June 21, 2006, 8:17 AM — The first time I interviewed Bill Gates in a private one-on-one was Tuesday, May 22, 1990, just an hour or two after the worldwide launch event for Windows 3.0 at New York's City Center Theater on West 55th St. Even then, his interest in using technology to advance medicine was apparent.
We talked about how cool Windows 3.0 was, and how its Solitaire game would take the world by storm --- its true purpose being a self-help course in how to use a mouse. Bill told me that if I really like Solitaire, "wait until you see the Windows Entertainment Pack." And, of course, Microsoft had jumped into the hardware business, selling mice.
How times have changed. And change they must.
By the early nineties, Microsoft launched Office, a collection of productivity applications that could not talk to each other but merely shoehorned into the same box as a marketing gimmick. OS/2 LAN Manager, co-developed with 3Com, was largely ignored by integrators who had bet their business on NetWare and flourished. The jointly developed, though far from mature, Ashton-Tate / Microsoft SQL Server made us realize that eventually, someday, databases might not require a water-chilled IBM mainframe of DEC VAX minicomputer. I still have an Ashton-Tate / Microsoft coffee mug.
In another interview, for a Fall Comdex profile piece, Bill told me that for leisure, he reads about biotechnology. And not simplified Biotech for Dummies fluff, but the weightiest tomes the scientific community had to offer. "If there was no such thing as Microsoft, I would have gone into biotechnology," he said.
Today, in an age where the smartphone in your pocket is many times more powerful than the largest mainframes of yore, and where you can network to anywhere in the world without wires, Bill (this time with wife Melinda), is still deeply immersed in biotech.
As Bill transitions over the next two years to a part-time role at Microsoft, it's prudent to look back, and ahead. It's probably fair to say that Bill started this transition at least a couple of years ago.
It's fair to say that Microsoft embraced developers long before it turned to integrators and value-added resellers. Aside from DOS, its first products were not applications, but programming tools. Fortran, COBOL, and BASIC were mainstays. And it wasn't even all DOS (a product which Microsoft didn't create, but acquired). I still have a three-ring Microsoft binder labeled "muLISP / muSTAR System for CP/M-80." Like Woodward and Bernstein heeding the advice of Deep Throat, Microsoft did then what it still does today, following the money.