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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Bill Gates Will Improve Software From Now On
January 18th, 2000

Nothing surprised me more than reading the news about Bill Gates stepping aside as Microsoft's CEO to hand day-to-day management to Steve Ballmer. A few industry analysts said that they anticipated the move. However, it remains hard to believe that the cofounder of Microsoft, who was the company's first and only CEO so far, would ever resign from his post. It is one of those things that you thought would never happen. The kind of marriage that ends only with death.

Just like Steve Jobs and Apple, I thought that Gates' future as the CEO of Microsoft was just natural. Oh, I know that despite his resignation he remains the boss in Redmond. Of course. Nobody doubts that he will stay, but the fact that he has changed directions, if only a bit, sounds odd if you consider his history with that dreaded company.

Gates will enjoy a fresh start with his new title of Chief Software Architect. We could speculate about this being a reaction to the DOJ threats of breaking Microsoft up in two parts. At the same time, I feel the temptation to buy the popular belief that Gates is going back to software development in order to innovate.

You know what? I choose to believe it for the moment. Do you know why? Because Gates was a developer when it all started. In 1975, according to the Microsoft Timeline, he and Paul Allen (the other MS cofounder) put the final touch on BASIC before licensing it.

If there is one asset that Bill Gates can brag about, it is intelligence. He did not make it that far with Microsoft without having visions of the future and a lot of business sense. He was able to predict a lot of things that happened in the computer industry because he knew how things were going.

This applies to software, folks. He started it all with software (BASIC) and managed to push his company further than any software development company would ever go.

If, like Bill Gates, you know your industry well, you know how to develop a good product strategy. Microsoft needs this badly when you look at the poor quality of its software and how badly its products serve its customers.

It this a good thing for the Macintosh? I think so.

As you already know, when somebody opens a breach with a brilliant idea, the rest of the computer industry has to adjust, either by following or taking the idea further. While Gates will most probably concentrate on the PC platform - he talks about server-side software instead of desktop software - I am pretty sure that he will respect his company's commitment toward the Macintosh.

Yes, MS has obligations toward our platform. It started in 1984, you know. Ok ok, technically, you could say that MS took the first step toward Apple in 1977 when it launched BASIC for the Apple II. The Apple-Microsoft deal signed in 1997 was simply a confirmation of this attachment to the Macintosh after agonizing years of neglect.

Sure, I know, this is all PR and Microsoft uses it to tell us how it cares about us while being after our money. I think that even if the relationship between MS and the Apple was chaotic for a while, the fact remains: Gates' company committed itself to our platform ever since it started. In theory, as MS is a software company, it should be neutral towards the Mac and PC and focus on profits more than platform wars. Reality is of course otherwise with all the conflicts that the two companies went through, but on paper, this is the state of affairs.

Microsoft has supported Macs for a long time. I would be surprised to see it stop in the near future.

Imagine if Microsoft comes up with amazing new products for the Mac. That would be great, right? Well, maybe Gates' new plan will achieve that. Whenever a big name like him (do the comparison with Steve Jobs) decides to turn things around, you can expect interesting results. Whenever a company's natural leader decides that it is time to take steps further, you never know what surprise awaits you. You might just love the results.

If Gates can direct Microsoft toward the right direction (real innovation, at last!), his visions could serve us as well as the PCs folks. As much as I have loved to hate that Evil Empire, I like the idea that it could settle down, do clean business and help the Macintosh platform to prosper with products that the users will fall for.

Am I dreaming? Maybe. But I tell you that after a few beers (not to mention typing this at 2:30 in the morning) it is a very nice dream :-)

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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