Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/10/18/gates_knocks_stuffing_out/

Gates knocks stuffing out of Paxman

Soft-centred interview

By Graham Lea

Posted in Business, 18th October 1999 06:26 GMT

"You can punch him; you can explode his head; you can decapitate him; you can even put a pie in his eye." This video-clip narration, accompanied by some rather childish animated screen shots of what some people think of Bill Gates, set the tone for Jeremy Paxman's interview on BBC2 television last night. The only critical remark in the video was that Gates was "A difficult little sod whose parents ended up sending him to a child psychologist because they thought he was underachieving." The interview continued in the same vein, and it soon became clear that there was another under-achiever doing the interviewing. The ace interviewer was ill-prepared, and a confident Bill Gates had been well-rehearsed by his travelling PR team. The interview was recorded on Wednesday before a specially-screened audience. There were silly questions about Gates' wealth: "Was it worth his time to bend down to pick up a $10,000 bill?" "Yes." What does Gates do when he is not working? "Today, I went and saw the Prime Minister. You know it's neat to see the leaders in various areas, and talk about the wonderful changes that are going on." This was pure spin: Gates was working, and it was a sales call. Paxo let Gates get away with statements like "We [he and Paul Allen] wanted to create software that would empower lots of people, and so we thought of ourselves, you know, what would we like to see. Would we like a neat spreadsheet that could do new things ... and we still see things like a computer that you can handwrite to, or speech recognition are on the frontier that we want to tackle. We want to be the first to do it." This interesting claim to the effect that Microsoft is about to invent speech recognition was made three times during the interview. Paxo noted that Rupert Murdoch had said that "Bill Gates wants to take over the world" and observed that this was pretty rich coming from Murdoch. < Gates quipped: "He's hiding behind me. He's your man." Paxo asked what Gates made of extraordinary claims like that. Gates had his response ready: "Not much" and stuck the knife in by adding that "Somebody who owns a newspaper can say I'm going to pick the editor that runs headlines that I like,". Whereas he in effect just provided the printing technology. The closest Paxo came to any criticism of Microsoft software was to relay that he had heard people say that "there are built-in frustrations with it, for example video, sound, the capacity is so limited, the necessity upon the user is to buy the upgrade as soon as it become available. You are deliberately manufacturing, as it were, built-in obsolescence". Yes, that's what he said. "Certainly every product that we do is absolutely as capable as it can possibly be. There's no holding back. We do absolutely our best job [of building software] and in fact that's why we've been successful," Gates replied. When Gates said that what Microsoft had done would lead to "better prices", it should be remembered that he was talking from a Microsoft standpoint, and "better" surely meant "higher". The software industry had grown by a factor of 100 since Microsoft had become involved, Gates said, but Microsoft only had 8 per cent of it. "[Critics] would contrast you with Linus Torvalds," Paxo claimed, noting he "had made his software freely available, and they would say that Microsoft made so much money that they don't need to charge any more for what they produce," Paxo suggested. "Well, I guess there could be a view that nothing should be charged for. The way that we're able to do great support of these products, to do the new R&D, tackle the new frontiers is partly because we are a business. ... There's always been a mix of free software and charged-for software ... I have to make sure that my software is so valuable that people choose [sic] it over free software ... this is a very, very competitive business." And then the trial. "Even your own government is accusing you of monopolistic practices," Paxo challenged. "The Department of Justice did file a lawsuit thatcertainly we disagree with it and.. and we have yet to see the outcome of that. We actually look forward to the final resolution of it [Aha! "final" - does this imply an appeal?] because the facts have been presented... no observer can say that we haven't shown how competitive our business is." "What's it like being sued by your own government?" "It's surprising." Gates re-wrote history again, observing that: "The fact that there's a lawsuit there where somebody's [he was trying to not to mention Netscape by name put forward some notion for example that us... We, we took the browser, er... and came up with one that won all[sic] the reviews, and we noticed that the advertising revenue we could get from the browser meant that we could provide it free to people, and still make money on innovating in that browser space. "And so we brought a new price, we brought a new level of capability and bec,ause of the Internet anybody else had total open capability to distribute their product and get it out any way that they chose to do. The fact that somebody got, you know, confused about that, that's disappointing, but it's certainly not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about." Several times it seemed that Gates was forgetting his lines. "At what point did you get this famous dream ‘A computer on every home and in every desk'?" Paxo was a bit confused, and may have meant to say "A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software". "Paul - Paul Allen and I - had talked about that in late-1974...". The first mention of the slogan at Microsoft was in mid-1980. Paul Allen has confirmed in a 1992 interview that it "was like an early ‘80s thing" [Manes & Andrews: Gates]. Paxo's admiration knew no bounds: "That was an extr,aordinary vision to have." Gates modestly replied: "That's right." Gates is often considered to have a very good memory, but he made another mistake when he claimed that "Finally in 1973, they came up with [the Intel 8080 processor] that was powerful enough. I said to Paul: ‘This one we could do BASIC for." The error: it was the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics (on the news stands in early December 1974) that announced that Altair had developed what it was calling a ‘minicomputer' with an 8080, and kick-started the BASIC development. What's sort of a boss was Gates, Paxo asked. His subject claimed he was "more of a technical leader". Ballmer will be happy to know that his boss considered himself lucky to have been able to hire in some good managers to do ask typical management things like "Are you making your numbers [sales targets]". Gates brought "the technical vision," he said. Gates said "it does feel a bit awkward" that people treated Microsoft's achievements as though they were all his own. That's a new admission for him. "What's your favourite Bill Gates joke?" "I'm not sure, uh...No-one's ever told me... [loud laughter]" Paxo suggested Gates had words with his staff, since they were protecting him too much. Gates recovered by suggesting that any name could be used in the jokes, including Paxo's. Paxo went on to ask about the telecoms convergence. Gates pushed a fiction as his version of the truth: "There's prototypes that you can see today of getting ... the Internet on to the screen phone. In the next few years that stuff is going to roll out in significant volumes." Nokia and Ericsson will be pleased to know that Gates is aware of their prototypes", but perhaps ill was thinking of his smoke-and-mirrors CE mobile phone mock-up. Gates spoke about Microsoft's development of social interfaces with a chosen personality: "We - it turned out prematurely - took the social interface and put it into one of our software products. I think [sic] we called it Microsoft Bob and it was ahead of its time ..." which is a euphemism for being a miserable failure. Paxo glanced at his cue list: "Pornography is the major traffic on the Internet," he proclaimed, quickly adding "we are told." Gates put it at 10 er cent. Asked if he felt any sense of responsibility for Microsoft's software being used to disseminate pornography, Gates said he did, and went on about the parental content control built into the browser. Not wishing to end on a porno note, Paxo hastily asked Gates how he thought about having made about half a million dollars during the interview. Gates wasn't sure that this was the case. Even allowing for the fact that this was meant to be family viewing and not stuff for nerds, Paxo failed to show his usual form. It was a duff performance. ®