 2011 11:46 am| Modified date: August 3, 2011 11:46 am

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