In fact Gates (and Microsoft a a whole) has been rather poor about seeing ahead. He did not go into computing because (as is often claimed) he could see an expanding future that others were blind to; he did so because he found computers interesting. If he had found an interest in, say, cars he might have entered the motor industry instead (and maybe unemployed by now). In "The Road Ahead" he wrote that at school he was fascinated by the computer they could use : "A few of us at Lakeside wouldn't stop playing with it..... [we] dragged that favorite toy with us into adulthood.". So his career choice did not owe to far-seeing vision.

The Road Ahead - Revised after a U-turn


Gates' reputation as a seer also seems to derive from his part-authorship of "The Road Ahead". But the book is just an orgy of self-congratulation and tedious platitudes, written in a "popular science" style. His predictions are only typical of what could have been heard at that time (and earlier) among any group of techies chatting around the office or lab coffee machine. I know because I was one. They could also have been found in other popular science writings, which is quite likely where Gates got some of them. In fact some of the things he "predicted" already existed and were even commonplace.

Although published as late as 1995, the first edition of "The Road Ahead", displays Gates not as a seer, but as a man with an embarrassing failure to grasp the importance of the Internet, and the World Wide Web in particular (which he mentions on only four of his 286 pages). On publication the book was immediately ridiculed on this point. One critic said Gates had "vastly underestimated how important and how quickly the internet would come to prominence". A revised edition was hastily published with more about the Internet. Microsoft's strategy was also hastily revised, but, frustratingly for them and fortunately for the World, too late to monopolise and control the Internet as they did the personal computer.

Another frequently claimed example of Gates' "foresight" is that he realised that if DOS could be sold generally and not just within Microsoft's contract to IBM, there would be more sales of it; so he "ensured" that the contract permitted it. However, this marvellous loophole in the contract existed not because of "genius" on Gates' part, but because of IBM's incompetence - failure to take their own PC seriously. Especially with software, for which limitless further copies can be made at little extra cost, who would not take the opportunity to sell to a wider customer base? If Gates is a genius for that, then so is the guy who mended my house roof recently, because I didn't make an exclusive contract with him and so he mends other people's roofs too.