My How Things Have Changed

What follows is an expert from my old blog in 2003 about the Microsoft graduating intern barbecue held at Bill Gates's house on Lake Washington. It's very interesting to compare and contrast with Microsoft's recent attempts to cozy up with the open source community and court developers. Makes me wonder if someone at Microsoft saw this journal entry before I took it down :)

When I was at Microsoft, all graduating interns got to go to a BBQ at Bill Gate's house. He showed up like half way through, and was met with a barrage of people asking questions. One guy asked about the XBox Software-only Linux hack, which Bill basically dismissed, and stated that they would never willingly support Linux on the platform, simply because they were selling it at a loss. He also denied that there had ever been a software-only install method, which I think was basically him just practicing a little double-think..

Another person asked what Bill saw was the potential for starting a new company, and what the new growth fields of computers were. Bill replied that with Microsoft and Open Source competing neck-and-neck so fiercely, there really was little room for new companies to come into the fray and be wildly successful. He went on to say that AI was going to be the next growth field, however, on account of the need for computers to learn how their users like to interact with them, and taylor interfaces and the user experience on the fly; to predict the user's most likely next move(s) and present them with menu options accordingly. So that was interesting.

I had a couple of questions for The Man as well. I wanted to know how far he would take the pure profit motive on the desktop, so I asked him if he considered putting ads into Windows, considering how much revenue ads generate for MSN. At first, he danced around the issue, saying something to the effect of "Well, you'll find that there are non-intrusive ways to do ads.." At which point I said, "Well, that's not what I asked, Bill. My question is how do you make decisions as to what happens with Windows. Is it purely profit driven, in that you may adopt ads if it causes people to ditch Windows, but total revenue is still up, or is there some other motivating factor at work here?"

At this point he glanced down at my nametag, and then looked right at me and said, "The line is 90% market share. We're not going to do a damn thing that might cause anyone to install Linux." Ouch, my hand had been revealed, and it was only question 1. But I still had to wonder why he feared people installing Linux, and not them getting a Mac (which arguably has a 5 year lead on Wintel). The only conclusion I can come to now is that he knows how to compete against Apple, and has successfully done so in the past. Linux is another story. He worries about it, because it's so foriegn to him. This would be consistent with several internal emails/newsletters sent around the company.

I then asked him some other question (my memory and notes betray me, unfortunately), and he seemed impressed, and made some comment about how rare it is for someone to be able to see the technical side of things as well as the business side, and how that was worth its weight in gold. I think I now read this as "This is what you're passing up, you communist fool."

I went on to ask him how serious Microsoft was about keeping .NET an open standard. At this point, he either misinterpreted me, or more accurately pinned down my angle and decided just to take a pot shot. "Well, we're not going to give it away, you know. Programmers have to get paid, and by the very virtue of you cashing your paycheck, you agree." To this I simply smiled and laughed. This time, however, I didn't have to reiterate my question. He went on to say that the e-commerce portions being built with IBM will remain open standards, but the fate of the desktop application portions is uncertain, and will probably include proprietary extensions.

I then asked him another question which also escapes me, but I do remember him riding me about that one as well. "Programmers have to get paid.." and similar statements again were his response. I think he wanted to troll me into a debate about the economics of open source development, but I wasn't about to do that.

See, here's the problem with Microsoft. While economies of scale dictate that Microsoft ultimately will produce all mass-market software, there is no way they can possibly employ every person skilled enough to develop this software. They simply don't need them. It is the very nature of economic efficiency. And so, these unemployed (by Microsoft) developers have no choice but to compete with Microsoft. Currently, the most effective way of doing so is to form allegiances between all hardware companies who have a vested interest in not paying a Microsoft tax for the right to sell their devices. In the meantime, these developers will continue doing what they like to do most. And that's write code.

But I wasn't about to explain this to Gates. I simply smiled, laughed, and nodded my head.

Historical Reference:

(off-topic) complete blog feeds

Hello, I'm using a feed reader to track your blog. But the blog feeds are not complete -- usually the first paragraph then a link pointing to your site.

IMHO, this is somewhat inconvenient for your blog reader, will you please fix this?

Thanks in advance.

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