If Microsoft had been leashed in earlier, the world of personal computing would be a better, cheaper place, according to a former R&D chief at Apple.

Jean-Louis Gassee - former Apple chief technologist who headed the Mac maker’s research and design department in the 1980s before founding Be Inc. – has respect for Microsoft’s chief software architect Bill Gates only as a businessman and not as a software innovator.

In a Wired interview, Gassee (pictured) pooh-poohs Gates’ assertion that Microsoft is an innovator.

"I'd be the last one to say that Microsoft makes shitty software, but ... they have not made one significant innovation - not one," Gassee.

Gassee – who has known Gates personally for nine years - considers him innovative only when it comes to legal matters and drafting intimidating contracts with PC manufacturers.

He told Wired that Microsoft has never had the company culture that has fostered innovation at competitors like his former employer, Apple. Innovation simply hasn't been part of Microsoft's progress as a company, Gassee said.

"It's pretty clear that if for the last five years customers had real operating systems and real application choices, everything would be better, faster, cleaner, more reliable, and cheaper," said Gassee.

"On the whole, they've been very good at seeing an idea then running with it," said Gassee, calling this a "jump on anything that moves" strategy. "When Microsoft says all they want is the freedom to innovate, I say all they want is to hide their fear of innovation against them."

Browser, user interface and mouse In response to demands for an actual list of the company’s claimed innovations, Microsoft claimed "work on the GUI, 32-bit OS, XML, etc".

The company then cited the introduction of Internet Explorer 2.0 in 1995 as "the first browser to support advanced multimedia and 3D graphics." Microsoft also called the IntelliMouse "the first pointing device to add a "wheel" to improve navigation".

Microsoft added "integrated standards-based video-conferencing," and its 1996 rollout of PictureIt, software that let PC users edit and share photos. Finally, Microsoft claimed 1998's Auto PC as an innovation, which Microsoft cited as "the first commercial PC for automobiles."

Gates summed up Microsoft's innovation record at a congressional hearing discussing competition in the software industry in March 1998: "This has included improvements like the graphical user interface, memory management, true type fonts, disk compression, and networking," Gates testified.