A brief note on Bill Gates

I finally decided to put in my two cents on this subject. As you must surely have heard Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the richest man in the world will be making a transition away from an active role at the company to devote his full time to philanthropy:

Microsoft (MSFT) chairman Bill Gates announced Thursday that he will let loose the reins of the company he co-founded in college and shaped into a behemoth, to focus on philanthropy.

The big question: As Gates’ influence wanes, will Microsoft be better equipped to compete in a changing tech arena?

Gates, 50, who was also Microsoft’s chief software architect, will give up day-to-day duties in July 2008, retaining the title of chairman.

John Dvorak, columnist and curmudgeon, had this to say about the move:

Today Bill Gates announced that he was going to leave Microsoft and focus on the philanthropic part of his life saying that he wants to give back to society. The over-riding question is: what does it mean to Microsoft’s future?

First of all, Bill has been disengaging for a while and it actually surprises me that he didn’t make this leap a year or two ago. He used to always say that he’ll be at Microsoft as long as “it’s fun.” The fun must have diminished with the company spending far too much time in court while it produced what amounts to commodity products. The growth at Microsoft is in the enterprise businesses and the Xbox 360 side of things, especially the games. While both of these segments do well this is not where Bill got his start. He began selling what amounted to subversive software for cheap computers. This early effort ate away at the establishment, including IBM and the minicomputer crowd. It stole their lunch as it were.

Much of the fun is gone (or at least moved to Linux) and the most important force pushing for the commodification of desktop computing was the company that Gates founded.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

7 comments… add one
  • Lyn

    And now one of probably ten men in the world with such freedom and economic power has decided to take on a cause! He’s going to eliminate malaria, a disease that serves to protect some of the worlds most precious rainforests from human habitation. It is discouraging that the world has thrust into such a position a man of such shabby imaginative power. Perhaps we should rejoice since, if history is any example, it will take him three tries to find a vaccine that doesn’t kill more than cure.

    Malaria has been with us for a long, long time. There are many other problems facing the world of greater importance. Climate change, water shortages, energy problems are but a few. One must conclude his dominant motivation is to carve a historical notch on his cane by taking on something where failure can be hidden but success can be vaunted.

  • Ian Campbell

    Lyn, I somewhat agree with you, apart from the apparent fact that you are willing to see hundreds of millions of people die in agony to further your cause.

    I would far rather see him taking a leaf out of the book of his ex-colleague Paul Allen, and use some of his astronomical wealth to start on the real soution to most of humanity’s problems; economical spaceflight, and the shifting of our industries and our mess to somewhere where none of it will matter, and supply of energy that doesn’t cause CO2 emission and doesn’t produce radioactive waste, and is available in large and reliable quantities.

    Of course, you would probably far rather that humanity went back to the caves we have spent a million years striving to get out of; either that, or cover thousands of square miles of formerly beautiful countryside and hills in noisy, ugly windmills that won’t even do what they are supposed to.

  • Lyn

    Thank you for giving a piece of your mind. Obviously something you can’t afford.

    You have done one thing, albeit inadvertently. You have shown me how much worse it would be if you were in Gates position. I guess I’ll count my blessings.

  • The Ballad of Reading Gaol — LOL!

  • Yeah, amba, it was the first thing that leaped to my mind when I heard the news.

  • Ian Campbell

    One aspect of the deforestation problem is that people living at a subsistence level do what they need to to survive; far too often, that means cutting down trees. It also involves killing rare forest animals.

    Lyn, if you were an inhabitant of a rainforest country living on less than $100 per year, would you be “ecologically conscious”? I think not.

    Another aspect of this is that people living at subsistence level have far too many kids, one reason being that they want to have someone who’ll look after them when they are old – if they get the chance to get old, that is.

    Economic development has always led to slowing population growth; an example is that Europeans are at well below replacement level already.

    Repeat; refusing to sort out such problems as endemic malaria and scistomiasis, and arranging for a supply of clean water for the half the world’s population that don’t have one, will inevitably result in millions upon millions of people continuing to go blind, die in agony (I am told a malaria death isn’t pretty) and suffer in many other ways.

    And for the reasons mentioned above, it will probably mean FASTER population growth and WORSE ecological impact.

    On the windmill issue; Wind power doesn’t work. It will never work. Reason? Simple. Very few places have reliable winds, and even in the tiny fraction that do, the energy density of wind is so low that truly enormous facilities are needed. Which take energy and material resources to create, and very large amounts of maintenance.

    And because of the unreliability, you need a backup generation capacity anyway! And, one more thing on this subject, such backup facilities need to be fast-response; which means that they need to be oil or gas powered.

    Wave power might be a better prospect, but has got nowhere because it isn’t fashionable enough. Ocean thermal is even better, ditto. (Incidentally we know that ocean thermal works, because a working pilot plant was built in 1930!)

    Lyn, I’ve looked at this subject, and looked at the numbers. I suspect that you haven’t because you couldn’t understand the numbers anyway. I have a science degree from a top university; you?

    Rainforests and their inhabitants are important. People are important too.

  • Ian, we’re starting to get a little far afield from the original topic of this post but I’d like to suggest that one measure that is known to improve economic development without population growth or degradation of the environment is educating women and relying more strongly on the economic potential of women.

    But, returning to Bill Gates, one of my concerns about Gates’s involvement with the developing world is that his actual genius is as a skilled manipulator of a system. Our system. And I suspect that’s what he’ll continue to do.

    The track record of rich men and their hobbies is mixed. Will Gates’s foundation be more like Carnegie’s libraries or John D. Rockefeller’s history projects?

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