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....