Microsoft's Tech Advisor Bill Gates is talking about tech (again)

Microsoft's Tech Advisor Bill Gates is talking about tech (again)

Summary: In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates dropped a few tech tidbits, including that Microsoft 'was willing to buy' WhatsApp. He's also no Edward Snowden fan (no surprise).


Even though I've been covering Microsoft -- its people, strategies, and products -- for decades, I've written very little about its Founder Bill Gates in the past five years.


The reason? Once Gates left his day job at Microsoft to focus on his foundation, he seemed to focus very little on Microsoft or the tech world any more. Sure, he was Microsoft's board chairman until last month, when he was replaced and made "Technology Advisor." And yes, I've heard tales of him sitting in on occasional product reviews over the past few years. But in almost every interview, sound bite or video clip I saw of Gates from 2008 to 2014, he had next to nothing to say about the topics I cover on this blog.

(One memorable exception: He did mention WinFS, calling it his biggest product regret, during a Reddit AMA last year.)

But Bill's back. He said he planned to make available up to 30 percent of his time for possible Microsoft involvement starting this year. And he's back to talking about Microsoft and technology, based on a new Rolling Stone interview with the man.

"Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview" (subtitled "The richest man in the world explains how to save the planet") still focuses heavily on the Gates' Foundation and his views about ways to solve health and societal problems across the world. But the interview starts out with questions and answers about technology (!) and Microsoft (!).

A few tidbits from the March 27 story:

Gates said Microsoft also "was willing to buy" WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging startup Facebook recently acquired for $19 billion. Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell said to Gates that Google was supposedly looking at possibly buying WhatsApp. Gates' response: "Yeah, yeah. Microsoft was willing to buy it, too. . . . I don't know if it was for $19 billion, but the company's extremely valuable."

Gates called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg more of a product manager than he ever was. (He describes himself as "more of a coder.") Gates said: "I start with architecture, and Mark starts with products, and (former Apple CEO) Steve Jobs started with aesthetics."

Not surprisingly he's not bullish about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: He broke the law and could have achieved his disclosure goals by other means, Gates said. "You won't find much admiration from me," he added.

Steve Jobs had Gates & Co. believing the Mac would be a $500 PC: Gates shared a bit about his working relationship with Jobs: "We were close partners in doing the original Mac software, and that was an amazing thing, because we had more people working on it than Apple did. But we were very naive. Steve promised us this was going to be this $499 machine, and next thing we knew, it was $1,999. Anyway, the Mac project was an incredible experience. The team that worked on the Mac side completely and totally burned out. Within two years, none of them were still there. But it was a mythic thing that we did together. Steve was a genius."

Gates answers a lot of other health, political, and even religious questions in the interview. (I won't provide a spoiler, but Goodell asked Gates whether he believes in God.)

For my part, I'm just interested to see Gates is actually willing to start talk tech (again). Maybe we'll be hearing more from him at Microsoft events, too. I hear he recently sat in on a review of some of the work the Office server services team is doing in conjunction with the PowerBI business-intelligence team at Microsoft....

Topics: Leadership, Microsoft, Unified Comms, Social Enterprise


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Gates has always

    been able to predict tech successfully, but not always implement successfully. For example; He loved tablets before Apple though of it, but its the implementation did not go so well at first. Opposite happen with PC's where Gates was more successful than Apple at implementing. I bet Gates can still predict tech very well. Hopefully Nadella with implement!
    Sean Foley
    • Nope

      Apple Newton was an early tablet released in 1993, M$ first tablet was released in 2002. M$ first? Not even close.
      • The Newton was a PDA not a tablet

        n t
        • And nowadays...

          ...all a smart phone really is is a PDA with a cellular telephoning capability.
          John L. Ries
          • I think you mean a smart phone is a personal computer

            Sure it can do things a PDA did and shares a similar size, but a smart phone is nearly as capable as a full desktop computer these days.
          • A powerful PDA

            But it serves the same purposes.

            Remembering that today's personal computers are more powerful than 1980s mainframes.
            John L. Ries
          • That may be true, but smart phones are well beyond PDAs

            Smart phones are very capable as personal computers. As are tablets, which most are just oversized phones anyhow.

            It's silly these revolving arguments over who thinks who was some pioneer or innovator, but no one else was.

            Truth is they were all giants doing things well before anyone else was. Some of it was original thinking, but most was little leaps inspired by the works of others.
          • Not really

            All are limited in storage, most don't have external storage devices (MicroSD cards in this case), open architectures, personal freedom (you're stuck with the 4G vendor and if you unlock the phone you're SOL in terms of warranty, ditto for jailbreaking or rooting so you can use your own device you paid for to the full extent OF a computer.)

            Oh, these overpriced toys lack firewalls as well... amongst other issues that were (perhaps, consciously) ignored from computing paradigms of the past. Eggs in one basket = one big scrambled sticky mess later if someone figures out the how-to, and they've come close when they successfully hacked iOS, iTunes, Apple's development server... The LHC server farm in 2009 running Linux... no platform is secure. Deal with it because these companies everyone fawns over are NOT.
          • Which is probably just as well..

            ..considering the bloated nature of the various software frameworks popular today, and the overheads they bring to the table.

            As somebody else once commented with regard to computing horsepower, "what intel gives you, the OS and many (most?) app developers in turn take away"
            Flawless Cowboy
        • Thank you I was about the help

          Mr. Ky Jelly there understand the difference
      • Technology was not up to the task...

        When the Newton and M$ were released.

        The Internet was in it's infancy. WiFi did not even exist in consumer world. We were using something called Floppy disks which transferred slower than WiFi and much slower than 4gl.

        Timing for iPhone was the key. They got the timing perfect. Additionally the Apple Store was critical.
        • The app store

          really made the difference, it turned a cool touch screen phone into a must have device.
          new gawker
      • Um...

        The Apple Newton was a PDA, not a tablet.
        • Okay let's think about that...

          Did the Newton have:
          a CPU? an OS? screen input? battery power for portability? no keyboard needed?
          yes, yes, yes, yes, yes...ergo: a tablet
          • think about it

            The Newton platform is a personal digital assistant developed by Apple Inc.. 

          • Tablets then were called PDAs

            Same device-- portable, self contained computer, designed for use while being held, display on front, with input on the display --does that describe a tablet or a PDA?
          • Wow, such symantics

            I had a palm pilot. Was it a tablet or was it a pda or was it a tablet that had limited functions. Does it really matter???
          • You are obviously not in tech

            or you would realize how silly that is...
      • Nope again

        So Pen computing initiatives in Windows (win3.11 upwards) had nothing to do with anything even though it didn't get very far. I remember supporting 100 IBM Pen ThinkPads in 1996 with Win3.11. Microsofts early attempts may have been bad but at the time many things were a flop.
        • OS2 annihilated windows in every way.

          Until the monopoly king blackmailed IBM into stopping development.

          OS2 was a better operating system than windows when they stopped developing it and it still is more stable and more secure.
          Reality Bites