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Gates Myths

Notes and References


No Microsoft

I have avoided peppering the main pages with reference numbers and footnotes, instead placing such notes here, grouped by Myth. It should be fairly obvious what notes are associated with what statements. In any case, the history of Gates and Microsoft is so well documented that a web search for any particular aspect will bring up a such wealth of material that the abundance is a problem in itself. Nevertheless the references will help to find the particular points and quotations.

Home Page ^

Gates promotes myths himself
Gates said in an interview with David Allison : "I think the PC era really can be divided pretty nicely into the pre-IBM PC era, and the post-[IBM] PC era, because as soon as the [IBM] PC comes out, as nice as all of these [non-IBM PC] machines .. are, they faded from view very quickly." In fact the non-IBM PC machines continued alongside the IBM PC for another decade, the decade of rapid growth, but Gates is promoting the myth that it was himself (through the IBM PC) that was responsible for this growth.

Gates tendency to tears

Myth 2 Re: Personal Computers ^

MITS, the maker of the Altair, was Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. Nothing to do with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Hewlett Packard 9800 Series
An HP 9825 was the first micro I ever used. It was also the first that Steve Jobs ever used, about the only thing we had in common.

Myth 3 Re: The PC ^

Poor design of IBM PC
One aspect of the poor design was the memory limitation of 640k, which the designers, rather shortsightedly, thought was a lot. By about 1985 software reached this limit, at which point all kinds of tricks were introduced to circumvent it. The problem was not really resolved until the Intel 80386 processor came along, and operating systems to take advantage of it. However, contrary to wide belief, Gates did not say "640k is enough for anybody", and strongly denies ever saying such a stupid thing. The belief that he did is really a corrollary of the belief that he was responsible for the PC, this Myth 3, and the fact that, on the contrary, he claims to have been disappointed by the IBM PC's 640k limit does itself show that he had little or no say in its design.

DOS was all they had
An echo of the comment made to Clint Eastwood by the barman about his whisky in the film "High Plains Drifter" : "It ain't much good but it's all we've got".

Myth 4 Re: DOS ^

Paterson wrote DOS

Functioning of DOS
"Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC", by Peter Norton, Microsoft Press 1985, ISBN 0-914845-46-2. Known as "The Pink Shirt Book"

Myth 7 Re: Friendliness ^

Microsoft Trademarks

Mac-> Windows
Mac observer

Windows 8
Ironically, Microsoft have practically abandoned windows (English word) in Version 8 of Windows (brand name), prompting some wags to call it "Non-Windows 8".

Myth 8 Re: Affordable Home Computing ^

In this discussion I have used UK price sources where possible and if I give dollar equivalents I have assumed 1 is equivalent to $1.50. In some historical cases I have only been able to find US prices and have made the conversion the other way if necessary. I have included UK sales tax because we are talking about affordability. Because I am looking at trends and comparisons, consistency is more important than precision here.

Word processors graph
UT Dallas

Microsoft's Office Software monopoly

Decline of software manuals and media
Floppy disks were much more expensive to provide than CDs, not just because of the cost of the media itself, but because floppies had to be individually written, a slow process. Data CDs and DVDs are produced by a much faster process akin to printing. But today the user typically must download software and its electronic manuals from the internet, so the maker provides nothing physical at all to the buyer. In the case of modern Windows, it is pre-installed on the PC by the computer maker, so Microsoft have nothing to do except administer the receipt of the licence fee.

PCs in business
In the 1980's it was not a sure thing that personal computers would flourish in the corporate world, except in the technical laboratory. Larger businesses were rooted in mainframes, or may have had small networks around mini-computers. The early personal computers however could not be networked. In addition, managers were suspicious of the freedom that a personal computer gave to a worker (for playing games?). Ironically, the move in business today is back towards the equivalent of mainframes - cloud computing.

Price of Hardware falling but not software
In a 2008 interview, Alan Sugar (of Amstrad) said of the price of Microsoft's software : " ... as a computer manufacturer we are really a servant of Microsoft ... the bill of material content of our computers, the highest price ticket item in there, is the royalty we pay them [Microsoft] to put Windows in the box ... we ended up playing through the nose for it and still do" [BBC, The Money Program : Bill Gates 2008(?) bbc]

Price of DOS vs CP/M
One reason for this particular myth seems to be the fact that when the IMB PC was launched it came with a choice of three operating systems: Microsoft's PC-DOS, Digital Research's CP/M-86, and the UCSD p-system, and of these PC-DOS was by far the cheapest - $40 compared with $240 for CP/M-86. There is an assumption that without Microsoft's DOS those higher prices would have persisted indefinitely as no-one else would or could have sold an operating system as cheaply.

This firstly ignores the fact that Seattle Computer Products had already sold DOS more cheaply - to Microsoft themselves, who's natural purpose in buying it was to sell it on to end users at a higher price for profit. It also ignores the fact that PCs were not affordable anyway to small users at this time (early 1980's). It further ignores the fact that non-PC personal computer companies were using and evolving other operating systems such as CP/M and GEOS - which became so affordable that, eg, CP/M was included with the Amstrad CPC664 for a total price of 340 in 1985. It cannot be claimed either that it was competition with Microsoft that drove down the prices of these other operating systems because they were in quite different markets at this time.

OS and PC prices graph
The graph uses several data points for the OS prices. The prices are for the more basic versions rather than "professional" or "enterprise" versions. For comparison, around 1998 Windows NT, aimed at professional users, cost about twice as much as the contemporary Windows 98. For the Windows 3.x period I have added the price of DOS and Windows because Windows could not run without DOS. Here are my sources :

Price of DOS v1.0 (1981) : $40 (26) [PCommuniques". PC Magazine. February 1983 Page 53]
Price of DOS v5 plus Windows 3.1 (1992) : 147 ($223) [Evesham Micros price list 1992]
Price of Windows 95 (1995): $209 (138) neowin
Price of Windows XP (2001) : $199 (131) cnet
Price of Windows 8.1 (Jan 2015) 100 ($150) microsoftstore

It is difficult to give PC prices because there have always been variants of models by the same makers with factors of two or more between the "entry level" models and "power users'" models. The prices used for this graph are of low-ish end models and include VAT (purchase tax) because this article is about affordablity. In fact I have used the prices of my own purchases, except for those of the original 1981 IBM PC and the final point of 250, which is for a Hewlett Packard Celeron 15.6" laptop with Windows 8.1 the January 2015 catalogue of the CPC mail order comapany.
Price of original IBM PC (1981 : $1565 (1032) ibm

Myth 9 Re: Computer for every desk & home ^

Gates' "vision"
Gates had a "vision" of a computer on every desk. I work for a large company which has similar "visions" all the time. Visions like "To have the best safety record in the World", "To halve outage times by half", "To increase women's participation" and so on. One imagines the directors having these visions : rolling around the boardroom floor, entranced, with bolts of lightening coming out their eyes and ears, like Old Testament prophets. We have learned to ignore the reports of these visions.

Computers of Non-IBM PC type in Industry
I worked in engineering offices through this 1975-1990 period of growth. We had mainframes, mini-computers and micros at our disposal, and would not have given a thank-you for an IBM/Microsoft PC; they were the boring things found in the typing pool and the admin office. The first one we had (around 1985) was shared between 5 engineers and we mainly used it as a terminal to a mainframe.

Sage for CP/M

Geoffrey Archer's novels
Some of Geoffrey Archer's novels were written with Locoscript on an Amstrad PCW - [Ref: 8000 Plus magazine, now defunct, Early 1990's]

IBM PC as mainframe terminal
This is how I first used an IBM PC. The standard IBM "dumb" terminal was called an IBM 3270 and the one in my office was one day replaced by a IBM PC running 3270 emulation software. The finance department used similar terminals and had priority on the mainframe by day. I had it at night for engineering calculations, and used my terminal to set them up as batch jobs.

Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator was licensed from subLOGIC Corporation.

Doom and other PC games
The early IBM PCs, DOS and Windows made a rather poor platforms for games other than sedentary ones like Chess and Solitaire. After all, the market was originally the business world. Doom itself was developed on a Unix platform and ported to DOS for its release. Little use was made of DOS by games like Doom; DOS launched it by reading it from the hard drive into memory, but then the game would take over the machine, handling the memory and screen directly. Games did this even after the advent of Windows (until Windows XP); Windows first had to be dismissed to clear it from the memory, leaving DOS minimally to launch the game.

Myth 11 Re: Programmer ^

Writing Altair Basic
"Fiber Optics Illustrated Dictionary", by J k Petersen, CRC Press, 2010, ISBN 0-8493-1349-X

We also know that Microsoft had access to the source code of DECUS BASIC for the PDP 10 mini-computer, which may have helped them along.

Win 9x 49.7 day bug

svchost bug


Myth 12 Re: Businessman ^

"The Road Ahead" criticism and ridicule
NY Times
Seattle Times
Left Field
Read Irresponsibly

Myth 13 Re: Role Model ^

Shouting and tantrums
"... at Lakeside [School], He [Gates] was obnoxious, he was sure of himself, he was aggressively, intimidatingly smart. ....He had a hard-nosed, confrontational style even with his teachers - a style he is noted for today. His intensity at times simply boiled over into raw, unthrottled emotion, and occasionally childlike temper tantrums"
[from "Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the making of the Microsoft Empire" by James Wallace & Jim Erickson, ISBN 0-88730-629-2]

and, even as a "mature" adult :

"[Gates] was known to get into shouting matches with CEOs of rival tech companies and to belittle his own [people] at Microsoft by calling their ideas "stupid." But perhaps the sorest victim of Gates's temper tantrums was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who said that dealing with Gates's frequent explosions was "like being in hell.""

Billing Options
"there will be new billing options, monthly subscriptions, hourly rates, charges per item accessed..." Microsoft's past erratic revenue flow, booming when a new software version is released, then withering when a further version is expected even 1-2 years ahead, is a corporate accountant's nightmare. It was particularly marked in the Windows 95/98/ME era, and in the long barren period before XP's replacement. Microsoft would love to replace this with a steady predictable flow, which could be got from a rental model, which is very apparent in this statement of Gates'. This is the reason for Office becoming rental with the 365 version; and also why Windows 10 (announced as the "last Windows version") has been given free, it being likely that at some future point its updates will be conditional on continuous rental charges - whether those updates are frequent or not. Picture
Conference 1st Oct 2014, still from YouTube.

Myth 14 Re: Driving progress ^

Stagnation of progress with dominant market share

Bugs in Windows 95/98/ME
In the film "Tommorrow Never Dies" the villain, Elliot Carver, is a newspaper and software magnate. He comments that bugs in his software are what drives his customers to buy each new version, in the hope of improvement. This is exactly what happened with the 95/98/ME series, on a two year cycle, and no doubt this is what the film is referring to. However, with the vastly better Windows XP, customers were broadly satisfied and, to Microsoft's frustration, kept on using it for the next 10 years or more. That is one reason why Microsoft would like its customers to rent rather than buy its software : to provide a steady income without needing to produce (and sell) regular new versions.

Conference 1 Oct 2014, still from YouTube.

Myth 15 Re: Charity ^


Income per year

Income per second

Next 20 years' total wealth
I am simplifying but the numbers are insane anyway and there are estimates that he could even be worth a staggering trillion dollars by the time he dies : msn money


Not leaving money to children

Corruption of standards committees
Microsoft asked and in some cases paid its partners around the world to join their national standards committees in order to sway the voting in favour of making their OOXML document format an ISO standard. The behaviour exploited a weakness in the standards system of which most people had been previously unaware - such committees were meant to consist of independently thinking experts, not parties with vested interests signing on for a particular vote. A partner refusing to oblige would have risked losing their Microsoft related business.

This was despite the fact that another and directly equivalent standard (ODF) had recently been approved as an ISO standard. Microsoft are thus responsible, by corruption, of creating the nonsensical situation of there being two quite different standards for the same purpose. The partners became members of the standards committees specifically for this one vote, and in some countries the regular committee members found they could not even get into their already full committee room. Microsoft had "stuffed" the committees in every sense of the word.

Illegal monopolistic practices
NY Times

Deposition -Unaware of company policy wrt Netscape
Deposition 27 August 1998, 1310 hrs

Obfuscation during deposition
New York Times 4 Feb 2001 (Book review)

Still CBS television 1994 [blogspot]