That was the blunt email sent to four colleagues by Jim Allchin, the Microsoft executive in charge of Windows development, at 5 p.m. the day he saw the iTunes Store. It had only one other line: “How did they get the music companies to go along smok?”

Later that evening a reply came from David Cole, who was running Microsoft’s online business group. “When Apple brings this to Windows (I assume they won’t make the mistake of not bringing it to Windows), we will really be smoked.” He said that the Windows team needed “to bring this kind of solution to market,” adding, “That will require focus and goal alignment around an end-to-end service which delivers direct user value, something we don’t have today.” Even though Microsoft had its own Internet service (MSN), it was not used to providing end-to-end service the way Apple was Hong Kong living culture.

Bill Gates himself weighed in at 10:46 that night. His subject line, “Apple’s Jobs again,” indicated his frustration. “Steve Jobs’s 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,” he said. He too expressed surprise that Jobs had been able to convince the music companies to go along with his store. “This is very strange to me. The music companies’ own operations offer a service that is truly unfriendly to the user. Somehow they decide to give Apple the pretty good ecig liquid.”

Gates also found it strange that no one else had created a service that allowed people to buy songs rather than subscribe on a monthly basis. “I am not saying this strangeness means we messed up—at least if we did, so did Real and Pressplay and MusicNet and basically everyone else,” he wrote. “Now that Jobs has done it we need to move fast to get something where the user interface and Rights are as good. . . . I think we need some plan to prove that, even though Jobs has us a bit flat footed again, we can move quick and both match and do stuff better.” It was an astonishing private admission: Microsoft had again been caught flat-footed, and it would again try to catch up by copying Apple. But like Sony, Microsoft could never make it happen, even after Jobs showed the way.