Opinion - Today is Bill Gates’ last day at Microsoft and typically we would not care that much if a company founder goes into early retirement. But whether we like it or not, there is no denying that Bill Gates has achieved what many of us dream to achieve - to touch as many lives as possible and make your time count. While the modern tech industry loses one of its pioneers I am glad that Bill will not simply disappear, but has decided to make room for new talent to evolve and dedicate his wealth and influence to charity.
I can’t hide that this article is a bit selfish, but I am sure that I can speak for many of you working in the tech industry today. DOS 6 and Windows 3.11 was the first software I was exposed to on a PC - it was a technology that you just knew would make it into households - other than the extremely geeky, and from today’s view, useless Amstrad computers I was working on before. DOS and Windows were fascinating and painful at the same time. The software crashed all the time, but there was passion to work and accept your PC in way you would not do it today.
It was that passion that educated many of us to learn how PCs worked and it was my decision that I wanted to share my experiences and knowledge about Windows PCs. Needless to say, everything that worked and did not work about Windows and Microsoft in the following 15 or so years, provided me with enough material to pursue my dream as a technology writer. I believe that many of my colleagues feel the same way.
Over the course of Bill Gates’ years, of course, there were many events that will remain in our memories. There was the big IBM deal in the 1970s in which the Harvard drop-out sold an operating system he did not have, the creation of Windows, his success that was based on controversial business practices, the monumental oversight of the Internet, little episodes such as a pie being thrown in his face or system crashes in public demonstrations, continued promises that a PC would be as reliable and as simple to use as a TV as well his technology forecasts (most of which did not come true), his public battles with Linux and Apple and countless lawsuits against Microsoft that somehow always appeared to be targeted right at Gates - most noteworthy the DOJs antitrust case that almost resulted in Microsoft being split up into several entities.
There is a lot to like and not to like about Gates and the way he brought up Microsoft. On the positive side, it is the type garage company we all are waiting for from time to time - a company that eventually touches all of our lives. You can always speculate what would or could have been, but we know that Microsoft has sparked an ecosystem that provides millions of people with jobs today and billions are using a computer today, which in my opinion will be what Gates will be remembered for: The guy who turned the PC into a commodity. Yes, there is the bad side as well and he went to great lengths to protect Microsoft businesses and future opportunities. We know that Microsoft holds monopolies and it is clear that it is defending and expanding its market position at the expense of others.
Going forward, Bill Gates appears to be dedicating his time and influence for charity. His charity is already one of the most important and recognized charity organizations in the world and it is good to hear that the 52-year-old Gates will be spending even more time on this effort. People say with great power comes great responsibility and we are seeing a great example of this here - an example that should be taken more seriously by a new generation of wealthy IT entrepreneurs such as Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
I am personally a bit concerned about the Microsoft Bill Gates leaves behind. The Microsoft we will have next Monday is a company that has lost its charismatic face and that is exposed to more challenges than ever before. Microsoft is in danger losing the Internet race against Google, it has a struggling operating system with a successor that does not appear to be able to turn things around, the gaming and entertainment business lacks focus and there aren’t any significant new ideas coming out of Microsoft that could spark passion for the company. Steve Ballmer may face the perfect storm in the next two years and I wonder if he will be able to sail through it. It seems that Microsoft these days is more vulnerable than ever before and Ballmer will have to come up with solutions that will prevent Microsoft from becoming the General Motors of the IT industry.
Somehow it appears that it is this time that Microsoft would need Gates the most. But sometimes you just need to be thrown into the cold water and learn to swim. This is what Ballmer and Microsoft will need to do starting next Monday.