Tag Archives | Bill Gates


I didn’t own an IBM PC or clone in the early days, so I missed out on the wonder of DONKEY.BAS, which came bundled with early versions of MS-DOS and was the first PC game. In fact, I don’t think I knew about it until I read Benj Edwards’ slideshow on operating-system games, which pointed out that it was cowritten by Bill Gates himself.

But now I can relive the magic for the first time, thanks to a new version of DONKEY.BAS for iOS. It’s 99 cents, is compatible with Game Center, and includes both iPhone and iPad versions. It seems to be a faithful rendition of the original, complete with blocky graphics and bloopy sound effects, and the same objective: Drive down road, avoid hitting donkeys. And it’s um, just as fun as it must have been back in 1981.

The new version is by Johnny Ixe; I’d love to think that’s a pseudonym for William H. Gates III. Probably not, though, so let’s hope that Microsoft doesn’t issue a takedown notice….


Don’t Pine for Bill Gates, Microsoft Fans

Putting the kibosh on one of 2011’s biggest non-stories, Bill Gates has said he isn’t going to return to full-time work at Microsoft. Thank heavens. His current gig as a philanthropist matters far more than anything he might do to nudge Windows Phone in the right direction or get Windows 8 off to a good start. (I’m convinced that when the world remembers Gates in a century or two, his philanthropy will be the first thing that comes to mind; Microsoft will be the second career that also deserves a mention.)

The notion that Gates might have staged a Microsoft comeback seems to have been wishful thinking more than possible reality. Microsoft faces lots of challenges. Some people think that its current CEO, Steve Ballmer, is doing a lousy job of tackling them. Who better than its co-founder to rise to the challenge? Wouldn’t it be pretty much like Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, which worked out OK?

If Bill Gates had come back to Microsoft and had staged a dramatic turnaround, it would have been a great story. But if he had strolled into the CEO’s office, asked Ballmer to give up his chair, and sat down, I don’t think it would have had a dramatic impact on the company’s fortunes.

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If Ballmer’s Days Are Numbered, Bill Gates Isn’t the Answer

It can’t be that much fun to be Steve Ballmer right now. He’s the head of a company whose stock price has been stagnant: trading at essentially the same level for much of the last eight years, safe for a few upward (and downward) blips. He’s presided over one of the company’s most high-profile failures–the Zune–and is playing playing catchup in a market you essentially helped create.

One of the most prominent successes of his tenure — the Xbox 360 — is credited to somebody else, who was rumored to have left the company over his questionable business decisions.

He’s often derided for his bombastic personality, and has technology pundits calling his tenure “The Reign of Error.” Now its come to a whole other level — investors and analysts asking for his pink slip.

Is the increasing chorus against Ballmer fair, or do others share in Microsoft’s failure? Or is this symptomatic of a larger shift among the company’s key customers, where Microsoft as a whole has fallen out of favor? You could make a case for any any of these scenarios.

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Paul Allen’s Microsoft Memoir Isn’t a Lovefest

Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft, has written a memoir, Idea Man, which¬†is excerpted on Vanity Fair‘s site. His fellow founder Bill Gates doesn’t come off well in the excerpt–Allen says he pushed and pushed to reduce Allen’s ownership in the company–and the Wall Street Journal says that the book has caused a “rift” between Allen and Gates and may include some inaccuracies.

I’m looking forward to reading the book, which goes on sale on April 19th–not because of any juicy stuff it may contain, or because I relish the thought of Microsoft’s creators being at odds with each other in public. (That’s kind of sad whether Allen has a point or not.) Whatever you think of Microsoft, the founding of the company is one of the most visionary things that’s ever happened in the history of personal technology, and it’ll be interesting to hear the tale told by one of the two guys who know it all.

(Fuzzy-but-evocative 1983 photo of Paul Allen and Bill Gates borrowed from a 1983 issue of InfoWorld.)

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The Newsstand That Spawned Microsoft is Set to Close

Out of Town NewsOut of Town News, the iconic newsstand smack in the middle of Cambridge, Mass.’s Harvard Square, is within a month of shutting down after 54 years in business. It’s one of the most famous meeting points in the Boston area, since it’s so impossible to miss. But as the Boston Globe reports today, it also played a supporting role in one of the most famous moments in computer history.

It was at Out of Town that a young computer nerd named Paul Allen bought the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics–the one with a cover story on a built-it-yourself personal computer called the Altair 8800. Allen got really, really excited–and showed the issue to his buddy, Harvard student Bill Gates. Gates got equally excited. The two decided to develop a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair–and that programming language was the first product of the company called, originally, Micro-Soft.

Allen and Gates were deeply into computers, and had already formed one software company together, Traf-O-Data. You gotta assume they would have heard about the Altair one way or another, and it’s therefore silly to posit that if Allen hadn’t stopped to to browse at Out of Town, there would have been no Microsoft, no DOS, no Windows, no Microsoft Mouse, no Microsoft Office, no Microsoft Bob, no MSN, no Clippy, no MSNBC, no Xbox, no Zune, no Gates Foundation, and not a single Blue Screen of Death. But it is Twilight Zone-ish fun to toy with that notion.

Within about five years of Allen’s purchase, incidentally, Out of Town played a major role in my own obsession with PCs–for many years, it had the best selection of computer magazines in the Boston area, and I bought countless copies of magazines such as Creative Computing, BYTE, and Popular Computing there. Given its proximity to Harvard, MIT, and other universities, Over the years, I’m sure many thousands of other people who were fixated on computers got most of their information on the subject from Out of Town. It may be a quaint relic of the pre-Web age, but the memories will live forever.

Cambridge city officials are trying to find another company to operate a newsstand in Out of Town’s hut-like building. (Which, incidentally, isn’t the one that Allen bought his magazine at–the newsstand moved a few yards into a new structure years later when the Harvard Square subway stop received a major makeover.) I wish them luck–for one thing, it’s going to be a tad disorienting if I ever visit a Harvard Square without Out of Town.

If it does close, I hope that Cambridge erects some sort of plaque in its honor, and that that plaque mentions Paul Allen’s purchase…

(Photo by Flickr user afagen)


Schiller vs. Ballmer: The Inevitable, Unexpected Keynote Smackdown

Phil Schiller and Steve BallmerMind if I state the obvious? Steve Jobs is the undisputed master of the tech-product keynote, and if there’s anyone who’s a very distant second place, it sure ain’t Bill Gates. Yet the only other tech keynote that’s got any history to it other than the Jobs Macworld Expo ritual has been the Bill Gates keynote in Las Vegas, a tradition even more venerable than the Macworld Expo Stevenote. It even outlasted Comdex, the show it was given at–Gates simply transferred his act to CES.

But with Gates’ retirement from active duty at Microsoft, next month’s CES will be headlined by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He’ll give keynote on Wednesday, January 7th–the day after Phil Schiller gives his first and final presentation as Steve Jobs’ substitute at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. In two days, we’ll see two changings of the keynote guard at the only two keynotes that ever mattered.

Jobs and Gates: The two most iconic entrepreneurs that tech has produced to date. Schiller and Ballmer? Not iconic. It’s like seeing Marlin Perkins sidekick Jim Fowler take over Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom the same week that Ed McMahon assumes the duties of hosting The Tonight Show.

In the era of Jobs and Gates, you didn’t have to give a nanosecond’s thought to who would give the more impressive presentation. With Schiller vs. Ballmer, it’s a tougher call. We’ve seen both of them do demos before, but the spotlight has never shined on them quite as brightly as it will in three weeks.

Who will be the new king of the conference keynote? (Yes, I know that Schiller plans to abdicate after one morning.) You’ve got me, but as we prepare to answer that question, we can at least prep ourselves by analyzing existing footage of the two execs ‘ communication styles.







So who would you rather watch at work next month? So help me, I may witness both in person…


Twenty Thoughts About a Microsoft Ad Campaign I Haven’t Seen Yet

The big news in the blogosphere today involves new details about Microsoft’s upcoming $300 million Windows ad campaign: It will apparently feature Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, use the slogan “Windows, Not Walls,” and begin on September 4th. I’m not a professional ad critic, and I can’t even play amateur critic before I’ve seen the ads in question. But I can’t stop my mind from racing ahead, either.

So without any further ado, lemme throw out ten initial questions, impressions, and reflections about the campaign and Windows marketing in general–all of which are subject to revision and retraction once the ads hit the airwaves in a couple of weeks.

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