I first encountered Microsoft in terms of buying their products in about 1981. I bought a game for my Apple II- Adventure (aka “Colossal Cave”, the original Crowther and Woods text based adventure) from them. I followed Bill Gates’ career from about that time, and always felt like, in a weird way, he and I were twins separated at birth… even though he’s older than me and I’m far, far sexier.
In about 1990, I had a beer (several, actually- I think it was a post-training course social thing) with a fellow in Seattle who told me I looked just like Bill. He then proceeded to tell me how his family used to have a summer cottage near the Gates’ clan when Bill was a kid. He described summers sharing BBQs and swimming with the Gates’ family, and turning down a job offer from Bill in the early 1980’s. My momentary pride at being described as “like Bill Gates” was quashed when the guy described the young Bill Gates as a pain in the neck smartass geek, and how he once nearly drowned Bill while swimming because he was so irritating.
In later life, I realized that the “pain in the neck smartass” was a lot more like me than I was probably willing to admit.
Bill set out his retirement plans several years ago, including an intent to give away 95% of his personal wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates charitable foundation. During the past couple of years he has been transitioning all of his day to day work to others. He “final” stage is stepping down from full time employment at Microsoft. For years, Bill has been an annual keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show, and on Monday he gave what is expected to be his last address at this forum.
It is probably worth noting a few things for the young whipper-snappers and absent-minded old fogeys. Post IPO Microsoft was once the beloved darling of the media and the public, the “Google” of the late 80’s and early 90’s. They could do no wrong- they were beloved by all. But time passed, and the love faded as Microsoft became established, monolithic, the Borg. Much of the later dislike or even hatred of Microsoft is, in my opinion, misplaced. Yes, they are a driven, obsessed competitor, and they have used tactics at times that were unfair. But I remember:
- Netscape Navigator as a buggy, unstable program that cost $40 every six months or so for new update licenses, and IE3 as a stable, reliable browser that cost nothing (circa 1995)
- Windows as the GUI that brought multi-tasking and memory management to the mainstream, replacing “neat tricks” like DesqView and the like (circa 1985)
- Microsoft Office as a massive improvement over Lotus Symphony (circa 1985-1990)
- Microsoft Word as the first word processor to get me to give up WordPerfect and MultiMate (circa 1985)
- introduced a version of Unix onto the PC platform (Xenix) (circa 1980)
None of the fond thoughts I have of Microsoft or Bill Gates will change the minds of the ABM (Anything But Microsoft) crowd and other haters that populate places like Slashdot (which I otherwise enjoy reading) in such profusion. My history using UNIX and derivatives goes back to 1980, Berkeley versions of UNIX, and the original “White Book” Kernighan and Ritchie C programming language, so I am not a Microsoft “fan boy” nor am I blinded by their marketing. But I respect Microsoft’s contributions, and in particular am a fan of Bill Gates.
And the prize for making it this far in my article? A humourous video from Bill’s CES presentation. Bill is self-deprecating, and you can see his quirky “not quite smiling” expression over and over again throughout the video. Dammit it, I do that too- curse you, evil billionaire twin!