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Bill Gates Remembers 1979 310

Hugh Pickens writes "Last week Gizmodo had a special celebration of 1979, the last year before a digital tsunami hit, that put Bill Gates in a nostalgic mood this week. Bill chimed in with his own memories of that seminal year when everything changed. 'In 1979, Microsoft had 13 employees, most of whom appear in that famous picture that provides indisputable proof that your average computer geek from the late 1970s was not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion,' wrote Gates. 'By the end of the year we'd doubled in size to 28 employees. Even though we were doing pretty well, I was still kind of terrified by the rapid pace of hiring and worried that the bottom could fall out at any time.' What made Gates feel a little more confident was that he began to sense that BASIC was on the verge of becoming the standard language for microcomputers. 'By the middle of 1979, BASIC was running on more than 200,000 Z-80 and 8080 machines and we were just releasing a new version for the 8086 16-bit microprocessor. As the numbers grew, we were starting to think beyond programming languages, too, and about the possibility of creating applications that would have real mass appeal to consumers.' Gates remembers that in 1979 there were only 100 different software products that had more than $100 M in annual sales and all of them were for mainframes. 'In April, the 8080 version of BASIC became the first software product built to run on microprocessors to win an ICP Million Dollar Award. Today, I would be surprised if the number of million-dollar applications isn't in the millions itself' writes Gates. 'More important, of course, is the fact that more than a billion people around the world use computers and digital technology as an integral part of their day-to-day lives. That's something that really started to take shape in 1979.'"
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Bill Gates Remembers 1979

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:20AM (#28836765)

    Microsoft doesn't release an operating system in 5 years - people bitch. Microsoft releases a new operating system - people bitch. Microsoft's operating system drops some legacy support for some apps - people bitch. Despite Microsoft giving literally over a year of public betas for hardware vendors to get their drivers up to scratch, they don't - people bitch at Microsoft. Download Squad makes a bunch of childish remarks - everyons agrees.

    How many of you have actually used Vista on decent hardware (post-2004) and had problems with it? That doesn't include: I don't like the search features, I don't like the fact that 512 megs of my 2 gigs of ram that I don't use anyhow are taken up, I want my 5 extra frames of Counter-strike back that were way above my monitor's response time and refresh rate back.

    Been using Vista since Beta 2 and haven't had any problems aside for some Nero 7 incompatibilities (that were fixed during RC1) and some ATI driver issues during RC1. Just as stable as XP (didn't have any problems with it either, so I can't say more stable), more responsive and generally better to use.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GeorgeStone22 ( 1532191 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:48AM (#28837145)

    Arg. I don't care how shit you think the Windows OS is, Gates' philanthropy is worth it.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:54AM (#28837251) Homepage
    Are you sure of that? If it weren't for Windows' stranglehold, OS design would be probably a decade ahead of where it is now, millions of man-hours would not have been lost to fixing/cleaning up malware/etc, and we'd all probably be a little bit richer. Is one multi-billionaire philanthropist worth a thousand multi-millionaire philanthropists?
  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:03AM (#28837377)

    But it took until 1984 for him to see what the real desktop computing revolution would look like, and it took him more than a decade after that in order to make a Mac knock-off that didn't completely suck donkey balls.

    You mean Windows 95? Yeah, poor Gates. While Apple was making computers that looked pretty and people wanted to use, Microsoft was making computers that did vital work and people had to use.

    I'd dare-say that Gates's plan was cleverer than Jobs's.

  • 100.0000013% (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:08AM (#28837453) Homepage Journal

    GP is right. I worked it out myself, with Excel [accountingweb.com].

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:17AM (#28837623) Homepage Journal

    Gates' fortune is chump change compared with the many, many billions that have been lost to the products bugs, sluggishness and security problems.

    If that were true, then Windows products would not be considered a positive investment, so therefor, they would not be getting purchases. The fact of the matter is that the sluggishness, bugs, and security problems are often more FUD spread by competitors than they are actual reality. Indeed, Linux has more than its share of bugs, sluggishness and security problems, as you find out every time you do the product updates...

  • Are you sure (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:21AM (#28837687)

    If it weren't for Windows' stranglehold, OS design would be probably a decade ahead of where it is now, millions of man-hours would not have been lost to fixing/cleaning up malware/etc, and we'd all probably be a little bit richer. Is one multi-billionaire philanthropist worth a thousand multi-millionaire philanthropists?

    Nothing but speculation and conjecture.
    If not Windows-some other OS would be filling that void.
    Pathetic what gets modded insightful these days.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:40AM (#28838069) Homepage Journal

    "OS design would be probably a decade ahead"

    I tend to agree with that. BUT, maybe not. I hate Gates, but when you start talking about "What if?" no one can know. If Gates hadn't come along to help popularize computers, it's possible that we wouldn't be as far along now as we are. Whatever else Gates did, right and wrong, he DID help to make it easy for your average dimwit to get started in computing. Ultimately, his actions made helped to make computers look desirable to a lot of people who would never have considered spending hard earned money a computer.

    Let's be honest about the state of computing 30 years ago. Most computers came in a console format, which was often regarded as a gaming system, or a word processor. 30 years ago, I had no use for a word processor, and the going price for any 8080 (and later the 8088) was just to damned much for someone like me to spend on a toy.

    BECAUSE Gates and others had the vision of a putting an affordable computer in every home, millions of youngsters today have the opportunity to learn, who may not have been exposed to comptuers unti they reached college age.

    Again, I'm no fan of Gates - but let's give the devil his due, alright?

  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrateNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:52AM (#28838295)

    Bill Gate's could have spent his lifetime writing free software. That being born a multi-millionaire was not enough for him is a sign of an illness that causes "financial obesity", not something to be emulated. But, in the end, it is not Bill Gates who has destroyed our society as much as all the people who want to be the next Bill Gates and support regressive social policies they hope to benefit from someday.

    It's a poor, twisted soul that even thinks to call wealth 'financial obesity', or refer to it as an illness. It's an even sicker person who sees our society as 'destroyed.' I'll give you weakened, perhaps, but for entirely different reasons than you would hold.

    Unfortunately there's no point in arguing the matter further with the authors you linked to, or yourself. The philosophical background, psyche, and emotional state required to believe those sorts of enervating ideas are so utterly different from my own, that any discussion would be wasted. Discussing the point at hand would leave a thousand necessary premises undiscussed, and nothing would come of it.

    That being said, I'll leave you with this: holding such ideas will poison your soul and make you miserable, while benefiting yourself and your fellow man not one wit.

    The thing is, he knows something is wrong. He started a foundation to help the world. He is just so socially enmeshed in a dying ideology of artificial scarcity economics that he doesn't know how to fix it, and he surrounds himself with people who just produce more of the same rather than thinking outside the scarcity box.

    It's even more evidence of a poisoned soul that you see the only possible reason a rich man would engage in charity is guilt. And while you talk of 'artificial scarcity' economics, your anti-wealth rant is based on an 'artificial scarcity of wealth' philosophy- that is, the only way it could possibly be wrong for a person to accumulate as much wealth as Bill Gates is if he's depriving someone else of something.

    Wealth is not a zero-sum game. It's more like lighting candles- if I light your candle, I still have my flame. The generation of wealth is very real and quite possible to prove within a paragraph or two. I'll leave it to you to consider for the moment.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:02PM (#28838509)

    C'mon, by now it should be known that sales have nothing to do with product quality but rather with marketing. And you have to give it to MS, they have a brilliant marketing department.

    If you don't know how purchases are done in companies, you've never been in the situation where you should be the one responsible for purchase and acquisition, until some manager comes in telling you you absolutely HAVE to buy $product because he just came back from a business trip to $holiday_resort with $salesperson_for_product and it's so absolutely awesome...

  • by ildon ( 413912 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:33PM (#28839133)

    You're not even replying to him. You're just pasting text from somewhere else that you think is related. This is such a horrible troll account.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rennt ( 582550 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:43PM (#28839333)
    Worth it indeed. The fact that he has accumulated more wealth then you could spend in 100 lifetimes; so deigns to donate a fraction of it on his pet-charities, speaks volumes of the chronic failure of our economic system.
  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:57PM (#28839611)

    If Gates hadn't come along to help popularize computers, it's possible that we wouldn't be as far along now as we are.

    I just can't let that go.
    Bill Gates took an advantage of a situation. He did almost nothing to help popularize computers (at that time. Later he did help to further "popularize" them by dumbing software down so it could be easier for someone who didn't know what they were doing to do what the OS thought you wanted to do, while making it harder to do real work efficiently).
    Personal computers were already becoming popular when Gates jumped on the PC bandwagon and sold IBM an "off-the-shelf" OS that he didn't own. It was IBM's decision to make a personal computer with COTS parts and a relatively open design that jump started the IBM Compatible PC clone market, not the OS. IBM did that to compete with the already healthy Apple, Commodore, etc. market. Since they saw it as a less desirable low-end market, they decided to make it on the cheap by throwing cheap parts and cheap software (relatively cheap for the times) at it as an experiment at quick and dirty development.
    IBM had the business clout (no one ever got fired for buying IBM) to sell IBM PCs to the workplace, and thus made them the defacto standard for people who wanted to also have a PC at home.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arose ( 644256 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @01:37PM (#28840361)

    BECAUSE Gates and others had the vision of a putting an affordable computer in every home [..]

    Gates vision doesn't matter, it was IBM-PC clone makers who made it possible. It could have been any OS that could run games, ANY.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @02:28PM (#28841229)

    No, Gates is part of the problem: we are incapable of building a foolproof computer system, yet insist on selling them to...

    If Gates hadn't been there someone else would have.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SpinyNorman ( 33776 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @03:21PM (#28842061)

    BECAUSE Gates and others had the vision of a putting an affordable computer in every home, millions of youngsters today have the opportunity to learn, who may not have been exposed to comptuers unti they reached college age.


    How do you figure Microsoft had anything to do with it?

    First off, IBM PCs and clones were originally for business use. For home use people used Apple ][, TRS-80, Commodore PET Sinclair ZX-80, Acorn BBC micro, etc, etc. Nothing to do with IBM or Microsoft.

    The idea of making computers based on commodity hardware and open standards wasn't new to the IBM PC (and had nothing to do with Microsoft). Before the IBM PC + DOS standard there was the S-100 bus and CP/M.

    If Microsoft had never existed it'd just mean that IBM chose another OS for the IBM PC, or obtained DOS direct from Seattle computer rather than via Microsoft. If the IBM PC never took off then the existing S-100 + CP/M would have continued until something better came long. And in the meantime the hobbyists would still be running all the other computers being produced by everyone else!

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:17PM (#28842959)

    The idea of making computers based on commodity hardware and open standards wasn't new to the IBM PC (and had nothing to do with Microsoft). Before the IBM PC + DOS standard there was the S-100 bus and CP/M.

    IBM didn't have much at all to do with standards. When it tried (the PS/2) it was mostly ignored. Even the clone makers weren't really about standards so much for a long time, as what resulted were defacto standards as the clone makers just tried to be compatible with each other while being just one step ahead.

  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrateNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:29PM (#28843975)

    You are engaging in an ad hominem (personal) attack and creating strawmen arguments, and saying there is no point to dialog, which all suggests your points are weak.

    The differing underlying premises we operate from, and how that will generally make us talk past each other, is detailed in part by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles [amazon.com].

    Unfortunately, I don't have the time or inclination to write a book, so I merely allude to the fact that the premises underlying our positions are drastically different and vitally important.

    As for the rest of your post, you evidently place a great deal of confidence in specific articulated rationality. Unfortunately, much of what you rely on is unproven theory, or merely opinions, as it is not positited in any way that can be tested.

    Tossing around rhetorical terms like 'ad hominen' imply a preference for a specifically rational methodology, but the way to verify the rationality in all those grand-sounding thoughts is sorely absent.

    These opinions masquerade as social science, but the prerequites of science are lacking- making them again, no more than opinions.

    Further, most of these opinions are not even based on experience in the market or effectively governing a country, but merely a twisted wreckage of baseless half-logic that sounds good on paper.

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:36PM (#28844081) Journal

    Don't get me wrong, I think Windows is the best OS of offerings today, but please let's not rewrite history:

    If Gates hadn't come along to help popularize computers

    He did what now? Back in the 80s there were loads of other platforms, not to mention lots of hardware companies popularising the PC.

    Whatever else Gates did, right and wrong, he DID help to make it easy for your average dimwit to get started in computing.

    Since when? In the 80s and 90s, Windows was pretty much playing catch-up with things like ease of use and GUIs.

    BECAUSE Gates and others had the vision of a putting an affordable computer in every home

    Yes, others, lots of others. IBM deserve credit for the PC, and even then, there were lots of other companies with other computers.

    In fact, the idea of the PC as being affordable and in the home came fairly late. For the 80s and early 90s, they were business machines, and occupied a high price point. The home market was dominated by a range of other computer platforms, many of which were low cost and affordable, unlike PCs. And none of them ran anything from Microsoft (well, unless you count Microsoft Amiga Basic, but it's probably best for all that we forget that disaster...)

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:42PM (#28844159) Journal

    Whilst a "standard" has its advantages, unfortunately Microsoft aren't comparable to other standards. Can anyone come along and write their Windows compatible OS? Are there other companies doing so? No. It would be like if there was only one company that could make VHS or Blu-Ray, or if all computers were made by IBM.

    But until that happened, there wasn't the same relentless drive for faster, better, cheaper computers that we take for granted today. The Commodore 64 was popular for years with identical hardware. The scale of the market didn't support constant research and development of faster consumer hardware.

    Firstly, this has nothing to do with the OS, and hence Microsoft. The credit would be to the PC - the open nature meant companies were continually improving it. However, even there you are wrong to say computers didn't improve on other platforms. There was a continual improvement of computers, from simple 1K computers, through increasingly powerful 8 bits, then 16 bit and 32 bit platforms like the Amiga. And anyway, the PC had discrete generations too, such as 086, 286, 386, or the graphics standards. The only difference was that there were a lot more models.

    Even if there's no other reason to like Microsoft, just be thankful it wasn't Apple that become the standard. It could have been a lot worse.

    I agree here!

  • by toby ( 759 ) * on Monday July 27, 2009 @06:35PM (#28844809) Homepage Journal

    You got to be willing to read other people's code, then write your own, then have other people review your code. You've got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the world-class people to tell you what you're doing wrong.

    Quite a clear endorsement of the open source model. And if the source he dived for had had an explicit open source license, he not only would have had every right to take them, but he could have insisted on having it :-)

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @06:48PM (#28844927) Homepage

    One anecdote about a person on welfare (possibly burned out or damaged from the current economic system or schooling) does not a case make.

    You said previously that another person's vast wealth does not bother you unless it affected your ability to make a living. I then gave a list of things from campaign donations through advertising and getting multiple chances that suggests a vast wealth disparity would impact your ability to make money. And that's even without considering how many workers can be replaced by increasing automation (including robots and AI) and better design. Then you changed the subject. :-)

    In an age of robots, an "L-Curve" society can't function if the only reason people have a right to consume is having a job.
        http://www.lcurve.org/ [lcurve.org]

    The global economy has just crashed (or rather, is *starting* to crash in a big way). You are suggesting the same mainstream economists who defended it's current structure know how to fix it? Give examples of these people who are so effective at governing countries? The USA is second from last in child wellbeing of industrialized countries, and that is only because the UK is last as (it's said) a poor version of the USA. So, how about, say, Iceland as a model, a big neo-conservative poster child for a time as a well run economy? Markets have a lot of good points, but they often fail at dealing with positive and negative externalities, managing systemic risk of market failure, and equitable distribution of market production if the economic wealth distribution is very unequal. I stuck in "humane" is "markets need a wide spread of wealth to function humanely", but the fact is more like, they need a broad distribution of wealth to function at all (as we are seeing now). Why did the USA have so much economic growth when top tax rates were around 94%? Because it spread the wealth around. There is a law of diminishing return on great wealth, where it just becomes easier to park your wealth in Treasury bills and finance wars than actually run businesses.

    From Marshall Brain's "Manna":
        http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]
    "As the robots took over in the workplace, the number of welfare recipients grew rapidly. Manna replaced tens of millions of minimum wage workers with robots, and terrafoam housing became the warehouse of choice for them. Terrafoam buildings were not pretty, but they were incredibly inexpensive to build and were designed for maximum occupancy. They clustered the buildings on trash land well away from urban centers so no one had to look at them. It was a lot like an old-style college dorm. Each person got a 5 foot by 10 foot room with a bed and a TV -- the world's best pacifier. During the day the bed was a couch and people sat on the bedspread, which also served as a sheet and the blanket. At night the bed was a bed. When I arrived they had just started putting in bunk beds to double the number of people in each building. Burt was not excited to see me when I arrived -- he had had a private room for 10 years, and my arrival was the end of that. At least he was polite about it."

  • Re:Dr. Who (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:04PM (#28846141) Journal

    Okay what's so special about 1979? It's not as if PCs didn't exist prior to that point. Wasn't the Apple II released two years earlier? And Atari 400/800 PCs one year earlier. Contrary to Gate's revisionist history, the revolution did not start with Microsoft.

    Even a year later in 1980 the world wasn't really any different - people still watched analog television recorded onto analog VHS tapes (or Betamax). Some had laserdiscs which were... also analog... or RCA videorecords that used 100-year-old needle technology.

    Sorry but I don't see 1979 as any "magic" date. A more pivotal moment, IMHO, is 1994 when Microsoft finally succeeded in killing-off its competition: Atari, Commodore, and Apple (almost) leaving itself as the virtual monopoly.

    Other pivotal moments:

    - 1980 was when Usenet was born. It allowed people to connect to local free BBSes and yet talk to other human beings across an entire nation, and even around the world, about various subjects such as rec.arts.startrek. It was the text-only precursor to the modern web. (Another similar organization was FidoNet discussion groups.)

    - 1982 the year Commodore introduced a ~$100 PC that eventually sold 30 million units and brought computing to the home. The C=64.

    - 1984 when Apple introduced the mouse-based OS. What had been a text-only world quickly turned graphical as everyone scrambled to create Mac-like OS clones in 1985.

    - 1985 Commodore/Amiga introduced the world's first multimedia PC (i.e. it could play CD-quality music and photorealistic video). Also preemptive multitasking and coprocessing. The Amiga 500 eventually became the second-best selling computer (after the C=64).

    - 1993 Mosaic - the first web browser usable on home PCs. Mosaic turned the web from an academic experiment into a new medium used by common people. It eventually evolved into the Netscape browser.

    - 1995 - Microsoft finally produced a usable Windows. They did it by abanoding their old cluttered groups philosophy, and basically copying the Mac OS (trashcan, a usable desktop, and a finder for task-switching). It was also the second OS with the ability to do preemptive multitasking (the first being the Amiga ten years earlier).

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:39PM (#28846401) Homepage

    The market is failing for several mathematical reasons, so Sowell, even though wrong about many historic psychological things, is irrelevant (look up Marshall Sahlin's work on "The Original Affluent Society" or Alfie Kohn's work on motivation with lots of references to the scientific literature).
    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/motivation.html [gnu.org]

    The market does not account well for positive or negative externalities (stuff like pollution).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality [wikipedia.org]
    The market can not price in its own systemic risk of failure from bubbles or banking failures.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systemic_risk [wikipedia.org]
    The market can not distribute income widely when a few players have most of the capital, resulting in unmet human needs and starvation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income [wikipedia.org]
    The market needs human labor less and less because of automation and better design, producing falling wages and increasing unemployment, given limited demand for most consumer goods in the long term beyond some basic saturation level that the USA has already overshot and the globe will soon catch up with.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobless_recovery [wikipedia.org]
    Cheaper computers are driving the cost of everything towards zero by supporting better design and smarter devices, but even cheap stuff is too expensive if you don't have a job.
    http://www.shirky.com/writings/divide.html [shirky.com]
    Real markets (as opposed to theoretical ones) often have the richest players changing the laws in their favor (and even in a libertarian ideal, the richest can become the government through purchasing military might or votes).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture [wikipedia.org]
    All these factors are creating market problems. The current economic collapse is one aspect of that. Things will only get worse in all of these ways. The market has many virtues, but those virtues can not be realized in an extreme form without various controls on the market (legal, social, religious, whatever).

    There are many economic simulations about these issues. There are many negative real examples (Iceland) and positive examples (Western Europe with a stronger social safety net is doing better in the collapse; all industrialized countries that have comprehensive medical care pay less for medical care that has better outcomes; kids are happier in most other industrialized countries, etc.). The USA is even getting to be a less and less happy place for the rich who can afford health care, as emergency rooms go on diversion and epidemics get spread through poor people who have less resistance. And even if you are wealthy in the USA, it is only too easy to lose it all, as Bernie Madoff's clients can attest to. But the fact is, for most people, losing money to Madoff is a fantasy, and they live paycheck to paycheck, and the social tension is rising right now with rising unemployment and collapsing social institutions (even the shelters are closing for lack of money). We are just in the beginnings of this unless we take serious action as a society to deal with these *structural* issues with a failing economic control system and a dysfunctional (fossil fuel based) physical plant.

    You are asking for a higher level of proof than created the current disaster. That's a good thing to do, I agree. It is a fair demand. That kind of evidence is the kind of thing someone like Bill Gates could make real inroads into with more computer simulations and with his foundation funding regional alternative experiments (like a basic income in a town), if he had a tr

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972