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Enemy at the Gates
January 20, 2010 1:23 PM   Subscribe

The Gates Notes is Bill Gate's new website containing his writings and ideas. Featuring such things as hist thoughts on why 0% emissions should be our real goal, why the Teaching Company is so great, and our progress on an AIDS vaccine.
posted by blue_beetle (56 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, Bill Gates is on Twitter now.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


also, forgive the spelling error in Gates name *** smacks forehead ***
posted by blue_beetle at 1:25 PM on January 20, 2010


Took a quick look at the Tech section. Curiously, no thoughts on Windows 7.
posted by philip-random at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2010


Curiously, no thoughts on Windows 7.

Not that curious. He's not really involved in MSFT anymore, and this page (and all of his time now) is about the Gates Foundation and related events. So the Tech section is all in relation to that.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:30 PM on January 20, 2010


@aplusk thanks to you and all the other people who have welcomed me. I've got a lot to learn about Twitter but look forward to sharing more.

Its interesting - the generations associated with computer boom is seen to be so neophillic, yet as I age along with the rest of my high-tech brethern I see more and more of the, "I just don't get this thing." Seeing a hint of something along those lines coming from Bill Gates makes me more and more concerned that one day I'll be the old guy who just doesn't "get" the new technology that's coming out. Considering my complete uselessness of things like Twitter and Facebook, that time may be drawing near.

Oh, and the menu system grows and branches in a way that is almost creepy - like a Kudzu on the page.

posted by cimbrog at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2010


I followed Gates as far as Windows XP, and I'm not going to start following him on Twitter now.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:40 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's not really involved in MSFT anymore

He's still the chairman. I'd be curious to hear from Gates what Microsoft is doing in its own way to reduce emissions — what do they do with their massive data centers, for example, to reduce their environmental impact? All that electricity comes from somewhere, all that waste heat goes somewhere.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:55 PM on January 20, 2010


Curiously, no thoughts on Windows 7.

I want to see one of those Windows 7 ads with Bill Gates going 'I told them to make it smarter and they made it smarter! Guess they were paying attention!'

And then another one with Steve Jobs going 'I thought windows as a metaphor for separate processes would simplify user experience, and now they call it Windows! It was my idea.'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bill, Wordl's Richest Nerd. That's richest, not wisest/most insightful/smartest.
posted by bearwife at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2010


When has Bill ever had a successful idea that he didn't steal from someone else?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:06 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's still the chairman

Yes, but he doesn't involve himself in day-to-day or most other ops. I guess what I mean is I don't think he really spends much time on it anymore.

(I was at MSFT during his "disengagement" period, by the end it was pretty clear that he's extremely hands-off now).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:14 PM on January 20, 2010


It's interesting that somebody who ran one of the meanest companies in all of technology is, in his private life, so interested in charity and the human condition. It's an amazing juxtaposition of ethics.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:14 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


And then another one with Steve Jobs going 'I thought windows as a metaphor for separate processes would simplify user experience, and now they call it Windows! It was my idea.'

And then cue the Xerox Parc guys giving Jobs the finger.

(seriously, the "who invented what" stuff is silly -- the basic GUI, windows, mouse, etc were all Xerox, but Mac and Windows have both added stuff over the years).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:16 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's an amazing juxtaposition of ethics.

Only if you think Microsoft was "evil", hardly a universal sentiment outside Metafilter.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:16 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's hardly uncommon, either.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:25 PM on January 20, 2010


When has Bill ever had a successful idea that he didn't steal from someone else?

Well, there was the idea to get an exclusive license for 86-DOS, deliver it to IBM after adapting it for the PC, but retain the copyright knowing that the hardware would be cloned.
posted by IanMorr at 2:25 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd be curious to hear from Gates what Microsoft is doing in its own way to reduce emissions — what do they do with their massive data centers, for example, to reduce their environmental impact?

That's actually a good q. I know at Google (my current employer) that's a big deal, and I assume it is at Microsoft too -- at the very least, energy = money, and so both companies are motivated to reduce power consumption. I think MS also talked about using renewable sources (hydro, etc) a while back (as did goog).

However, both companies are pretty secretive about the cutting edge stuff, since it's competitive advantage, so there's a lot they won't talk about.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2010


re: old people, technology and "I just don't get this thing."

I think it's more a case of "I just don't care about this thing." Once you've been through enough tech cycles, they all sort of start seeming the same. Only the details are different. It must be hard for Bill to get excited in the morning about YA OS when there are bigger and more interesting problems to solve.
posted by stbalbach at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2010


Only if you think Microsoft was "evil", hardly a universal sentiment outside Metafilter.

I don't know if it is possible to say that a corporation is evil, but while Gates was in charge, it seems a matter of fact that Microsoft was predatory and had enjoyed its share of time in courtrooms around the world. Without casting that in terms of right and wrong, that past does seem to contrast with how Gates is managing his current activities.

However, both companies are pretty secretive about the cutting edge stuff, since it's competitive advantage, so there's a lot they won't talk about.

That's understandable. I was thinking more in broader terms how a billionaire could, by force of sheer wealth, could affect the day-to-day operations of his financial interests, to actually compel some of the changes he writes about in concrete terms.

One thing I noticed from Bill Gates's writing is how it is sometimes vague with respect to actual details. His writing has a bit of a managerial tone, or the non-committal tone of a politician. By speaking broadly and without specifics, he isn't tied down to any particular idea, if it might be controversial.

Which is what made me wonder openly if he has really passed the reins on his business interests (including Microsoft, which he is said to be its largest shareholder). Or perhaps when you're that rich, you literally cannot afford to speak in your own voice — your wealth has its own momentum that forces your public writings, speeches, etc. to be crafted and delivered in a certain way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the richest men in the world? Check.
0% emissions? Check.
Vaccines? Check.

Alex Jones must love this guy!
posted by symbioid at 3:00 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Microsoft yada yada, Apple yada yada, computers yada yada...

Really?...

One of the planet's wealthiest men has committed the vast majority of a tremendous fortune, and the remainder of his working life, to improving the mortality and educational opportunities of an entire continent. His impact has the potential to be staggering and unprecedented. How can conversations about his past be anything but trivial compared to the discussions about the future direction of his vision and its implementation?

We owe it to ourselves, and the planet, to constructively involve ourselves in that conversation. His work and resources may (for better or worse) overshadow the efforts of whole governments. We should care about the opportunity, and consequences, this Bill Gates puts on the table. Not the Bill Gates of a decade ago.

Of course, there may still be incredibly interesting points to be made about the development of the mouse.
posted by nickjadlowe at 3:14 PM on January 20, 2010 [12 favorites]


wildcrdj: “Only if you think Microsoft was "evil", hardly a universal sentiment outside Metafilter.”

... but a near-universal sentiment amongst people who do computers for a living.

“I was at MSFT during his "disengagement" period, by the end it was pretty clear that he's extremely hands-off now.”

What department were you in – Extend, Embrace, or Extinguish?

Sorry for the snark. I would genuinely like to know, though, what a person who worked at MS thinks of their underhanded business practices, from killing off competition by sabotaging formats to destroying document-based XML to proliferating frivolous patents – do you think that's all just standard business stuff, that hurting software directly is just what businesses have to do to get ahead, or does some of that stuff bother you?

Personally, the most interesting thing on the website was this section of interesting conversations with Gates regarding "Capitalism and Philanthropy" (which ironically will unfortunately require you to install Silverlight, sorry.) I appreciate that Bill thinks this is something that can really take off, but respectfully I think it's a bundle of pipe dreams; his idea is that companies can engage in 'creative capitalism' and realize that philanthropy is a viable and vital part of capitalism, but my sense is that capitalism and philanthropy have only the most tenuous connection. Capitalism really does rely on greed, and that trumps the good of the populace. I'm sorry, but that's really what I have always seen in the MS's corporate strategy; and there are concrete situations I could point to where this is more obvious. For example, there are now a growing number of African nations who won't have any way to make computing educationally available in a generation, simply because of Microsoft's predatory practices in seeking contracts: though many Linux distributions have stepped forward to help out and donate their time and code, which is free, to these nations, Microsoft manages to sidestep them by having better negotiators and by offering short-term benefits. In effect, Microsoft says: "hey, guess what? We'll give you XP for free - for free! - and that's a huge value, since we usually charge lots of money for it." Never mind the fact that in a year or two or three those nations will find themselves having to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7 at fantastic cost - the immediate value is what sells them, though they won't be able to pay the cost next time. But this doesn't matter to MS, who makes money hand over fist at the end of the day.

That's what happens in a capitalist system. And that's why governments have to limit capitalism and force companies to do what's right and to step aside when it's necessary for them to do so.
posted by koeselitz at 3:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Microsoft yada yada, Apple yada yada, computers yada yada...

No one mentioned Apple until now. Let's make a pact together to leave Apple out of this, okay?

His impact has the potential to be staggering and unprecedented. How can conversations about his past be anything but trivial compared to the discussions about the future direction of his vision and its implementation?

In point of fact, a conversation about his past as Microsoft's creator and leader may shed light on how his foundation is operated and what legitimate criticisms may be made about his foundation's work. Criticisms by The Lancet, for example, point to the need for more transparency as well as a more localized focus on pressing problems:

In The Lancet today, David McCoy and colleagues extend these findings by evaluating the grants allocated by the Gates Foundation from 1998–2007. Their study shows even more robustly that the grants made by the Foundation do not reflect the burden of disease endured by those in deepest poverty... The concern expressed to us by many scientists who have long worked in low-income settings is that important health programmes are being distorted by large grants from the Gates Foundation. For example, a focus on malaria in areas where other diseases cause more human harm creates damaging perverse incentives for politicians, policy makers, and health workers. In some countries, the valuable resources of the Foundation are being wasted and diverted from more urgent needs.

Right or wrong, they make several suggestions for change based on observations about how the foundation currently operates, which may be rooted in no small way how Microsoft was once governed by the foundation's namesake:

We have five modest proposals for the Gates Foundation. First, improve your governance. Visibly involve diverse leaders with experience in global health in your strategic and operational stewardship. Second, be more transparent and accountable in your decision making. Explain your strategy openly and change it in the light of advice and evidence. Third, devise a grant award plan that more accurately reflects the global burden of disease, aligning yourself more with the needs of those in greatest suffering. Fourth, do more to invest in health systems and research capacity in low-income countries, leaving a sustainable footprint of your commitment. Finally, listen and be prepared to engage with your friends.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:39 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Curiously, no thoughts on Windows 7.

I was more surprised it wasn't more like: HEY EVERYBODY!!! Just dl'd Mass Effect 2 off of rapid$hare, so fucking awesome ,,, if anyone wants to play some halo3 just friend me at masterchiefin420 i'm still down for halo but dont play call of duty b/c of all the gay campters. if someone can get me sherlock holmes (NO P2P!) i'll trade for rapid$hare points!@!
posted by geoff. at 3:39 PM on January 20, 2010


(seriously, the "who invented what" stuff is silly -- the basic GUI, windows, mouse, etc were all Xerox, but Mac and Windows have both added stuff over the years).

Ugh, The basic GUI, mouse, and were actually invented by Douglass Englebart at SRI. I think Xerox did come up with Windows and icons, though. Engelbart's GUI used hyperlinks in text.

But yeah Jobs didn't invent anything.
posted by delmoi at 3:46 PM on January 20, 2010


No, just perfected.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:48 PM on January 20, 2010


Gates' key innovations have been in business. Ruthless, brilliant business. Gates missed the internet and Microsoft has pushed the boundaries of business practices to stay on top. This site of his is pretty interesting and has a fantastic message. I am saddened by my beanplating of the issue, in that it disheartens me to think his noble cause is supported by people who love his money, and not the message of progress.

Jobs' key innovations have been in design. Ruthless, brilliant design. Post-JLG Apple has strategically embraced key industries -- retail and media -- in order to support their design oriented business. Woz has been blogging since before the term existed, if we want to focus on the social media aspect of this. Woz is, to me, a more genuine humanitarian than Gates -- yet to place the men in some sort of hierarchy is to ignore the fact that they are working to improve the world.

Gates and Jobs are extremely controversial and rich. Gates is a philanthropist and Jobs has been dealing with a near terminal illness. What will their legacies truly be? Can a focus on progressive humanitarian issues absolve Gates' guilt, which he'd probably feel being the richest man even if his practices weren't controversial? Will Jobs live to see the climax of his 20 year plan to destroy America by overtaking the media giants and enacting strict design-enforced social control mechanisms in an acid fueled senescent rage?

Will Google stay off their lawns?
posted by polyhedron at 4:39 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know this is a bit of subject from the original article I am sort of surprised he hasn't been on twitter yet. In fact when I first started messing around with twitter I could have sworn I saw a bill gates account there. T'was probably a spoof account that was deleted. huh, whatever.
posted by rateit at 4:54 PM on January 20, 2010


I searched his site for some sort of RSS feed, so I could get updates, but I couldn't find it. Do I really have to look for him on Twitter? Is RSS now passe?

Also, I'm not the hugest fan of the Gates Foundation, but I do have to admire Bill Gates and his family for at least trying to do something with the great fortune they have. I like their nerdy approach to giving, and I appreciate that he retired to actually spend some time doing it instead of delegating it out to someone.
posted by bluefly at 6:07 PM on January 20, 2010


Objective expected
posted by mattoxic at 6:17 PM on January 20, 2010


When has Bill ever had a successful idea that he didn't steal from someone else?

...then package it and put it on almost every desktop in the developed world, creating jobs and increasing productivity for millions.

Or, he could have wrapped up the idea onto an esoteric, quirky user interface that "looks great" and installed it onto expensive machines for the well healed and elite.
posted by mattoxic at 6:26 PM on January 20, 2010


mattoxic: “...then package it and put it on almost every desktop in the developed world, creating jobs and increasing productivity for millions.”

If you associate Microsoft with 'increasing productivity,' then I suggest you haven't used a Microsoft product (any of them) for decades; or perhaps you're just completely unaware that computing has made advances on 1985's standards. And if you really believe that Microsoft's ubiquity created the standardization that made those advances possible, I suggest you go back to 1978 and check out what amazing advances people were making without the beneficence of a global company bent on corporate domination. People were already working on alternatives; if it hadn't been MS and Apple, then it would clearly have been Linux, and (gasp!) people would have had software that was free and that they had the chance to build themselves. The last few years have shown it beyond the shadow of a doubt, but it was already clear in the early 90s - the MS / Apple model of corporate software development simply doesn't work in the face of the massively more productive and efficient open-source model.

“Or, he could have wrapped up the idea onto an esoteric, quirky user interface that "looks great" and installed it onto expensive machines for the well healed and elite.”

Claiming that Microsoft isn't evil by pointing at Apple is like claiming that Chicago doesn't get much precipitation by pointing at a fucking rain forest. They've both done great and lasting damage to the software world.
posted by koeselitz at 6:39 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh come on, are you serious? MS has forged standards, the fact that they released globally available, standardised software onto standard architecture to a world wide market that has allowed kids in the Philippines to be as competent programmers as MIT graduates proves it.

To claim that MS hasn't contributed greatly to productivity suggests you a locked in a vast computer lab somewhere, and the calendar is broken.
posted by mattoxic at 6:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that somebody who ran one of the meanest companies in all of technology is, in his private life, so interested in charity and the human condition. It's an amazing juxtaposition of ethics.

Or he got visited by three ghosts a few Christmases back.
posted by philip-random at 7:01 PM on January 20, 2010


koeselitz: People were already working on alternatives; if it hadn't been MS and Apple, then it would clearly have been Linux, and (gasp!) people would have had software that was free and that they had the chance to build themselves.

I'm not sure about that at all. I think if MS and Apple hadn't been around, Commodore / Amiga would have had a pretty good shot at it, as well as IBM (with OS/2.) We could have ended up with a derivative of CP/M. We could have ended up with a commercial UNIX. Someone who never entered the market, like Sony, could have taken over. It's difficult to know.

It is a mistake, I think, to assume that the ubiquity of DOS / Windows has necessarily made computers less 'free'. It's worth remembering that they were often less restrictive than their competitors. We could have easily ended up with a market leader who ties hardware to software, like Apple, which could have potentially ended up severely delaying the development of hardware. I do think we'd be better off if Linux had the lead, but there were worse options than to have Microsoft end up running things.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:11 PM on January 20, 2010


mattoxic: “Oh come on, are you serious? MS has forged standards...”

Name a single useful standard that MS forged that they haven't spent just as much time destroying. I'm serious - name one.
posted by koeselitz at 7:13 PM on January 20, 2010


Mitrovarr: “I do think we'd be better off if Linux had the lead, but there were worse options than to have Microsoft end up running things.”

You're right that simply saying "we would've had Linux" is pretty broad, but I do think that various Unixen would've been the dominant force - and since the GNU part of Linux was already well on the way by the mid-80s, that would have been able to drive the market just as well as MS or Apple. People forget that the X Windows environment was in production a matter of months after Apple's first GUI - the Unix/Linux development process was tracking right along with most of the major events in computing in the 80s.

My point is more this: I think almost anybody else would've been better chiefly because Microsoft really wasn't interested in competing on the software front. From the beginning, their dominance grew from backroom deals with IBM and careful prediction of what the prevalent hardware would be - not software stability or quality. This continued into the 90s, when it was clear that really exciting or useful software development wasn't nearly as important to Microsoft as "business marketability" or something like that, which in point of fact they didn't deliver too well either. There are companies where that generally hasn't been true; IBM was no paradise, to be sure, but in certain circumstances they showed they were willing to pour money into honest development if it had a good return. Xerox would've been an even better place for the biggest innovations to occur.

I just think that, of all of these companies, Microsoft, who rose to the top on the weakest operating system the 80s produced - MS-DOS - was probably the worst choice for the market leader. They've consistently held back development in order to increase market share. And that's why were' still using software technologies that should have died in 1989. Spreadsheets, for example.
posted by koeselitz at 7:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"All I know is this, no one is very big in the first place, and it looks to me like people spend their whole life trying to tear every one else down" Ken Kesey

It is no exaggeration whatever to notice that when his life is over he will have saved countless thousands of lives, saved thousands from blindness, relieved suffering for countless thousands, more likely millions, and left a powerful foundation that is creatively trying to change the lives of those suffering the most.

But, go ahead keep knocking him down. Hope it helps you in some way.
posted by jcworth at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2010


And that's why were' still using software technologies that should have died in 1989. Spreadsheets, for example.

What a dreadfully elitist attitude. You must be a software developer.

Spreadsheets are an incredibly useful way for a large number of non-programmers to do tasks that would otherwise involve programming. Yes, they have some problems, and like all technologies they can be misapplied. But I've seen estimates which show that several hundred million people use Excel -- and I'm pretty sure that Bill Gates and his proxies don't have guns pointed at *all* of those heads.

Surely, if there were a better tool that filled the same niche, someone would have created it by now.
posted by Slothrup at 8:22 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Traverse the small business world and you will find unspeakable horrors wrought from within Excel. That's not really Microsoft's fault though, and it's not like they invented the spreadsheet anyway.
posted by polyhedron at 8:28 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


So it's okay to excuse abhorrent past behavior if the person flings their ill-gotten gains around in the name of "philanthropy" in their later years?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:31 PM on January 20, 2010


So it's okay to excuse abhorrent past behavior if the person flings their ill-gotten gains around in the name of "philanthropy" in their later years?

Hey, it worked for Andrew Carnegie.

Who, as it happens, has a computer science school named after him. Coincidence, or something more sinister?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:03 PM on January 20, 2010


koeselitz: People forget that the X Windows environment was in production a matter of months after Apple's first GUI - the Unix/Linux development process was tracking right along with most of the major events in computing in the 80s.

That'd be an interesting trick for Linux, considering the first version of the kernel was written in 1991 (if wikipedia is to be believed.) I suppose you might wriggle out of this by counting the GNU portion that was developed a lot earlier, but you certainly didn't have a working, free version of linux until well into the 1990s. And I don't remember it being anything resembling usable until the late 90s, when windows 95 had been out for years. Good, free operating systems would have had a hard time predating ubiquitous internet access, once they moved beyond the complexity a small team could afford to put together.

There are companies where that generally hasn't been true; IBM was no paradise, to be sure, but in certain circumstances they showed they were willing to pour money into honest development if it had a good return.

IBM absolutely loved sabotaging innovation in the name of profit. How many things did they axe or nerf for fear of self-competition?

Xerox would've been an even better place for the biggest innovations to occur.

They had all of the foresight of the ancient greeks who invented primitive steam engines and then immediately decided they were useless aside from a once-off curiosity.

And that's why were' still using software technologies that should have died in 1989. Spreadsheets, for example.

And what do you propose for a replacement?

On a side note, my honest guess on who would have come out ahead, had Microsoft and Apple never existed, is Commodore. The C64 was just so popular and the Amiga was a pretty solid system.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:03 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


How can conversations about his past be anything but trivial compared to the discussions about the future direction of his vision and its implementation?

Back during a discussion of William Shockley, I wrote this:
I almost think our culture could actually stand to have reasons to think about the fact that many people -- maybe even many "great" people -- are mixed baskets of good and evil, effective and ineffective, and that it turns out you can be really quite smart, even make serious contributions in your profession or to society at large... and still be pretty wrong about important things.
I think you could argue the sort of low-grade evil Gates brought about in the computer industry doesn't particularly measure up to evil standards of racism (though Crawley of Good Omens might disagree), but I think clothing Gates only in the mantle of a great philanthropist does a number of disservices to important subtle truths about human nature and what's worth doing with your life. I believe in the possibility of redemptive acts and qualities, and agree that Gates is an interesting figure in no small part because of his philanthropy, but focusing only on his philanthropy isn't going to give you any clearer a view of the world than focusing on Microsoft's often adversarial and occasionally pretty unethical behavior.

the generations associated with computer boom is seen to be so neophillic, yet as I age along with the rest of my high-tech brethern I see more and more of the, "I just don't get this thing." Seeing a hint of something along those lines coming from Bill Gates makes me more and more concerned that one day I'll be the old guy who just doesn't "get" the new technology that's coming out.

Probably. Though I think it's worth considering that a lot of times, the reason you don't get something is that it's outside the focus of your vision of the world: like Gates and the Internet. I think he would have understood that or social media lots more quickly if he was invested in it (and not invested in other things).
posted by weston at 9:16 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Name a single useful standard that MS forged that they haven't spent just as much time destroying. I'm serious - name one

I named two. Standard operating system running on standard hardware.

Or are you speaking about standards such as CSS, the LDAP protocol or SQL? Powerful point. When I'm advising clients, or analysing a job, I always ensure that I deal with only the purest standards that haven't been adulterated in any way - heaven forbid.

The mere fact that I (and millions of other people who work in the coal face of IT) is that I had access to an affordable computer that I was allowed to experiment on. The fact the MS for years shipped software that was easily crack-able meant that I could become an expert in exchange server, the office suite, visual studio, sql server - y'know, stuff large companies use and I could never afford to buy. When I was beginning my career in computing linux was brand new and I couldn't afford a sparc station.
posted by mattoxic at 9:37 PM on January 20, 2010


Has this thread really degenerated into an argument about whether Microsoft is good or bad?
posted by pracowity at 11:17 PM on January 20, 2010


Emaciated AIDS sufferer: "I'm in enormous, unrelenting pain and I will soon die alone in a pool of my own excrement."

Gates Foundation funded doctor: "We have this great vaccine that will reverse your disease and put you back in satisfactory health!"

AIDS sufferer: "Wait a second, you got this from that guy whose company made all those strong arm deals, ruined many open source standards, and marketed that goddamn Zune, didn't you! Take your damned charity and shove it up your corporate filching arse!"
posted by Burhanistan at 11:47 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey, it worked for Andrew Carnegie.

Bill Gates is no Andrew Carnegie; poor man's John D Rockefeller, maybe.
posted by Phanx at 11:53 PM on January 20, 2010


That'd be an interesting trick for Linux, considering the first version of the kernel was written in 1991 (if wikipedia is to be believed.) I suppose you might wriggle out of this by counting the GNU portion that was developed a lot earlier, but you certainly didn't have a working, free version of linux until well into the 1990s. And I don't remember it being anything resembling usable until the late 90s, when windows 95 had been out for years. Good, free operating systems would have had a hard time predating ubiquitous internet access, once they moved beyond the complexity a small team could afford to put together.


X predates Linux by about a decade. You would have had to do some work to get a free UNIX, not linux, back in the mid 80's but it was doable. The issue wasn't producing a good operating system. That was a solved problem, at least in comparison to the absolute crap that Microsoft was churning out. Making a system usable for non-programmers took a long time but that's the entire system, not just the OS.
posted by rdr at 3:58 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never mind the fact that in a year or two or three those nations will find themselves having to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7 at fantastic cost

What, so they can play Civ4? Most of the things that governments, businesses and nonprogrammers use computers for don't require the latest and greatest operating systems. If all you're doing is spreadsheets, word processing and databases you'd probably be perfectly fine still using Windows 95.
posted by electroboy at 6:42 AM on January 21, 2010


Strange timing that the biggest philanthropist in the world's website comes out so soon after a natural disaster that requires a ton of donations. On purpose?
posted by MikeFrankel at 7:27 AM on January 21, 2010


Microsoft is no more evil than Apple, they've just had more opportunity. I think the worst possible world would be one with Steve Jobs in charge.

Google could still be a contender.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2010


me: “Never mind the fact that in a year or two or three those nations will find themselves having to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7 at fantastic cost”

electroboy: “What, so they can play Civ4? Most of the things that governments, businesses and nonprogrammers use computers for don't require the latest and greatest operating systems. If all you're doing is spreadsheets, word processing and databases you'd probably be perfectly fine still using Windows 95.”

What in God's name are you talking about? "Non-programmers?" So Africans can't program computers now? What do you think the point of giving them computers was - so they could play Solitaire and make spreadsheets of the ten grains of rice they had to eat?
posted by koeselitz at 2:02 AM on January 22, 2010


Look, electroboy: take a gander at India. India has produced some of the greatest programmers of our time. There are some absolute geniuses coming out of India. And that's because of two things: one generation had access to easily-pirated copies of WinXP, and another generation has had access to the recent boom there. But it's really not possible to get pirated copies of Vista on any major scale; and even if it was, now that the world's a good deal more connected, MS wouldn't let that happen in a heartbeat.

But that shouldn't matter - we find ourselves suddenly in a time when operating systems don't have to cost anything at all. Look at the really cool OLPC stuff some people were putting together - the whole idea is that programming, and the mathematics game behind it, can be made accessible to every child in every social situation; and once it is, that kid has a chance to do something much more than her or his parents ever did, both intellectually and economically. That's pretty awesome.

To tie that awesome humanitarian possibility to a profit margin, and to place it as a less important priority behind the international domination of Microsoft, is almost criminal. What's more, it's directly and completely against all the things Bill Gates says he's all in favor of. They were doing this kind of thing when he was still in charge.

And people wonder why I cynically doubt that he's actually the philanthropist he pretends to be.
posted by koeselitz at 2:12 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, lest it need be said: to think that computers have any value whatsoever to Africans as machines for word processing and spreadsheets for businesses, not to mention the government, is silly when you think about it. Sure, in the 80's in the US, computers caught on as 'productivity' devices for businesses, but most businesses that actually work in Africa don't need computers at all right now, and wouldn't know how to integrate them if they did. And expecting governments to take on computers when businesses probably won't is silly.

Computers are useful in countries like Africa for one thing: they provide a window to a world where information and intellectual skill are worth money. Yes, a tiny, tiny minority use that window for running 419 scams - but there's a legitimate side to this that actually helps nations develop and move from third-world to first-world status: software development, from the web to software engineering to database management, et cetera. Now that that kind of thing is so very easily outsourced, a kid can actually make money at that kind of thing with nothing but know-how and a phone line. That's awesome.

But, no: there are no suit-wearing executives in Africa who are dying to use a more workable word processor. Maybe a few, but they're not really the point of getting computers to African nations. The point is getting good enough computers to schools so that kids can learn about something that will really, really be of benefit to them.
posted by koeselitz at 2:22 AM on January 22, 2010


As usual, programmers overestimate the importance of programmers and programming and vastly underestimate the casual or business user. The mission of the OLPC isn't to build a continent of code monkeys cranking out iphone apps, it's to give children access to information and build computer literacy. I'm sure some will become programmers, but the vast majority are going keep track of inventory, do some basic engineering and send email.

I'd like to know where you got this notion that the governments or businesses in African countries don't use computers.
posted by electroboy at 12:33 PM on January 22, 2010


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