Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The World of Bill Gates
If your livelihood is in the world of computers, you may well share my feelings. I'm bothered by Bill Gates. I'm worried about his impact on my life. He is an innovative marketing genius who is shaping our society's cultural destiny, from a Microsoft-oriented profit-making vision. And now he has written a book, The Road Ahead (with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, Viking, N.Y., $29.95), a history, a forecast and a description of his electronic house. The San Simeon that a technocrat would build.
Gates, who is 40 and whose company is 20, did not create MS-DOS, the operating system that made him rich when it became the standard "traffic cop" software of the Personal Computer environment. He bought it, for $50,000, from Seattle Computers. When IBM decided to give him the operating systems contract for the IBM PC in 1981, he managed to retain the rights to sell MS-DOS, as a pre-installed package, on all the IBM PC clones, a much larger market than IBM alone. That was the key to his immense success. He made DOS the standard, on 140 of the 170 million PCs, and created a virtual monopoly over all PCs but the Apples. When he decided to match the competing Apple's user-friendly Macintosh icon-oriented operating system, prevalent in the school market, in the years between 1986 and 1990 he created the successful Windows operating system, nice to the eye but slow and heavily memory-oriented. Nevertheless, it was gladly accepted by computer manufacturers, because Intel was developing the faster 386, 486 and Pentium memory chips, equal to the task. Pre-installed on all the new computers, Windows forced the entire user community to spend billions on new hardware, software, or to upgrade existing equipment. Was Microsoft overtaken by competitors who could supply better software? No, quite the contrary, Windows beat out the superior IBM OS/2.2. Then, in 1993, Microsoft decided to combine communications and networks with its operating system, and came up with another heavyweight, known in the development community as Chicago and sold as Windows 95 in 1995, after many a delay. It should have had another year's delay, to make it less memory-requiring and faster, but who cares! The manufacturers love it as much as they loved Windows, because it sells more hardware. It has built-in network, which helps Microsoft beat out Novell and other competitors in the environment where many computers must be strung together to talk to each other. It also accesses Internet, and there is a question as to the manner in which it impedes other network-access methods. There have been anti-trust complaints against Microsoft for prematurely announcing products and thereby stifling competitors who may be well ahead technologically but are unable to sell their product because the buyers will wait for Microsoft's software, in the expectation that it will integrate with all of their other Microsoft systems. It's an unfair ploy, devised by IBM in their heyday and adopted by Microsoft with great success.
Did we, the user community, need all this continuous accelerated multi-billion dollar upgrading? The corporate market seems to accept it and thrive with the changes. As an individual, I had no need for them, and neither did many other individuals who use the PC for word processing and spread sheets, the main accounting function. I work in MS-DOS, with a 386 PC, sneered at by the kids who want leading edge products, because... When you ask why, the answer becomes vague, hostile and eventually settles on the access speed and memory needed for Intenet, the great deceiver. I stay out of the fascinating but time-wasting and non-productive Internet browsing.
As you can see, Bill Gates is a mixed blessing on the national resources. He forces the US and, actually, the entire world to accept his process of deliberate accelerated, non-beneficial technological obsolescence. But that is the industry, and he cannot afford to slow down, else the $6 billion a year income flow stops and many of the 17,000 techies in Belleville, WA, many of them millionaires in company stock, lose their jobs and their investment portfolios.
Where I really blow the gasket is when Gates starts setting standards for culture and civilization. This marketing genius of limited horizons - he decided to drop out of a card-playing Harvard existence in the 2nd year to start a computer buiness - is building a house with 40 screens for TV, for the information highway and for music. He does not need the theatre, or concerts, and he does not need books. All of the above can be piped in. And he wants a wallet-PC society that eliminates retail banking and tellers, bill-payment, credit cards, 1st class mail for bills, and letters (he has fax and e-mail for us). Retail store operations may be obsolete; individual intruction in schools ditto, since he can eliminate individual teaching with multi-media presentations. Gates is essentially building towards an anti-social form of society, with no need for personal interaction. Only books that are read front-to-back will remain in print (hard-copy) format for now, whereas all reference works should be multi-media, with print, pictures and sound on a color screen. Research, such as pulling together all the material about Katharine Hepburn's movies, will be so much easier on-line (some research!). He feels bad for himself, for having had to use hard-copy encyclopedias in his youth. I don't think he has cracked many books after dropping out, though he claims to like The Bridges of Madison County, an indicator of his taste.
The fact that advanced technology has a negative impact on employment cannot be fought, if it is not Gates it will be someone else who will think of ways to use the information highway to cut jobs. But becoming an arbiter in determining the form and content to the nation's culture? Corporate culture, while powerful, normally remains internal to the organization. Bill Gates brings it to the outside, as a role model, an icon, and not just for the young. I wish he would buzz off. Make money, not culture, Bill Gates. The old ways of society are okay.
Wally Dobelis and T&V wish a Happy Holiday Season for all of our readers.
And especially for old friends from ST/PCV, some not seen for years - Gertrude Barber, Bertha Dotz, Mary Hanclosky, Mae Kehoe, Mary Rapp, Lil Riback, Hilda Strassheim, Ellen Torchin, Jean Vallely, and Ann Hanus.
Gate was`a 2nd yr man in the Currrier residence, an outer house in Harvard when the MITSComputers' Altair PC 8989 , a kit for $800, was announced. He and childhood friend and felleow programmer 3 years his senior Paul Allem moved to albuquerque and formed Microsoft, to sell their version of BASIC adapted for the Altair. They expanded to FORTRAN PC version, Radio Shack 100 in 1983???; sold well in Japan, Paul Ballmer came, and MS moved to Belleville WA in 1979, the year when VisiCalc, the predecessor of Lotus 123, and the wordprocesors WordStar and WordPerfect were first marketed.A year later Gates bought 86-DOS (hired Tim Patterson), and in 1981 the IBM PC came out with DOS 1.0. DOS 2.0 came for the IBM XT (a 286 machine) in 1983, and a year later DOS 3.0 for the IBM AT.
That was also the first year for the Aple Macintosh, successor of Lisa.
In 1985 MS collab with IBM on OS/2, but also came out with the Win 1.03. In 1986 COMPAQ, afounded by 3 TI engineers came out with the first 386, beating IBM, who was holding back to protet their line of minicomputers. That was the year for improved IBM OS2 1.0, and Win 2. Win 3 was in 1990, MS-DOS 5.0 in 91, Win 3.1 in 92, and Win 95 in 95. Public in 19xx, 17k empl, $6B ann sales, college campus, 1MS Way, crisis atmosphere, go-go
ARPANET 1960s-89, thereafter Internet, w/ leased lines from 5 cos.
Gates: Encarta (F&Wag); Virt Real; tactels vs pixels; Email, videoconf;shopping;teachers-monitor, eval guide;games gambl;budgets;ebooks