Gates interviews – more rewrites of history from Bill

Softball is the name of the game as he pushes his new book

The transcripts of Gates' interview with Sir David Frost, and several speeches that Gates gave in his east coast tour to promote his book, have become available. They provide some fascinating details of the dear leader's current thinking. Frostie, the one-man conglomerate and impresario, is himself the author of 17 books, but none come to mind. It was clear that Frost was spoon-fed the questions by Microsoft PR, including introductory remarks attributed to "friends" which were designed to suggest that Frost had some independence. His introductory remarks included a rerun of Gates not wanting to be US president because he couldn't stand the loss of power, and Gates being part Albert Einstein, part John McEnroe and part General Patton. Gates went to Washington after the interview, while Redmond was burning from the heat of the DoJ case so-to-speak, and gave a number of promotional speeches for his new book for the business schools at Georgetown University and Columbia/NYU. Gates revealed again what an intellectual pseud he is - his favourite reading seems to be lives of the great scientists, and PhD theses, most of which he could not possibly understand as he lacks sufficient basic knowledge of computer science and mathematics. His theme of a digital nervous system, which he said is "about empowerment", should not be parsed since his use of it is as a marketing slogan. Gates' claims, such as IBM, Wang and DEC fell because they didn't see new trends, is a convenient story for a company that wishes to claim it has to innovate to stay in business. Of course reality is different, since Microsoft has succeeded because it has not innovated nor exploited its internal information (we know this from the trial evidence). There wasn't much about the current trial of course, but it was evidently thought necessary for Gates to claim he spent about ten days straight suggesting approaches and being in dialogue, because, you know, we'd like nothing better than to have this behind us." A glance at Gates' diary shows that there was no straight ten-day period when this could have happened between his sales calls on heads of governments or the like. After all, Microsoft's revenue now exceeds the GNP of more than 100 countries. Gates maintained the story that a principle at stake was that Microsoft "put Internet support into Windows" and "there were immense benefits to this" - to Microsoft of course, he forgot to add. He whinged on about "the right to innovate", "the American system", and "how do we make Windows [and Office] better". Of course the unintegrated IE5 was acclaimed "in virtually every one of the reviews", Gates said, which does tend to negate his "Internet support in Windows" argument. A strategic direction that Gates revealed is that Microsoft has come down on the side of handwriting recognition rather than speech recognition - and that this will be built into Windows "in the next two years", although "some time in the next five years dictation will be something that even a typical user will be doing". The problem still remains that people who cannot speak properly, or have a whiney voice, cannot get any benefit from speech recognition. In answer to a question at Columbia, he noted that Microsoft's speech group calls itself the 'wreck a nice beach' [recognise speech] group. It was good to know that the Y2K problem is "mostly just getting the software updated". Gates' personal future plans, which he first set out in two Playboy interviews in which he suggested he would have retired by now to devote himself full-time to philanthropy, have conveniently been forgotten and replaced by a new version - that he was going to wait until he was 60 before he did this, but some opportunities could just not wait so he and his wife set up a foundation. Of course, it might just help Microsoft at this tricky time, but focussing on world health issues is a step better than handing out tax-deductable Microsoft software. Another historical retrofit he used is a variant of the story about the birth of Microsoft. Gates said he and Paul Allen thought " 'Well, let's, you know, make the computer be the kind of thing we could have fun with'. And we had a vision that maybe we could impact the entire world". A modest delusion: but untrue. Equally untrue was how Gates in his 20's and 30's was working on software. The last thing he wrote was for the Radio Shack TRS-80 (affectionately known as the "Trash 80") - hardly "great software", even in those days. Gates still has a curiously distorted view of early Windows - "the graphical interface that people ridiculed". Perhaps that was because many of them had seen what was possible on a Mac. Capitalism was "the matching of buyers and sellers", Gates said. About four or five per cent in the US were "living a web lifestyle" (he said at Georgetown, but "less than 10 per cent" at Columbia). However, in Europe, Internet use was "about a fifth or a sixth as big" as the USA, he claimed, without the benefit of any knowledge on the subject. Then there was the term Gates had created for his new book: "Web workstyle". This became confused with his digital nervous system for the simple reason that there is no systematic thinking in these sales slogans, at least in his Georgetown speech. At Columbia it seemed to be the "web lifestyle" that was "the same concept" as the digital nervous system. In reality, Gates is trying to reduce paperwork, but office automation is not exactly an area for excellence at Microsoft. Indeed, evidence from witnesses during the trial has shown that Microsoft is indeed the shoemaker's shoeless child when it comes to office efficiency, starting with the claimed absence of any accounting system to track expenditure on Internet Explorer, thought to exceed one billion dollars. The development history of IE was revised again: "we did lots of retreats in 1994 and 1995, we kept raising the priority of what had to be done ... and by late 1995 we had made it the top priority". He did add: "There's no doubt that our leadership would have been eclipsed if we had taken [another year or two to] drive Internet standards into our products." Except of course, Microsoft drove its own versions of Internet standards, and the products were not really Microsoft's, but Spyglass' Mosaic. That was the story at Georgetown. At Columbia, "The Internet came along, and it's hard to say exactly what year it is, but sometime in 1993, 1994,1995, it moved out of the university environment, out of the computer science department, and into the world at large." Gates must have been personally one of the last software industry CEOs to become familiar with the Internet. For a long time, it was only possible to access it from a few PCs on the Microsoft campus, controlled by the library - it also required approval from a Microsoft VP to search the Internet. A few questions were allowed at Columbia. In his answers, Gates said Microsoft was "in a position of responsibility". Gates did not tell the truth when he claimed Microsoft had gone from ASCII to Unicode: as is all-too-well known, Microsoft has never favoured standard character sets and uses non-standard characters in an attempt to make it difficult to convert to standard, non-Microsoft character sets. The biggest surprise was when he mentioned "business objects and being able to exchange them across businesses, so you're not just working at bits and bytes level, you're really working at the semantic level." Somebody should remind Gates that Microsoft has declared itself to be resolutely against CORBA, especially since he went on to say that "standards are more important than ever". But there again, Gates lacks the education to be able to distinguish between standards and proprietary protocols like COM (which is not to have any rudimentary cross-platform capability in the future, Microsoft has been suggesting recently). It was also naughty of Gates to claim that "Windows supported all the standards", but he probably hasn't heard of POSIX. He also referred to "our breakthroughs like Cleartype". Still, it was comforting to hear him describe DirectX as the "game API". Gates seems remarkably out-of-touch with the price of PCs, where he saw the market as being "100 million units at still [sic] an average of about $2,500 per unit." He should visit a few stores. In his ECU speech, Gates spoke about scalability, which "is a very key initiative for us ... This year there's going to be a year of major, major advances in PC server scalability." If so, who is doing the work for Microsoft? Could it be HP? Gates also noted the importance of clustering to Microsoft, and boasted about Windows load balancing, but omitted to explain how this was a rather old idea and that Microsoft was late to the party. Transaction processing was going to be added to the operating system. It's beginning to look as if BackOffice will be an obligatory add-on for NT, which would herald a very significant price increase. Gates mentioned how Microsoft was working so that systems could be managed "without going out and visiting each of those individual systems". He must have been reading up about Novell's NDS. Gates' claim that Microsoft had partners that could offer 99.9 per cent guaranteed up time is not going to impress IT directors who want no downtime at all. Microsoft has failed to deliver what Gates has called a digital wallet (the contenders being Microsoft-free Psion and Palm, of course), so he is now advocating what he calls a tablet PC, with a high resolution screen for reading long documents. We doubt that too many people will curl up in bed with even a good tablet. Gates is out of touch with technology and the true desires of the customers to whom Microsoft claims it talks so much. All in all, this may not yet add up to the end of Microsoft as we know it, but there are certainly signs that it is the beginning. ®

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