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Jobs and Gates at the D7 conference in 2007 (Asa Mathat photo)

It’s easy to focus on rivalries in the technology industry, and certainly there was no love lost between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and their respective companies at many moments in their storied careers.

But the Microsoft chairman’s statement on the Apple co-founder’s death today is a reminder that their relationship was much more complex than that.

“Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives,” Gates said. “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”

Under Jobs’ leadership, the company he co-founded in 1976 rebounded to reclaim its spot at the top of the technology industry, outpacing Microsoft in the market with its iPod portable music player, the iPhone smartphone and most recently the iPad tablet computer.

But it was a controversial strategic investment from Microsoft, announced at Macworld Boston in 1997, that helped to get Apple on a stronger footing following Jobs’ return to lead the company. Microsoft has also continued to make its widely used Office software for Macs, creating a bridge between the competing platforms for many computer users.

Jobs reflected on his history with Gates during a joint appearance in 2007 at the D conference by quoting a Beatles song: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”

Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, also expressed his condolences, and his perspective and empathy for Jobs as someone who has also battled cancer multiple times in his life.

“We’ve lost a unique tech pioneer and auteur who knew how to make amazingly great products,” said Allen in a statement. “Steve fought a long battle against tough odds in a very brave way. He kept doing amazing things in the face of all that adversity. As someone who has had his own medical challenges, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by how he persevered.”

Here’s the video from the joint appearance by Jobs and Gates

Update: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer issued the following statement tonight: I want to express my deepest condolences at the passing of Steve Jobs, one of the founders of our industry and a true visionary. My heart goes out to his family, everyone at Apple and everyone who has been touched by his work.”

Previously: Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

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