It takes a certain amount of shamelessness to be a monomaniac billionaire dwarf. But even by Bill Gates' standards, excerpts from his new book Business - The Speed of Thought, gracing this week's Time magazine, set new records for gall.
Bill Gates, you may remember, hasn't had a good year. Business Week described one competitor, open source operating system Linux, as Microsoft's "Vietnam." 3Com has snatched the bulk of the handheld computer market right out from under Microsoft's nose. Apple's new open source operating system OSX is on the way. Sony is coming after Microsoft with new operating systems that run personal computing and consumer electronics. And then there's the trial, so far at least, powerful reinforcement of the notion that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
When Gates appeared as a witness in the Microsoft trial he was shockingly arrogant, and - to put it as generously as possible - forgetful. Meanwhile, complaints about MS software bugs have hit record levels on MS bug websites, and IBM's middleware software is taking off. A number of state attorneys general are licking their chops over expected settlements in the Microsoft anti-trust trial, which the company's leading execs are skewered weekly and reminded what they wrote in e-mails months and years earlier. Beyond that, Microsoft's insanely hyped new media properties - the online magazine Slate, MSN.com, and local Sidewalk entertainment and information sities - are all still struggling, all still losing vast sums of money.
Is Bill Gates chastened? Humbled? Don't be silly. He's written yet another vapid tome, the banal sequel to the much-hyped "The Road Ahead," his first best-seller, which accomplished something few authors could have achieved - making the future of the Internet so boring as to be unreadable. By and large, the press treated that book as if it were the Koran, personally delivered by the Prophet himself. Again, the mainstream media are slobbering over their favorite Millenial visionary. In this sequel, does Gates have a single word to about the many challenges facing his company, and his multiple mis-steps of l998? For that matter, does Time ask him? Don't be foolish. In his new book, gushes Time in its cover story, "Microsoft's chairman says that only managers who master the digital universe will gain competitive advantage."
Duh. This is how Gates made billions?
"To function in the digital age," writes Gates the author, "we have developed a new digital infrastructure. The successful companies of the next decade will be those that use digital tools, he continues. And to make "digital information flow an intrinsic part of your company," he offers a number of key steps.
If you're planning on reading this book and getting rich off of computers, go gamble on some e-stock instead, or play your local lottery. You'll do better. Gates' "Steps" are true yawners, either so obvious as to be useless, or full of the kind of incomprehensible cyber-jabberwocky news organizations like Time drool over. Like "Insist that communication flow through e-mail"; "Study Sales Data Online to Share Insights Easily"; and "Use Digital Communication To Redefine the Boundaries." (My personal favorite is: "Transform Every Business Process Into Just-In-Time Delivery." Everybody must realize, Gates cautions, that "if you don't meet customer demands quickly enough, without sacrificing quality, a competitor will.) Talk about vision.
And those are the best and most provocative ideas. It's hard to know which is dumber, Gates "steps" or Time's incomprehensible decision to air them on its cover.
Clearly, the Gates comeback is underway, the manipulable media ready for one more go at presenting this remarkably unremarkable man as a millenial wizard, and for the second, or is it the third, time? Modern media has no memory when it comes to fawning over the rich and powerful, and falling for hype is sure no vice in that business.
Imagine what Gates's true steps might be if we didn't live in so hype-heavy and world and if journalism told the truth. They might go something like this:
l. Destroy Competitors.
2. Discourage competition.
3. Be arrogant and evasive, even under oath and before a federal judge (this isn't really a new idea).
4. Build a digital castle for hundreds of millions of dollars and stuff it with Leonardo DaVinci's sketchpads, Napoleon's trinkets and other memorabilia. Make it so awe-inspiring that visiting journalists are dazzled and cowed forget to ask any tough questions, and continue to bally hoo even your dubious accomplishments.
5. Refuse to answer questions, anyway, except in carefully selected and protected environments - book excerpts, pre-arranged and carefully screened interviews.
6. Create unnecessary software and hype it beyond all reason, forcing hundreds of thousands of helpless and unknowing people to spend millions or even billions of dollars unnecessarily. Then charge them extra for "incident" help when they call up trying to get help they deserve for the products they bought.
7. Seek to dominate an entire culture.
8. Amass tens of billions of dollars, even though you could give ever poor kid in America his or her own computer without evening touching your capital. Give some money to charity, but require most of the recipients - libraries, for instance -- to buy more of your products to use the free stuff they get.
9. Be obnoxious, surly and arrogant.
10. Be sure to make friends with important people in media and have them over to your house. firstname.lastname@example.org