We just finished reading a fantastic interview with Bill Gates from 1994 in Playboy.At the time, Gates and Microsoft were on the cusp of reaching their absolute apex of power. The Internet wasn’t huge yet, and Gates’ wealth was still mind boggling.
(His wealth is still mind-boggling, but somehow we’re used to it.)
We’ve culled through the interview and pulled out our 15 favourite quotes.
Speaking about how people could use the Internet in the future, Gates pretty much predicted Amazon and Netflix: 'Say you want to watch a movie. To choose, you'll want to know what movies others liked and, based on what you thought of other movies you've seen, if this is a movie you'd like. You'll be able to browse that information. Then you select and get video on demand. Afterward, you can even share what you thought of the movie.'
Here Gates talks about the changing social dynamic brought on by the Internet: 'The way we find information and make decisions will be changed. Think about how you find people with common interests, how you pick a doctor, how you decide what book to read. Right now it's hard to reach out to a broad range of people. You are tied into the physical community near you. But in the new environment, because of how information is stored and accessed, that community will expand. This tool will be empowering, the infrastructure will be built quickly and the impact will be broad.'
We don't have a digital wallet yet, but we're on our way. Here's what Gates thought would happen: 'Instead of using keys to enter your house, the Wallet PC identifies that you're allowed to go into a certain door and it happens electronically. Instead of having tickets to the theatre, your Wallet PC will digitally prove that you paid. When you want to board a plane, instead of showing your tickets to 29 people, you just use this. You have digital certificates. Digital money. It has a global positioning thing in it, so you can see a map of where you are and where you might want to go. It's our vision of the small, portable PC of, say, five years from now.'
'I used one of the original Newtons for a week, and it's available if you'd like it ... It was supposed to do handwriting recognition. But based on the initial product, people are sceptical about whether handwriting recognition really works. They did some nice technical work on the product. Unfortunately, it's not a useful device as far as I'm concerned, so it'll probably set the category back.'
'OK, I have a nickname. My family calls me Trey because I'm William the third. My dad has the same name, which is always confusing because my dad is well known and I'm also known. If they'd realised that would occur, they wouldn't have called me the same name. They thought I'd be unknown so they said, 'Hey, just use the same name, what the heck.' When people say 'Bill,' that's work, mostly, and I think of all the stuff I should be doing. When people call me Trey, I think of myself as the son. I think of myself as young. I think of my family, of just being a kid, growing up.'
'It's an elusive concept. There's a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts. To walk into a situation, have something explained to you and immediately say, 'Well, what about this?' To ask an insightful question. To absorb it in real time. A capacity to remember. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first. A certain creativity that allows people to be effective.'
'What was the first microcomputer software company? Microsoft. The very first! Who were we imitating when we dropped out of school and started Microsoft? When we did the Altair BASIC? When, early on, we did CD-ROM conferences and talked about all this multimedia software? And who were we imitating when we did Microsoft Word? When we did Excel? It's just nonsense.'
Here's Gates on testifying before the FTC: ' I was quoted once--I think the quote was misinterpreted--as answering the question 'What's the worst case in your dealings with the FTC?' with, 'Well, if I trip on steps when I'm walking in and break my head open, that's the worst case.''
His explanation of the quote: 'What I meant was that you multiply low-probability events by their probability. That's how you judge them. You don't just take this one-in-a-billion thing and spend everybody's time elaborating on it.' It's natural the government would look at Microsoft, and Gates didn't think it was doing anything wrong.
'If I think something's a waste of time or inappropriate I don't wait to point it out. I say it right away. It's real time. So you might hear me say 'That's the dumbest idea I have ever heard' many times during a meeting.'
'In this business, by the time you realise you're in trouble, it's too late to save yourself. Unless you're running scared all the time, you're gone. IBM could recover, but in terms of what it was, it'll never have a position like that again. It was during the glory years, its years of greatest profit and greatest admiration, that it was making the mistakes that sowed the billions of dollars of losses that came later.'
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