Masthead CMC Magazine December 1, 1995 / Page 15


Bill's Excellent Adventures

by John December (

Looking geeky in a white labcoat and hardhat, Bill Gates stepped into David Letterman's world on the set of the Late Show this past November 27th in New York. After setting up a humorous, skeptical mood with his bandleader Paul Shaffer, Letterman introduced Bill Gates as someone who knew "everything there is to know" about computers.

Gates stepped onto the stage and good-naturedly assisted David Letterman in the "Quiz Machine" skit, in which an enormous, bulky box displayed the written answers to questions Letterman read from cards. However, the machine's doors didn't fully close after displaying the message "Buy Windows '95" in response to a question. Bill Gates was apologetic that the contraption didn't seem to work well under his control and later quipped, "I'd recall it," when asked by Letterman what he would do if Microsoft had created such a monstrosity.

Bill Gates might very well be wondering what monstrosities he may have wrought. It has been quite a year for him: releasing the new version of his Windows '95 operating system, promoting his book, The Road Ahead, and building a house. But as far as Bill Gates is concerned, this is not his swan song: his book tour, appearance on Late Show, and other interviews this week revealed that he not only wants to be part of the future--he wants to shape it.

Microsoft's Internet Ideas

David Letterman humorously grilled Gates about computers and the Internet, and Gates grinned, taking in Letterman's ribbing. When Letterman asked why he would ever need to connect to the Net, Gates explained to Dave that the major benefits would be to make connections with others who shared Dave's "unusual" interests in cigars and racing cars.

"The only thing I know about the Internet now is that many of the staff members here at the Late Show, when they leave at the end of the day, go home and they have sex with strangers on the Internet..."

-- David Letterman

Although not sharing Letterman's humorous, misinformed view of the Net, Gates does seem to have some difficulty grasping what the Net is. The Microsoft dictum, "a computer on every desk and in every home..." doesn't translate well in the open world of the Net, where proprietary applications interface locks don't hold well.

In a Business Week December 4, 1995 interview, Bill Gates revealed a loose grasp of Net technologies. Gates wondered, "What's new about [Java]?" and said that it doesn't "change the dynamics" of the Net, computing, and communications. At the same time, Microsoft is re-working their Blackbird software, which was originally designed for the Microsoft Network, for the Web. The markets remain unconvinced that Gates is getting it. Goldman, Sachs & Co. dropped Microsoft from their "buy" recommendations and added Netscape.

Gates' Book

[Ed. Note: a full review of The Road Ahead will appear in a forthcoming issue of CMC Magazine. ]

In the excerpt of The Road Ahead in Newsweek, Gates describes a world of computing and information that sounds surprisingly familiar. Gates describes a future global network where people "sell, trade, invest, haggle, pick stuff up, argue, meet new people..." He "predicts" the use of video-on-demand, a "wallet PC," "digital money," and "e-books." He states, "Within a few years there will be hybrid communications systems that will use ... ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) telephone connections." Gates' characterization of this future is that it is still very far off: "the full [information] highway is unlikely to be available in homes for at least a decade."

Along with this curiously bland technological forecasting, Gates makes some strident and contradictory social and economic forecasts: an "information highway" will lead to: "... a wealthier world ... [where the] the gap between the have and have-not nations will diminish..." This "highway" will "break down boundaries and may promote a world culture," and, at the same time, it "may strengthen cultural diversity and counter the tendency toward a single world culture."

Bill Gates makes quite a leap from the fifteen million lines of code in Windows 95 to a New World Utopia ushered in on a "highway" that doesn't yet exist. If he is to be a player in any Information Age, Gates may need to learn to let go of his fantasy of an "information highway" built by Microsoft. He'll need to take another look around the Net, and discover people are making a future that, unlike his new mansion rising on the banks of Lake Washington, isn't under his control. [CMC TOC]

John December is author of Presenting Java.

Copyright © 1995 by John December. All Rights Reserved.

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