Bill Gates vs The Internet Revisited
Friday, January 14, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Good morning DaveNet readers.
It's been a different kind of week. I've hosted my development team in California as we plan our work for the year and seek closure on a project that realizes the next part of our vision of turning the Internet into a beautiful and easy writing environment.
The theme, "Meet your new File menu" that I explained in May of last year is now working. I'll probably be using the new software, codenamed Pike, later today. It's an exciting time!
I read in press reports that Bill Gates is thinking along the same lines. I'm going to seek him out in Davos later this month and show him what we've been doing. (I'm bringing my laptop.) Now that Bill is back in development mode, maybe we can do some stuff together?
Meanwhile, let me insert another plug for the Davos Newbies site, which now has a more appropriate URL:
The site has gotten a makeover thanks to the excellent work of Garret Vreeland, a designer who is infected with the Manila bug. Between Garret and Lance Knobel, the editor of the site, it has blossomed into something I'm very very proud of. DavosNewbies is our showcase Manila site for the first part of this year. If you're going to Davos, as many DaveNet readers are, please check out the site, and if you have comments, questions or suggestions, please let them be known.
We're going to arrange some kind of informal meeting in Davos for people who use the site. We'll play it by ear. Davos is a very hospitable environment for creative thinking. And given the environment in the high tech world, there's certain to be some big news coming from Davos. We plan to cover it. I'm also bringing a new digital camera with me.
Finally, this site is so great because of the support we've gotten from the people at the World Economic Forum. They've been an absolute joy to work with. As Lance says, I am *so* psyched!! I truly am. Read on..
Reviewing the pictures on the DavosNewbies site, one thing became clear. I need to get a haircut and some new suits! Even the people in the press room are wearing white shirts and ties. No problem. As usual at UserLand this project has a codename. First it was My Fair Dave, but to make it more rhythmic, now we're calling it My Fair Davey. Harumph! ;->
Yesterday I happened to be browsing at the right time, and spotted a NY Times story about Bill Gates's resignation before it had appeared on the other news sites.
I had to read it three times. Could this possibly be real? Had the Times site been hacked? The story looked real. It was syndicated from News.Com. I went to the News.Com site and they were carrying it too. I decided it was a real story.
I quickly ran a DaveNet bulletin, and set aside some time to think about this event.
On Wednesday morning the Washington Post asked "Which company would get Bill Gates? How would the programmers be split up? And what would prevent employees assigned to the non-Gates firms from quitting and joining Gates's company?"
The Gates stepdown seems to answer these questions pretty neatly. "None of the above," Bill appears to be saying.
Gates, more than any other software industry CEO, is identified with his company, both inside and outside of Microsoft. The people of Microsoft have a genuine affection and respect for Gates. I'm not sure the depth of personal committment exists for Ballmer.
Microsoft tends to play by the standard book of American business. Gates will leave room for Ballmer to lead the company. By transferring the CEO role, Gates forever changes Microsoft. This may be the beginning of the biggest transition in the history of the software industry.
Gates is not leaving Microsoft. He remains its largest shareholder and chairman of the board.
A Microsoft board member once told me that Bill could have a board meeting while shaving in the morning. That certainly is still true. Or is it?
In his remarks, Gates says that this was the logical next step in a transition that began over a year ago when he named Ballmer president of the company. If so, what's the logical next step after this one? One can easily envision a press conference to announce that Gates is retiring to spend more time with his kids, more time reading, or nurturing startups he invests in, as many ex-CEOs do these days.
Unless we could peer into the Mind of Gates, we can't possibly know what his intent is. It could go either way. A Bill Gates with more time to spend with Microsoft product teams could glue the people of Microsoft to the company more effectively. That certainly has to be a frequently asked question in the halls of the Microsoft campus. Bill-spottings are the currency of status inside Microsoft. Will there be more or less of those in the new Ballmer-led Microsoft?
Transitions in the software business tend to create Ken Olsens. Please recall that Olsen was the founder of Digital Equipment Corp, now a unit of Compaq. In many ways Olsen was the predecessor of Gates, a strong, opinionated technical leader of a dominant company, undermined by a technological sea-change, and challenged to make a personal transition.
Gates, a highly competitive person who is also a student of history, seems unlikely to want to give this up. But the Olsen question is once again raised by his stepdown. Taken at face-value, the announcement seems to be a yes. But were it not for the government action, would Gates be stepping down now? There's no way to know. And therefore, at this time, there's no way to know the answer to this question. Did Bill Gates win? Or did the Internet?