GO
Loading...

It comes down to this: Jobs vs. Gates

If you're putting together a list of the most influential people over the past 25 years, as CNBC has done, I believe the ultimate winners should come from the list of entrepreneurs who transcended disruptive start-ups to build empires.

This whittles down the list real quickly to the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Reed Hastings, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk and Jim Sinegal.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
From left: Tony Avelar | AFP | Getty Images; Gabriel Bouys | AFP | Getty Images
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

(Read more: Who mattered—and who didn't—in the last 25 years?)

In the end, however, for my money it all reverts back to computers, or a variation thereof.

And that narrows down the list to Jobs and Gates.

Sure, Marc Andreessen gave us the first browser, and Qualcomm's Irwin Jacobs spearheaded the technology that led to the cellphone.

But Jobs and Gates gave us something else — computing for the masses.

(Read more: From Apple to Google: Face it, you needed these guys)

Jobs is the easy and obvious choice, especially for the way he shook up music and mobile and the design aesthetic and general ease of computing.

While Gates may not have been as snazzy as Jobs, it could be argued he deserves equal billing because, as much as many of us love to hate Microsoft, Windows, Word and Office originally changed the game for most of us. Add in his philanthropy, which is a somewhat stealth form of disruption, and Gates may have the edge.

Yes, Howard Schultz, whose near flawless execution with Starbucks, disrupted how we drink coffee; and, of course, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, disrupted how we shop. But Bezos wouldn't be where he is today with the impact of Windows. And while many of us may be addicted to coffee, if push came to shove we could live without it. I would argue we couldn't live without our computers. Thanks, Bill and Steve.

(Cast your vote: Who makes YOUR top 25 list?)

— By Herb Greenberg

Herb Greenberg is the editor of Herb Greenberg's RealityCheck, a subscription newsletter designed to help investors better manage risk.He is also a regular contributor to CNBC and TheStreet.com. Follow him on Twitter @herbgreenberg.

Latest Special Reports