You’re going to hear a lot of crazy talk in the mainstream media over the next few days about how Bill Gates and his original ‘Microsoft Family’ set out in the 1970’s to “change the world and put a computer on every desk, in every home”.
You can’t really blame the traditional journalists who copy and paste from Bill’s resumé those same lines over and over into every news report and top of the hour radio bulletin, for trimming the detailed facts of what Microsoft actually did to achieve their lofty goals, down into a single sound-bite like this. They are, after all, doing their cutting and pasting, 85% of them at least, on a machine running Gates’ Windows operating system.
What you are entitled to feel a certain degree of righteous indignation towards, is the collective amnesia we’ve allowed ourselves to slip into about how many ideas Microsoft blatantly stole from far superior systems to the ones their name eventually became associated with having invented.
There was no such thing as desktop publishing, for example, before the Apple Mac. There was no MS-DOS before Gary Kildall’s CP /M – which Gates effectively sold to IBM before he’d managed to source a line for line reversed engineered copy of it from someone else.
All of this might be fair game in the name of entrepreneurial spirit, you might say – but in the name of fair and balanced reporting, it might be nice to at least hear a sentence or two about the reality of how Gates came to rule the world, riding on the back of his less well known and certainly less financially well rewarded contemporaries, who often outshine him and many of whom simply lacked the Harvard business school face that fits, when it came to VC funding and his impressive instinctive for marketing and spin.
No one can doubt that Gates’ new role as full time philanthropist, dedicated to helping the people in our world who need the most help, is anything other than a truly incredible and wonderful thing to do. I respect him and his wife immensely for it.
I just wish he could find it in his heart to mention, at least once, in the face to face time he has already granted to certain journalists and will be giving more to in the future, some of the names of the people who performed so many of the dangerous stunts which make his performance look so convincing – many of whom were not Microsoft employees, but simply interested in computer science; the misfit beardy weirdys, at the Mountain View home-brew computer club, who for the love of code contributed so much we mere users can’t begin to fathom.
These are the people who dreamed that one day everyone would own a computer – not because they wanted one company to rule us all, but because they believed that free enterprise and competition drives innovation. That this is dependent upon having a level playing field which competitors can play a fair game against each other on, without a 85 degree leaning slope towards the goal mouth of the team with the most ambitious manager.
No one disputes that the Windows gravy train has been a very good thing for a great many people – but it might be more honest of the fawning hacks who squawk their drive-time radio copy at us everyday, about the legacy of the man destined to take the credit for other people’s work, to point out at least once, that this doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing for the tracks, station and driver to be owned and operated by Microsoft as well.