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B. Gates Rants About Software Copyrights - in 1980

Posted by Roblimo on Fri Jan 21, 2000 11:00 AM
from the dark-side-of-software-history dept.
This is an interview with a young programmer and entrepreneur named Bill Gates, originally taped and transcribed in 1980. In it, Gates says, "There's nobody getting rich writing software that I know of." Gates also works hard to defend the idea of copyrighting software stored on magnetic media - mostly tape, back then - which the government didn't accept at the time, and talks at length about how no one will ever write software if they can't make money at it, why it's bad to share programs freely with friends, and generally makes it clear that 20 years ago Bill Gates was already well on his way to becoming what he is today. (More below -- including a special Slashdot audio bonus!)

The following is a transcript of the original recording of Dennis Báthory-Kitsz interviewing Bill Gates. This is a behind-the-scenes look at a programmer who's also a writer interviewing a programmer who's also a businessman. The material is unedited. The author had expected a discussion of philosophy and alternative ways of thinking; but the author was nonplused by Gates's emphasis on economic considerations rather than philosophical or legislative ones, or even the excitement that was a strong motivating force throughout the microcomputer community at the time.

This interview, conducted in March 1980, was one of several dozen written and taped exchanges between Báthory-Kitsz and Bill Gates, John Hersey, Bryan Mumford, Hank Watson, P. T. Wolf, and other software authors, computer club members, publishers, program traders, and general users, as well as Sarah Basbas of the Copyright Office.

The final article appeared in 80 Microcomputing, a magazine dedicated to the Radio Shack's TRS-80 Micro Computer System (later known as the Model I). It was the magazine's cover story, Have the Courts Smashed Software Copyright?, in the fall of 1980.

In the interview, the reference to Datacash vs. JS&A is a decision (79 C 591, September 26, 1979) in Illinois District Court that unequivocally held that "the object phase of a computer program was not a 'copy' within meaning of the Copyright Act of 1909 or common law" and "The Copyright Act of 1976 applies to computer programs in their flow chart, source and assembly phases, but not in their object phase." The decision terrified the software community, and was the reason for this article being prepared. CONTU was the National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works, which held hearings on the validity of copyright as applied to computer software, and issued a report on July 31, 1978 (SuDocs No. 030-002-0143-8). The heart of the problem was human readability, which CONTU Commissioner John Hersey (author of Hiroshima and president of the Authors League of America) found absent from the "machine part" character of object code. However, in the intervening 20 years, copyright has been extended to computer object code and other material in non-human-readable form, and displayed copyright notices are no longer required.

Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, composer and technologist, was - in the halcyon days of small computing - the author of The Custom TRS-80, a best-selling book of hardware and software improvements, and Learning the 6809, a programmed learning text that focused on the Tandy Color Computer. He was president of Green Mountain Micro until its demise in 1986. He presently co-hosts the radio/cyber show Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, writes and edits for The Transitive Empire, and consults in Web site accessibility for OrbitAccess.

Bill Gates was until recently CEO of Microsoft Corporation. Gates and Paul Allen wrote a BASIC interpreter in ROM for the TRS-80 (Level II, replacing the rudimentary, non-Microsoft Level I BASIC that was offered in 1977) that was both good enough and flawed enough to make the TRS-80 a hobbyist's dream. A generation of programmers and hardware jockeys were raised on its workings, and the venerable Model I-once called the Trash-80-has recently undergone a resurgence of interest along with other old "eight-bitters."

There is a prefatory exchange before recording begins.


Dennis Báthory-Kitsz: So you do put a copyright notice in your programs that is displayed on the screen?

Bill Gates: Well, we certainly, um...

B-K: The approach is that, because programs are not in fact protected by the copyright law in magnetic medium, I was wondering about your particular approach to it-your recommendations. The National Commission on the, um, what is the title...


B-K: Right, you know about it, okay, good. ...has recommended that, and legislation hasn't been introduced yet on the question.

G: There's no, there's nothing that says it either is or isn't. Unless you take Datacash vs. JS&A as a final determination of the question. There's no answer to whether magnetic media is presently protected by the copyright laws.

B-K: Well, on the Section 117, it specifically excludes from...

G: No it does not. It says that this law, the new copyright law, does not change in any way the degree to which the copyright laws cover such items. It leaves it totally open. There's nothing that explicitly, unless I'm mistaken, that closes that question.

B-K: One of the points of CONTU was because it did in fact exclude that. That was what the Commission was trying to approach and get at-revisions to the law that would definitely include such things, including ROMs, and other matters which are not currently covered by the law.

G: Okay, I was involved in the CONTU thing, and let me explain what I understand about that. Specifically in the new copyright law, there is a section that says this law is not intended to change in any way the degree to which copyright laws cover ROMs, magnetic media, diskettes, other forms of software programs, and that Congress will appoint a commission to look into this issue. We're not changing it in any way, shape, or form. So CONTU comes directly from that provision, okay, and they're supposed to recommend to Congress how to treat those things explicitly. There's never been a statement of any kind that says that the copyright laws don't cover magnetic media. There's now Datacash vs. JS&A which says that it's in machine-readable form only, and therefore wouldn't be subject to a copyright, if that's the way you read Datacash vs. JS&A. It's now an Illinois District Court decision. It has a lot of people very upset. But there's cert... As far as I'm aware, there's nothing that eliminates that. I mean, every manufacturer around, Digital Equipment puts copyright notices on, we put copyright notices on. Also, on most of our software packages, we require a non-disclosure agreement from the user before they can use it. B-K: Right, that is an agreement of another nature. However, a person obtaining a copy of yours outside of the agreement, through any source... Now again, you're interpreting it, apparently, from a point of view different from that taken by the Commission, because the Commission, specifically Hersey's dissent...

G: What about Hershey's [sic] dissent? That's something I spent a lot of time on.

B-K: Oh, you did? I had written to him recently, and got a letter in which he specifically analogizes it to the actions of cams and other devices.

G: That's what he thinks!

B-K: Yes, indeed.

G: Hershey was just way off in left field as far as the Commission?s concerned! He takes this thing that we're dehumanizing society by protecting our work, you know, that everybody should be... that somehow if people can feel mechanistic things, then society is a little more human.

B-K: It seemed to me that Hersey's point was - I didn't agree with him - mostly from the viewpoint that he seemed to be trying to protect the works of the traditional author as he viewed them. And I myself write extensive machine language programming, do a lot of that, and sort of resented that point of view personally. But, it seemed to me, again, I'm going from the point of view that the Commission would not have been necessary if the law was clear enough to cover those sorts of things, the format...

G: The law is not clear at all, and the Commission was set up specifically by a provision of the law. I'm talking about... I can go get my file on this stuff, which is about eight inches thick, and read to you that portion of the law.

B-K: Yeah, I have it in front of me at the moment.

G: It does not say that the copyright laws do not cover magnetic media.

B-K: The copyright laws do cover magnetic media, but not computer programming magnetic media.

G: No, it doesn't say that either.

B-K: Okay, what I'm looking for is not a discussion of that so much as your opinion of the current situation in regard to this. How do you feel about it? Or do you...

G: Well, we spend millions of dollars a year creating software programs, and we are protecting those in several ways. There's the trade secret laws where we get non-disclosure, and that's how we handle our source codes and our so-called commercial packages that are high priced. But for our low-cost software, we simply can't do that. Like the things... We have that consumer products division that sells things selling for less than $100. We can't afford to go out there and get non-disclosures on those things. So we rely on the copyright laws.

B-K: You haven't had an occasion to test the law? Your organization, specifically?

G: There is no case testing the law, unless you consider the Datacash vs. JS&A such a case. Everybody relies on unfair competition laws, which are just fine. If you have somebody going out using your work, and selling it, then the unfair competition laws come in, or there's laws for instance in the State of California, that were enacted to protect cassette tape rip-off, and those have been used, and unfair trade practices have been used, but as far as the copyright law, no, nobody's ever...

B-K: What about modifications? Minor modifications to programs and reorganization, and then re-issuance? How do you feel about that? There are rumors, which you probably have more reliable information on, about the copies of machines like the TRS-80 to appear using essentially your writing of Level II. How do you feel about a minor rewrite of all of your work? And how do you think you would approach that if such a machine were in fact to appear?

G: Well, you must be talking about the EACA machine, which is a Hong Kong company that's coming in and licensed our BASIC.

B-K: They have licensed it from you?

G: Certainly.

B-K: Okay, I was not aware...

G: If they didn't license the BASIC... I mean, the unfair trade laws protect us there 100%, you know. That has nothing to do with the copyright thing. There you have somebody who is using another person's work.

B-K: How can it be proven that it is in fact your work?

G: How can it be proven that it's my work? I'll get, you know, any number of experts to testify that it's my work. It's quite simple. It's proof in a court of law.

B-K: What evidence is there within the context of the work that you would consider enough evidence? In other words, we are dealing with a group of machine instructions, which could be, like a bibliography, could be also arranged in an order that would produce a certain series of effects. What is distinctive...

G: You?re talking about a thing that is 16,000 instructions with 256 possibilities for each one. I can certainly prove if it's derived from my work that it's derived from my work. It's just like any form of plagarism [sic] where, you know, you can modify musical tunes. There's nothing novel about this. If you change the page numbers on a book, or if you translate a book, or if you rip off somebody's musical tune, the court has to determine, was it in fact borrowing from the previous work, and in the case of software, they'd rely on expert testimony.

B-K: In other words, from your point of view, there is nothing difficult at all about the question?

G: Well, you have to have exp... You know, if somebody's camouflaged the thing pretty well... That's a question of fact, not of law. The question is, did they borrow from my work, okay? Assume that I can prove that, that I could convince the court that they borrowed from my work, then you have the question of law, what's the law going to do about that. Okay, when somebody's commercializing a machine based on my product and earning money from it, that's unfair competition, when they haven't licensed it from me. That's ignoring the copyright law. The thing the copyright laws are really necessary for is where you have people exchange the software essentially on a free basis with each other, say inside a computer club or, you know, people there are saying, here, take a video tape or things. That's where copyright laws have to come in and say, "Is this a legitimate use?"

B-K: Or if someone were merely to take your material, and from their point of view, a gesture of humanitarianism to users who couldn't afford it, to give it away to them...

G: Just like you go to a bank, and as a gesture of humanitarianism, you take their money and you give it away! That's a gesture of humanitarianism! In society, we don't need to pay... If something's expensive to develop, and somebody's not going to get paid, it won't get developed. So you decide: Do you want software to be written, or not?

B-K: Okay, in such a situation, how would you approach, if, say, major computer club like a Cleveland group or a Chicago group decided they had had it with paying what they considered a high price and started giving away your material publicly? How would you approach that?

G: Well, they put, they put software companies out of business, okay? If the law wasn't going to protect it, there wouldn't be any software written. I mean, it's just like, if somebody... What would an author do if everybody starts giving away their book, or anything?

B-K: There's a clear protection...

G: Take them to court and see if the courts are willing to protect the work that we've done.

B-K: Okay, do you think you?d be successful?

G: Oh, absolutely! I mean, you've got to realize that the courts are basically looking for equity solutions, and when you have somebody creating a work, and putting a lot of effort into that, and you have somebody else who is giving it away, the court is looking for the equity of the situation.

B-K: What piece of law would they base it on?

G: Oh, they'd generally use unfair trade practices, unfair competition.

B-K: But neither of those cases are legitimate here, because there is no profit being made.

G: Well, it's things like the AP wire, where there were people giving away AP wire stuff, and AP wire can't be copyrighted because it's simply news material, and I forget how they handled it in that case, but... Well, they'd probably look into state law to see what they could get. I mean, you know, if you have somebody running advertisements and distributing media, they're probably going to have to charge some money, in which case you can definitely get all those laws into play. Also, if it's something requires non-disclosure, which is true for most of our packages, everything but super low-end stuff and [inaudible] stuff, like Typing Tutor, then we've got a trade secret case against them.

B-K: Once you've gotten past the first step of non-disclosure, you may have a case against the initial person, however...

G: But if a trade secret's released, the people are taking advantage of a trade secret are subject to a penalty. It's not like you can just go in and rip someone off, and they can't figure out who it is, you can use the thing freely. That's not the way trade secrets work.

B-K: If that's the case, then why do you license it?

G: Why do I license it? So I can get coverage under the trade secret law.

B-K: I'm looking for a conflict there somehow.

G: You don't get trade secret protection unless you have a specific agreement with the party not to disclose. But you can have, if you prove it's a trade secret, for anybody who's using it.

B-K: Even those with whom you do not have a specific agreement?

G: That's right. It's a trade secret. If you prove that the thing has never been published, and you've covered it under those agreements, then anybody who is benefiting by it suffers. Otherwise the thing is so ludicrous. What do you think the trade secret... What good would the trade secret laws be?

B-K: In the trade secret laws as I had understood them, that was generally material that was not accessible. The process...

G: No, ours is not accessible except by non-disclosure. That's what trade secrets are for.

B-K: No, that's not what I was saying. I was saying that the material, the process of operation, or one aspect of it was not discernible...

B-K: ...and that it requires some covert act to obtain the balance of information. In the case of your code, the code is all. There is no secret beyond that.

G: I really don't know what you?re saying at all. Our code is the trade secret, and people who are...

B-K: But you're giving it way.

G: No, we're not giving it away, we're selling it. Just like Coca-Cola. The bottling companies make the Coke, okay? The overseas affiliates make the syrup, okay? They license it to those people They're just like people signing our non-disclosure. Or, you know, Dow Chemical has a process for making ethylene. They license it to people. It's a trade secret. Those people who have that process pay.

B-K: That's right, yeah.

G: They sign the non-disclosure, just like people who receive our software sign our non-disclosure. Okay?

B-K: And if the material is taken, modified so that it's still structurally similar, and then re..., and then given away at that point? Do you think that has been clarified?

G: Absolutely! I mean, when you're talking about a chemical process, what is an exact duplicate of the chemical process? There have been plenty of cases where you come in and you have a question of fact: Is this... Did somebody else use somebody's... Did they use proprietary information of this company to come up with this process? And that's a question of fact. You have experts come in. Once again, you've got to separate these things out; don't confuse questions of fact with questions of law. First, you decide if you've used somebody else's work. Then you decided if the law protects it. If it's a trade secret, they've received non-disclosure, fine, the law protects it.

B-K: Why, then, was the Commission necessary?

G: Because there are certain things that are not suitable for covering under, covering with trade secret protection. You don't want to go out for every $14 piece of software you sell, get a non-disclosure agreement from the guy. That's bad news. Okay, you don't want, when you sell a TRS-80, to have to have the guy sign a non-disclosure agreement that he won't screw with the ROM. Okay? For things that are going to have widespread distribution, the copyright laws are certainly more appropriate, and yet, the copyright laws, there's nothing clear in them about how they would handle something that's not human-readable. It's not clear that they don't, I mean, certainly when you have tape... everything in a form is human-readable, just like you can disassemble binary bits, you can take a magnetic tape with voice on it and play it back on a recorder, and certainly cassette tapes are protected.

B-K: Um, okay.

G: It's a matter of degree. If they want to set up some procedures, some clear boundaries, of what was and wasn't protected, because nobody's willing to pay the cost. I couldn't afford that kind of pioneering effort, taking something like that to court. I'd be out of business.

B-K: What... Would you favor, then, the specific extension of the copyright law, in specific language, to cover...

G: Making it clear that the copyright laws covered, yes.

B-K: Yeah, you would.

G: Not an extension! It is not an extension!

B-K: Well, some people do feel that it is...

G: Who?

B-K: ...and Hersey's pretty clear...

G: Who?

B-K: ...that he does feel that way...

G: Who?

B-K: it's not a manner of unanimous...

G: Does he have a court decision or something interpreting the law? Or does he see, or is there some provision in the law? I mean, look at the thing which commissioned CONTU to start with. Okay, I can go pull it out. It doesn't say that the laws don't cover these things. It says that they've been asked to come up with a clear position clarifying the exact procedure. And in particular in the case of databases that's tough. CONTU had a very broad scope.

B-K: Then why, as of four weeks ago, had the Copyright Office not accepted any software in magnetic media for copyright?

G: It doesn't really matter. I mean, when cassette tapes come in, they actually deliver them. They don't deliver a cassette tape on the thing, they deliver like a musical sheet rendition or something like that.

B-K: I'm not talking about the printed version, which is acceptable, but the magnetic version, which is not.

G: Are you telling me music cassette tapes are not protected?

B-K: No, I didn't say music. I was talking about computer programs on cassette tape. Music is specifically protected by the law.

G: Why? It's not in human readable form. It's on a cassette.

B-K: Well, I'm not asking you for an interpretation. I'm stating that as of four weeks ago, they had not yet accepted them. If the law to your mind makes them acceptable, why does the Copyright Office, the Registrar of Copyright, still refuse to accept magnetic media and ROM?

G: For the same reason they don't take music cassettes. They want to see the thing in the most human-readable...

B-K: It's the phonogram copyright and it does in fact copyright the musical version.

G: Well, they want to see the thing in the most human-readable form, so people have submitted tons and tons of source code to the thing to the Copyright Office and received copyright registrations. Just like in the Datacash vs. JS&A.

B-K: The office is specifically excluding magnetic media. They still continue to. I want you to address that question if you would - that of magnetic media. You have said the law does protect the programs, and the specific question of the law was whether it protected them in magnetic media and in ROMs, and whenever it was in the machine.

G: The medium is not really the issue...

B-K: The medium is in fact an issue.

G: The Copyright Office wants to see something they can understand. If you put a computer program on magnetic media, they have a hard time knowing what they are copyrighting. They have no way of comparing things, or doing a search, or anything of that nature. They're really unequipped for it, okay, and they want a clear mandate that they should be equipped for that, and then they'll go out and spend a bunch of money. So they want it, right now, they want to see the thing in listing form.

B-K: And, as contrasted with recorded discs and tapes, the magnetic media and the ROMs they are refusing to accept. So you would favor this extension? This is what I am trying to get at. It is in fact from the Copyright Office's point of view an extension of the law.

G: Well, what the Copyright Office does... You know, they should be equipped to accept it in that form, well we can certainly deliver it to them in other forms. Like initially, they weren't equipped to receive video material in VTR form, or they're not equipped to receive it in video disc format, and they definitely should get a setup to do that.

B-K: But it's definitely copyrightable under the phonogram copyright and magnetic media as long as it is not a digitally rendered piece of information, which they are not accepting...

G: There is tons of... I'm sorry?

B-K: Which, as I say, the digital program they are not accepting, yet they are accepting by contrast a digital recording of audio material. That is an interesting contrast. I had asked them of that, and they said yes, they are accepting digital masters, but they are not accepting computer programs.

G: What if I put my source code on that?

B-K: Yes.

G: I put the characters in perfectly readable human form? They'll accept that.

B-K: They will not.

G: No, the problem is object code vs. source code.

B-K: The problem is a machine-readable code.

G: Well, wait a minute. The VTR is a machine; a cassette tape recorder is a machine.

B-K: They made the differentiation. I haven't made it. They have apparently made it.

G: Okay, in a sense that only a machine can execute it, yeah. They have not accepted object code for copyright as far as I'm aware.

B-K: They have not. That is correct.

G: I know some people who have sent in paper tape object codes and they weren't rejected, but that doesn't really prove anything that they have them sitting in their vaults.

B-K: If they issue the copyright certificate for that piece of material in that form, which they have not done. They have issued it for listings, they have issued it for other forms, but not that which sits in either of those two, and I was trying to get at that. Would you like to make any generalized comments about your experiences with your smaller software, and the violation of any rights that you see that you have there? The smaller pieces, those less than $100 that you were talking about earlier?

G: Well, you know, people... When it's more convenient to get it from your friend than it is to go out and buy the thing, both from a cost and a speed of delivery point of view, there's a great temptation to copy it, and that does take place. Fortunately, there's a great number of people who are honest enough, who realize the effect of that type of stuff, and come and purchase the package. And, you know, as... That's really what determines whether people will come up with software packages.

B-K: Would you like to address some comments to a generalized public, as, I would say, probably the acknowledged leader of the microcomputer software industry?

G: Well, as far as the whole rip-off issue, unfortunately, it gets... The trade is something totally different than what it is. It's simply a matter of... It's not manufacturers trying to rip anybody off or anything like that. There's nobody getting rich writing software that I know of. There are people who would like to stay in business and earn a salary writing packages for these low-cost computers, but... And every time somebody comes up with a scheme for making it difficult to protect, there's a great deal of unhappiness expressed on the part of the user, because they want to be able to make the duplicate copies.

B-K: Yeah, absolutely. I sympathize with that, from my point of view, because I have ruined enough of my original copies of things because I'm terribly klutzy about such things.

G: There's too many people out there who are willing to just exchange the stuff, are willing to go to a club meeting and see that stuff being done without speaking out against it.

B-K: Absolutely. I've received in a survey that I was doing of users from my own personal mailing list, a list, a photocopied list of over 120 pieces of commercial software that one individual was trading, offering for trade, most of which he had gotten in trade. And I was really unhappy about that. I'm trying to be objective about my point of view on the article, but I really hit the ceiling when I saw it. I said to myself, what do I write to this guy, what do I say to this guy to say, you know, "Would you stop? Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal, but you've got 120 programs, and some of them are phenomenally big programs that the authors, who sweated their asses off for this thing, have not seen any compensation for." But it's pretty extensive. I don't know how much of it you see. You probably see a lot of it, but maybe people are wary of telling you, but it's tremendously extensive.

G: There's a great deal of it. But I, looking at the thing, and with the amount of software we offer, we are the most ripped-off company around in this [inaudible]. It's because we offer a broad range, and we try to offer it for these low-cost computers.

B-K: Absolutely. And there's probably where you're getting the greatest portion of your loss.

G: And we view this thing totally as an experiment. If there isn't enough, if there aren't enough honest people out there to buy the stuff, we'll end it. And we won't... At least, most of our packages we won't put down at the low end.

B-K: Okay. Your experiment has been successful so far, I take it from something you said earlier. You felt that there are enough honest people out there.

G: Yeah, I really think there are. And it's not, it's not overwhelmingly acceptable, but it's at an acceptable level where, as the base of personal computer users grows, and we come up with... I think people will have a growing awareness that it's just taking someone else's work is not the appropriate way to handle it.

B-K: As a related question - you can tell me to stop at any time as it gets toward, or maybe it's past your lunch hour - but as just one related question. I'll probably make it my final one. We've heard a lot of feedback from readers about wishing that Microsoft and Radio Shack in this particular case could possibly make available some more, a lot of detail about the ROM. People feel helpless trying to take it apart bit by bit, spending months doing that so they can essentially write a simple routine to patch into it for their own use. How do you feel about the obligation one reader particularly expressed that the, more details should be made available about, particularly, large-scale works like Level II ROM?

G: Well, if there's a problem with Level II ROM, people can work with Radio Shack. They have their own support team.

B-K: Well, Radio Shack apparently doesn't know very much about it, or is not willing to talk about it. They have not answered...

G: The Level II ROM operates as documented in the manual, and they're perfectly willing to talk about that. As far as whether PMOS was used, and whether the third layer of the Z-80 chip has...

B-K: I'm talking about the software specifically.

G: Why is that an area of such interest? Why don't they demand that the circuit diagrams for the Z-80 chip be included then? All that stuff be documented? I mean, they bought the box for one function, and the price was set to support them.

B-K: Maybe they didn't buy the box for one function.

G: Well, if they got it to get the source code of the ROM, then somebody misled them.

B-K: Don't misapprehend my question. I'm saying that there are a lot of places, and I myself have had the difficulty of wanting to perform a certain transparent function that I could use all the time for my particular orientation, which is as a composer, and I need some special activities which I would like to patch into place. It's taken me an extraordinary amount of time to find how those patch points operated, the timings of them, etc., for my own use. I do not have personally the cash to go out and buy a $10,000 controller. I needed an inexpensive machine onto which I could expand with my main interest, which is composition - which is not computer hardware.

G: Well, a great deal of information about that ROM has been made available.

B-K: Through what sources?

G: Through Radio Shack. They tell you where, they tell you certain things about the entry points and what the device parameters are. Beyond that, do you know what kind of support burden you create by trying to explain to everybody what's in that ROM? Not to mention the fact that that ROM, the source code that's in there is what keeps us in business.

B-K: That's true, but do you see as likely that someone is going to copy that when it is so inexpensive?

G: To copy the ROM?

B-K: Yeah.

G: It isn't inexpensive to copy the ROM.

B-K: What I'm saying is, it's so inexpensive for the device as a whole. Nobody's going to build a TRS-80 from the ground up.

G: That's true. Well, if they want. If they want to know every last bit and byte in the thing and they for some reason which I guess I...

B-K: The reason I'm trying to express is, I have found three or four routines which I've found essential to my use, and it took me a long time to find out how the various interpreter sections worked so that I could patch it in completely transparently, do other things, and go into it without having to completely bypass it, to not use it at all. A lot of the convenience functions I wanted, but I didn't, there were a lot of things it didn't have that I wanted to add to it. A lot of people have expressed to me, why aren't the patch points, that whole row, that whole, virtually, page of patch points explained?...

G: Well, the reason...

B-K: ...That kind of support?

G: We put flexibility into the ROM which isn't documented at all, and which is not sold as a feature on the thing. Radio Shack doesn't have the expertise or the money to go out and explain to their users how to work with that stuff at the machine-language level. The support burden would just be unbelievable. I mean, they would virtually have to hire experts to answer the phone and spend hours educating people about machine language, about the stack, about interrupts, about how it works together, about the problems with hardware interface, and explain it to me and my eight-year-old son. [tape side 1 ends; discussion about clones missed] You know, I assume they're not offering the same type of support that Radio Shack would on the thing. Fixing mistakes, and coming up with new versions, fixing the thing, and also the fact that you have to go and buy the thing from a club or something like that, it's very clear what the rules of use are, and I don't see why Radio Shack should do that. Do you think a lot more people would buy the computer, or that they've misrepresented the computer?

B-K: No, I don't think anyone's said that. I think people are anxious, are very anxious for additional information about what they have. You can order, for example, a manual, a repair and service manual...

G: Yeah, on a hardware level, they've done a good job.

B-K: I mean, for an automobile, for example, you can order a detailed manual about all the aspects of it, how to tune it up, and keep it in good operating condition, buy you cannot...

G: Yeah, that's true. There is a thing called the TRS-80 Technical Manual. From a hardware point of view, they've done a good job.

B-K: That's from a hardware point of view.

G: Well, the software's just... B-K: But there's no software technical manual?

G: Well, there's two issues there. One is the complexity of it, and two is the issue of protecting what we own, and what we do business with. I think, you know, there's a gap there. More information should be made available by Radio Shack, and they would have to come to me and say, "Is this too much?" Because of the way our contracts work, they can't really release anything without my permission. There's a certain amount that could be, that would aid people in their use of the ROM without threatening my proprietary rights. If Radio Shack's emphasis was to do a good job supporting hobbyist-type users, and people who were interested in that sort of thing, they would do that. They'd go out and write a book. As it is, the people who are doing this thing have to be careful, because they tread the line of violating my copyright. Like, oh, [Harvard C.] Pennington coming out with his thing [TRS-80 Disk & Other Mysteries]. He's putting comments in.

B-K: Right, right. There's a TRS... I don't know if you've seen it - the TRS-80 Disassembled Handbook, which is a piece of work in which a person deciphered a large number of your subroutine calls, and provides virtually all of your code in hex, with the exception of a few bytes, which he says that he's taken out to make sure that the person bought the product. How do you react to something like that?

G: He's got our code in hex?

B-K: Your entire code in hex less maybe about two dozen bytes that he took out specifically to say that he didn't want to violate your rights by providing the whole code.

G: Well, he certainly violated our rights!

B-K: Okay. If you're interested, there's a review in the upcoming issue of 80 Microcomputing, and it has the address, and you might want to talk to him, because he feels he has not...

G: Certainly he has. I mean, that's my material. Whose does he think it is? Does he think that he has the right to go out and commercially profit by republishing something that we created? I mean, that's ludicrous! You know, why should he be making money from that? All he did was take our stuff!

B-K: Okay, in the level of your support, then, do you feel that giving detailed information about what you've doing violates your rights?

G: No. No, like the thing with Pennington where he gives comments, that doesn't violate my rights, because he did not include any portion of the ROM itself. You know, it kind of encourages people to run the disassembler, and as long as they use it for their personal use, okay, that's fair use. It might make it easier for someone who had something bad in mind... But that's fine; what Pennington has done is okay. [Later that year Pennington published Microsoft BASIC Decoded with a complete source listing.] But if this guy actually included the contents of the ROM in his book, he's crossed the line. That's our material!

B-K: Okay, I would be interested, if you had any contact with him, I would very much be interested in hearing something further on that, because I thought that it was a little out of line personally.

G: Okay, I have to go.

B-K: Thank you very much.

G: Nice talking to you.


For a truly strange audio experience, check out Dennis's page. The piece titled No Money (Lullaby for Bill) is made entirely of audio clips from the above interview.

Or you can download the entire original interview in either RealAudio or MP3 format from this special Geeks in Space page. Be forewarned: it's almost 40 minutes long, and it's a 19-year-old, low-quality recording.

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  • I think most people are missing the underlying reason Microsoft products are successful. As much as those who are jealous of Bill Gates' status as the richest man in the world like to say otherwise, Microsoft's products are of incredibly high quality.

    E.g. In the late 80's, IBM, a much larger company than Microsoft, tried to dominate the operating system's market. What did they use? OS/2. We all know how well OS/2 fared! Why? Because it was not even close to the quality of Microsoft's product: Windows 3.1. And, if you want to talk innovation, look at the Windows 3.1 interface. Where do you think those early versions of IBM's product (OS/2) got their interface ideas?

    To see Microsoft's true innovation, though, look at Windows NT, that came out soon afterwards. With innovations like preemptive multitasking, virtual memory, and, something that had never been done before in the industry -- Portability to other processor families -- NT represented a technological leap beyond any of its competitors in the Unix world.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    While I realize that most of the readership of Slashdot worships such lowly knaves as Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, it must be pointed out that a large percentage of the readership of Slashdot uses a non-Microsoft operating system, so you can hardly trust their judgement to be impartial. It comes as no surprise, then, that they so willingly disrespect the man who (whether they like it or not) will lead them into the next millennium.

    Although the Old English days of feudalism have been over for some time, and monarchies these days are pretty much symbolic and nothing more, Bill Gates somehow stands above all of this. Gates is the closest thing that the Earth of the year 2000 has to royalty. He is truly a king, a prince among men, a man who is loved by many, but who is plagued by a clandestine army of thieving back-stabbers who would do anything to topple his empire, usurp his authority, and turn everything over to utter chaos.

    I'm talking about Linux users, of course, and about *BSD and Macintosh users as well. Computer users have a responsiblity to pay homage to the appropriate parties. In this case, the appropriate party is Bill Gates and his Microsoft Corporation. When you openly refuse to use a Microsoft operating system, you are committing an act of treason against the very monarchy that is holding the computing industry together. I can't speak for Gates, but I am sure that he is not amused by you people, and he is not amused by the crimes that you have committed against him by refusing to bow to his benevolent and stable command.

    You people owe it to Gates. You owe it to Microsoft. If it weren't for Microsoft, you wouldn't have your high-end personal computer running Linux. If it weren't for Microsoft, you wouldn't have Linux at all. It is a well-known fact that Linus Torvalds used MS-DOS's EDIT.EXE to write the initial bootstrap assembly code for Linux. And yet Torvalds peddles Linux as if it is his invention, never once revealing the truth that Bill Gates and the Microsoft Corporation played a pivotal role in the development of this "operating system."

    So let me take this opportunity to advise all of you rogues to listen to what Gates has to say here. Listen very carefully. The day may come when you are made to answer for your complete lack of respect. When that day comes, I will be on the right side. Where will you be? Think about that one, long and hard. Gates truly is a prince. Do you really want to defy the prince?

    Think about it.
  • B-K: How can it be proven that it is in fact your work?

    G: How can it be proven that it's my work? I'll get, you know, any number of experts to testify that it's my work. It's quite simple. It's proof in a court of law.

    I nearly snorted coffee outta my nose on that one. I wonder if that was the strategy used in the MS-DOJ case... looks like Gates was just as willing to interpret law for the rest of the world then as he did in the antitrust case. Not surprising *that* backfired on him... :^)

    I should consider writing a humor article on this one... ah ripe ammunition... smells like victory! :^)

  • The values of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.

    I guess they should have coughed up the $$$ to buy an altair to develop on rather than stealing $40,000 worth of computer tine from Harvard!

    Surely, the first step should have been a simple keyboard interface, a bootstrap loader, and an assembler. The cost of all of that put together would have been WELL under $40,000.

    We haven't answered all of the questions surrounding making a living at Free Software, but surely forming an 'Evil Empire' TM, pat pend. wasn't anything like an optimal solution!

  • "Look, Redhat's making money and giving away their software! So is Debian! Blah blah blah!"

    Well, actually, as a volunteer organization, Debian isn't making money.

  • Okay, everyone laugh at 20-something Bill Gates. Ready, on three. One, two, three. HA HA HA.

    or better yet, why don't we compare what he was saying to what bill joy (co-founder of sun microsystems) was doing with berkeley unix! you can read about it in the book open sources [].

    bill gates cared nothing for the technology and i think that is what is the most offensive about him. sure it's great to make money but don't lie and say that distributing source code presents no money making opportunity. bill just wanted to make money his way and he wasn't being up front about that. it's a good thing that now people are realizing that open source makes sense. it always has that's why we're still using some of the stuff that joy helped create over 20 years ago!

    "The lie, Mr. Mulder, is most convincingly hidden between two truths."

  • Looking where Gates was asked if the courts were willing to protect the work given away by computer clubs, he defended by stating

    "the courts are basically looking for equity solutions,and when you have somebody creating a work, and putting a lot of effort into that, and you have somebody else who is giving it away, the court is looking for the equity of the situation."

    If I interpret this correctly, it states the courts are willing to defend the party that is producing the work.

    If the courts still defend the parties that produce the work, why are bogus patents [] and copyright "trade secrets" allowed to be used as extortion against hobbyists? []
  • In OSS, that reward seems to be the incentive of converting newbies and defeating MS, but it's clearly not the overpowering drive that's enjoyed by, say, the KDE project.

    The incentive for sharing source code freely (what you generalized as "OSS") is not to "defeat MS", but to share code so that folks can learn from each other and innovate faster - i.e., we do not have to "reinvent the wheel".

    Given that you work for Microsoft and given the capitalistic culture of this company, it may be a stretch to imagine that folks write code for the fun of it!

    In interviews of the major developers in the OSS community (Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Paul Vixie,...) none of them have said that the reason they wrote X program was to crush Microsoft. On the contrary, most of them said "I need a program that does X. That program either does not exist or is too expensive, so I'll just write it myself and share my efforts with others.

    The "crush MS" sentiment is largely a product of media hype and those ignorant of the history and importance of OSS. Given the amount of work involved in writing things such as the GNU tools, BIND, PERL, and the Linux kernel, something as petty as "crush MS" would not have the motivation or staying power that has occurred over the past 25 years. Cheers!


  • I assume you are the author of the first post in thos thread - if so I didn't realise you were being serious.

    Having programmed on OS/2, Windows NT (briefly under 3.51) and a number of Unix flavours, I found your assertions laughable. OS/2 came on floppies because nearly all software did at the time. I've never seen a software locker with a copy of Windows 3 that wasn't on floppies. Even the copy of Windows NT 3.51 came on floppies. The last version of OS/2 that I used came on a CD-ROM though.

    Anyway comparing Windows `today' (your word) to OS/2 1.2 is totally bogus. It's also wrong. Windows 95 and 98 do not feature pre-emptive multi tasking, but the shitty co-operative kind. NT was a rehash of VMS commisioned by Microsoft when they fell out with IBM.

    I've long thought that Dave Cutler (the designer of VMS and NT) must have left MS shortly after NT 3.51 was released. It's been a dog of an operating system ever since. The early reviews of Windows 2000 I have seen don't suggest it's going to get much better either.

    Chris Wareham
  • The reasons for NT being successfull are:

    1) Complacency on IBM's part. They knew they had an excellent product on their hands, but failed to encourage develoers to produce applications for it. Most application developers were locked into early versions of Windows already.

    2) Microsoft's superb marketing skill. Don't forget that this is the company who redesigned the look and feel of Windows 3.11 and convinced the world that does was no longer part of Windows 95.

    3) NT had a design goal which stated it should look like Windows 3.11. This meant people assumed it was an easy transition from Windows 3.11 to Windows NT. The 'object oriented' interface (pioneered by Smalltalk and Stepstone engineers years before) came later.

    You are a fool if you mean to imply that NT outsold OS/2 on technical merit. NT 3.51 was an enourmous resource hog that ran on a very restricted list of hardware. NT 4.0 broke the original design of NT and OS/2 to improve performance but in doing so threw stability out of the window.

    Now don't bother replying. If your the Anonymous Coward responsible for most of the pro-NT remarks in this thread then you are either very ill-informed or simply deluded.

    Chris Wareham
  • I would be very suprised if Dave Cutler's early designs for NT didn't feature a number of ideas from VMS. You don't design such a thing as an operating system and then ignore those ideas for the next one.

    As for the stablility of VMS - I have never seen a Vax crash. They still grind away at the back of many major companies because it would be too difficult and pointless to replace them. The only companies I know of that have switched from VMS had the following reasons:

    1) The vendor had stopped supporting a key application they were using on VMS.

    2) Ignorant managers felt a change was needed.

    In the second category was one of my former employers. The company had an enormous database on a single Vax. Management decided to move it NT - as VMS programmers are a scarce resource, and in the words of the boss 'we should consolidate on Microsoft'. There's nothing like putting all your eggs in one (incompatible) basket.

    Several colleagues spent many frustrating months trying to get a dual Pentium Pro 200 Compaq server to replicate the performance and reliability of the Vax. Two years later the Vax is still chugging away serving the whole company, and the Compaq is being used as a file server for 15 people ... between the near daily reboots due to NT's joke implementation of SMP.

    Chris Wareham
  • Of course he's wrong about the banking metaphor. Money is unitary and only can increase through interest accruing loans (AFAIK). Software is like fire - it can be freely distributed without lessening the original flame.

    Although it doesn't account for that important fact, it's a fair comparison and not "wrong." After all, metaphors are good or bad, not right or wrong. Metaphors by nature tend to be oversimplifications anyway.

    He is right about the second comment, in a way, but in the context of freely distributed software, he doesn't understand what "expensive" really means.

    "Expensive", in terms of open source/bazaar software, is measured in units of *glamour* rather than units of *money*.[...]

    Yes, Gates was talking strictly in a money-driven context. The PD programmers of the day got little notice (the "glamour") unless they could publish their work in a magazine, newsletter or the like. Yet, many of them still made programs mostly out of their own independent satisfaction of accomplishment. The GNU project knows this well [] and stays true to that ideal. RMS doesn't need units of glamour in place of money or seek praise for his efforts, and that's the real spirit of free software that Bill Gates ran up against even then.

  • ---
    So, whether you like it or not, as a MS employee you implicitly share the sentiments of B.G.

    If you don't agree with your companies ideals, then why work there?

    This is untrue. Being one who agrees with the use of capitalism as a means to distribute software and turn a profit does not mean that you cannot agree with at least some of the ideas of the free software community. They are not at all mutually exclusive.

    Most people do not consider access to code a 'right', but many can understand the more tangible benefits to open-source software. Scalability, robustness, and lack of marketting influence.

    However, it's not hard to find problems as well. Lack of funding for certain things developers can't do being the biggest: licensing of codecs (QuickTime anyone?), marketting, and my favorite: usability testing. There are number of poorly thought out user interfaces in free software projects. This requires a great deal of testing, a scientific process which takes some cash.

    Anyhow, there are benefits to each. While I don't agree with HOW Microsoft abuses capitalism in what they do, there are a number of companies that are pretty ethical, and have damn good software.

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • Considering he "invented" the idea of charging for software back in the homebrew computing club days, this makes perfect sense. It also shines alot of light in some dark places. This guy is one of society's role models. Whatever else we may think of him, he's popular. People want to be Bill Gates.

    I wonder if they're aware of the price they must pay to be Bill Gates. Maybe we should create a movie: "Being Bill Gates"... ought to be an interesting surreal world. We'd start with the UNIX Ewoks and just go from there. Bill payed a steep price for his dollars.. I'm not sure it's the way I'd want to make my millions, if I made them at all. Just some food for thought...

  • and giving anyone more would lead to sloppy code.

    Well, as history showed, he was right, more memory led to sloppy code :-(

  • >From the posts that I've seen so far, it seems like many people are forgetting when this took place.

    Perhaps. But I feel even more telling was a roundtable discussion in the latest IEEE Internet Computer Magazine (readable at ) which included such Internet illuminaries as Carl Malamud, Bill Joy, & Bob Metcalfe. And Bill Gates was included for some reason; prolly because he was CEO of Microsoft.

    Where the various contributors talked about the great projects they worked on in the past (e.g. Joy), or how the technology will change society in the future (e.g. Metcalfe), Gates focussed on how much money there is to make from the Internet. And didn't appear to care too much about the technology associated with the Internet -- where Lawrence Roberts shared an interesting graph showing how the price of delivering a tetrabit of data has fallen & will continue to fall over the years, Gates made a pitch for the Clear Type technology. (And forgetting to mention that it was originally developed by Apple.)

    I can't help but feel that if a cure for the common cold were announced tomorrow, where most people would comment about how much it would help mankind, Gates would be figuring out a way to take over the technology & make another dozen billion dollars from it. Then complaining that he was being kept from innovating by a bunch of narrow-minded busy-bodies who are jealous of his successes.

  • What many modern people object to today is that software is buggy and does not work as advertised. If we wish to think in terms of capitalism we are selling a service or a product but if it isn't quality then people have a right to compalain.

    Yes, but what they don't have the right to do is to use the software while withholding payment. If they have a problem with the quality, they are within their rights returning it, as with any other product. But as with any other product, they have no right to use it without paying for it.

  • .. is not so much the content, but the manner. Bill Gates comes across constantly as very aggressive and arrogant

    I think he sounds more upset and angry that a lot of people were ripping him off, and ripping off programmers in general. And it sounds like, given the circumstances, he had every right to be pissed off. I'd also be pissed off if people leeched off the fruits of my labour without paying up.

  • He just sounds pissed off because a lot of people were ripping him off by leeching off the fruits of his labour without paying for them. Sure, sharing is nice, but who has the right to force anyone to share ? What right do I have to "share" your house with you ? I think he has every right to be mad. I'm sure you'd be mad if your employer decided not to pay you or if someone stole your car. It's much easier to advocate stripping others of their property rights than it is to give up your own.

  • Of course he's wrong about the banking metaphor. Money is unitary and only can increase through interest accruing loans (AFAIK). Software is like fire - it can be freely distributed without lessening the original flame.

    Actually, this isn't really correct. You can make more money by printing more. The problem is that you devalue your currency by doing this. Likewise, with software, you devalue the software, and consequently the author's creative work when you reproduce it.

    You might laugh when BG loses a few dollars, but it's not nearly as funny when a small time shareware author or font designer gets screwed because of it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21 2000, @06:56AM (#1352360)
    My favorite Microsoft innovation has to be the "Start" button. For years, I was confused by graphical interfaces: "What do I click?" "How do I start?"

    Microsoft made it so clear -- click "Start"! What could be more obvious or user-friendly?

    You want to shut down your computer? Click "Start"!

    You want to launch that program that you use everyday? Click "Start", go to "Programs", go to "Bud's Software, Inc.", go to "BudEdit.exe"! What could be faster, easier, or more intuitive?

    Until the "Start" button, I was intimidated and confused by computers. I was forced to take a low-paying job polishing lug nuts at the local tire store. Now, thanks to Microsoft, I have a certification and a medium-paying job administrating high-power enterprise servers. It's so easy -- if something goes wrong, I just click "Start", "Shut Down", "Restart the computer"! What could be better?
  • The views that are expressed in the interview are quite congruent with the developments in software copyright over the last 20 years.

    Several causes suggest themselves:

    • BillG was being prophetic :-)

      Nope - don't believe a word of that!

    • BillG's opinions at that time, have become the prevailing legal opinions due to the influence of Microsoft.

      I'd judge this to be partly true; it could be argued that one of the few true Microsoft innovations is the outgrowth of shrinkwrapped software licensing as we know it today. (I'm not saying that it is an unalloyed benefit; merely that it is a result of their activities.)

      ...But this is not a complete picture. It doesn't provide any reason, outside of BillG's stridency, for his views to have prevailed.

      We have to head on to...

    • William H. Gates III's views, in 1980, were, with little doubt, informed by the fact that his father, William H. Gates Jr, was an intellectual property lawyer.

      The Official W. H. Gates III bio [] provides a little indication of this; How to Become As Rich As Bill Gates [] describes it in more detail as does E-Mail from Bill. []

      The point here is that it is manifestly clear that "Trey's" positions are informed by the fact that his father was a corporate lawyer, one of the founders of Preston Gates & Ellis, LLP. []

      Many high tech companies have tended to have a hate-hate relationship with lawyers; I don't think it is any coincidence that Microsoft has had huge legal successes in the past when involvement with law was to some degree pervasive in the young Gate's life.

  • I doubt he's the original author -- no-one could say with a straight face that Microsoft invented preemption :-)

    Windows 95 and 98 do not feature pre-emptive multi tasking, but the shitty co-operative kind.
    Is this true? I thought (mainly from my own observations :) ) that the 9x series did have real preemption, but only between Win32 programs -- that 16-bit Windows programs and DOS shells (and maybe a few other things..) ran in real mode and were cooperative.

  • by The Dodger (10689) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:38AM (#1352363) Homepage

    Bill Gates comes across constantly as very aggressive and arrogant.

    So nothing's really changed, then - see my analysis of Gates' BBC interview last year [].


  • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:32AM (#1352364) Homepage Journal

    Well, of course MS would recommend that people run OS/2. Just look at what they have to say about it:

    "I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time. As the successor to DOS, which has over 10,000,000 systems in use, it creates incredible opportunities for everyone involved with PCs." --- Bill Gates (November 1987).

    "The goal for OS/2 is to be the universal operating system... there is virtually no application in the world that OS/2 cannot support." --- Bill Gates (IBM Personal System Developer, Winter 1990)

    "Microsoft has not changed any of its plans for Windows. It is obvious that we will not include things like threads and preemptive multitasking in Windows. By the time we added that, you would have OS/2." --- OS/2 Notebook, Microsoft Press

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:10AM (#1352365) Homepage Journal

    gates was bashing programmers for being "thieves" when they circulated his little basic, way back when.

    then he builds his empire and becomes the figurehead for closed systems.

    now the "thieves" are making a comeback.

    Now wait a minute, these are really two different groups of "thieves". Gates' problem was with the people who were spreading Microsoft's product. But I haven't ever read anything anywhere that suggests that Gates has an issue with the open source community spreading their own stuff around. I'm sure he doesn't like the open source community, because it spells his company's doom, but has he ever suggested that it's illegal or immoral?

    Open source has nothing to do with advocating piracy of close source products. Don't start lumping them together or else you're going to make a lot of people around here very nervous. Copyrights must be respected or else the GPL itself would become unenforcable.

  • Perhaps some of you have heard of a famous open letter Gates wrote in 1976 condemning piracy. It's available here []
  • by LL (20038) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:35AM (#1352367)
    Well, fundamentally people get paid for their their time (# hours spent coding), task (# bugs found) or talent (finishing the damn thing). The software is merely the codified expression of that time/task/talent. Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with charging, after all you are paying a photographer for the opportunity costs of him mollycoddling another client. The photo is merely the product that results as his service.

    Now code (as bits and bytes) are by themselves neutral. What is the difference between an amature passing around frat photos and a professional photographer? Usually some sort of quality control, standards and consistent conduct. The same thing should be true of code. You should be paying for the quality control testing, the guarenteed performance and functionality, and the reduction of risks as compared to say an amateur's effort. However, as most people have commented on the UNITA end-user license, the software industry seems a little relunctant to withstand the same scrutiny and peer review that scientists, doctors and lawyers go through. So far the public has been happy enough to play along but when they discover that they are foking out hundreds of dollars for a piece of silverised silicon and not the service they've been expecting, then heads will roll. Afterall, you expect a car to take you from A to B without stopping at C (much less act as an ornamental ego-booster ... though with SUVs sometimes you wonder if pointly-haired CEOs are being overpaid). So in essense, there is nothing wrong with being paid, however, for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you expect something of appropriate value. Automated catalog/calendar services just don't cut it any more.

    In any industry, there's something calle the marginally utility in that once you've saturated a market, people refuse to buy the product as the perceived value is negative comared with the utility they expect to gain. That is one reason why pyramid scams ultimately come to a rather nasty end as they run out of gullible fools (their target market). Now you may ask, doex next month's red-hot Zithanium (or whatever) make any significant difference compared to last month's Zithantium-1? They (marketeers) would like people to think so but buying a computer/software is not the same as buying a razor blade. People expect (at those kind of prices) something like a durable good (though I wonder about the deliberate time to warrentee expiry on products nowadays). If companies want to make software a subscribable service, thne they should just bundlle it with an internet bundle with clear terms of service/performace and let the ISP purchase the distribution rights based on their knowledge of the real implementation costs instead of trying to flog it onto every back country redneck and his dog to the nth degree. (nothing wrong with rednecks so don't go pointing any guns).

    It must be nice having rent-seeking profits sitting pretty while everyone is losing money pushing a saturated market.

  • ... is not so much the content, but the manner. Bill Gates comes across constantly as very aggressive and arrogant.

    This is not a flame. But it seems that the same arrogant, almost cavalier attitude that has him (or, rather, Microsoft) in trouble these days has been a prevailing thing.

    Perhaps if some advisors (or something along those lines) of his had "toned him down", MS would not be in the trouble is now. Ironically, it would probably be nowhere near as successful.

    You usually have to fight nasty in business. Bill seems to take that from kicking in the shins to knife in the back-like levels.

  • by Robert Link (42853) on Friday January 21 2000, @09:52AM (#1352369) Homepage

    Gates has been in it for the money from the very begining. He doesn't care about innovating anything, except ways to part you with your money!

    You speak as though the desire to advance technology is incompatible with the desire to make money. I think you would be hard pressed to defend that statement rigorously, whether in its general form, or applied to Bill Gates specifically.

    Take me for example; I'm an astrophysicist. If it turns out that I can't make money doing astrophysics, I will do something else. Does that mean that I don't care about astrophysics, that I'm just in it for the money? Of course not. It does mean that I have to eat and pay my rent, and on top of that doing first-class work in itself requires resources. If I can't at least cover those costs, then I can't do astrophysics.

    It seems probable to me that some of these things were going through Gates' mind when he wrote his "Open Letter to Hobbyists". It's also easy to understand why he might feel that something he had put a lot of work into was "his", and that he was entitled a royalty whenever someone copied it. After all, aren't authors of books entitled to the same privilege? There are some problems with software licensing terms, to be sure, but I don't think the root of those problems is that people like Bill Gates want to get paid for the software they produce. We may not agree with their position, but that position is not so unreasonable that we should not at least respect it.


  • The fact is that code is like art or literature, you spend your time and energy to create something, and you would like it to be protected from some loozer coming along and claiming it as his.

    Being recognized as the creator of a work is not at all the same thing as being able to use government force to prevent others from making copies of that work.

    If you claim to have written something that I have created, you are lying, which is recognized as unethical by almost everyone, and has been throughout history; and you are commiting fraud, which is recognized as illegal by almost everyone, and has been throughout history. If, however, you make a copy of my work, it's much less clear that what you've done is unethical, and its legal status varies though time and space.

  • by Pike (52876) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:42AM (#1352371) Homepage Journal
    Wow, who can forget the Tandy Color Computer III []? That thing was nifty...or it was when I was ten years old and just learning programming. That thing had analog inputs, so you could even do video editing on it. MS Disk- BASIC v1.1 and the 512K of ram. That thing was fast too...of course having the OS/programming language in ROM and almost never having to do disk i/o helped. I won't deny I played a lot of games on that thing...but I wrote most of them :-)

    I still remember the last issue of Rainbow mag. It had dwindled from a spacious glossy color magazine to a small newsprint production. What a sinking feeling I got...oh well. After that my CoCo went unused, and I spent all my time learning DOS, C++, and how to use a BBS. The world was bigger then.

    My Opa [] still has programs on his Acer laptop that he copied from the CoCo. How? He spliced together a mutant serial cable and did a straight dump through the port using a terminal program! He had to do some fiddling on the CoCo copy program to keep it from dropping characters, but now the programs are all safely migrated to GW-BASIC (!!) He is amazing...he still writes database programs in GW-BASIC that take up three to five floppies, including data files! Somehow the 640k limitations of DOS are powerless to stop him.

    The 80's were quite a decade. I can still remember that bright, flashing cursor against that ugly nuclear green background. Oh well, it's the nineties and the world has moved on...whoops I guess we're in the aughts or the naughties or the 00's or whatever.

  • by twit (60210) on Friday January 21 2000, @08:53AM (#1352372) Homepage
    I don't think that business requires a take-no prisoners, unethical attitude. That said, the appearance of that can be very good for business.

    Take Roy Cohn's law firm (the late Roy Cohn is infamous for being counsel to the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era, and later belonged to a litigation practise in NYC), where the appearance was that it was totally unethical, utterly without scruple, and would thus get the job done at any cost. It gained a substantial reputation along those lines. As such, it was intimidating to be faced by Cohn or any of his partners or associates. They were able to get settlements on the basis of reputation alone.

    Microsoft has that same kind of reputation on Wall Street, a company that will be totally unethical and ruthless in business in order to make a buck. Wall Street being what it is, the corrollary is that if they will do anything to make a buck, they will always make that buck, and are therefore an excellent investment.

    It has come out recently that MS has faced SEC investigations for using its cash reserves to smooth out fluctuations in corporate income. This is a serious violation in best practises. However, MS's stock has continued to rise because of their reputation - it's expected that a company that unethical will do that kind of thing, ha ha, but they keep on making money so we don't mind.

    Of course, if MS started losing money, the stock would plummet and people would tut-tut that such practises just don't pay, but so long as they continue paying, brokers and institutional investors are more than happy to wink at them for it. Sometimes even praise them for it. I believe that it would take a major act on the part of either the SEC or DoJ to end MS's equity honeymoon.

  • by ucblockhead (63650) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:48AM (#1352373) Homepage Journal
    I hope everyone realizes that that "640k" Bill Gates quote that is running around the internet is an urban legend...

    (I also hope everyone realizes that in the timeframe in which that 640k design decision was made, there was a hardware addressing limit of 1 megabyte, the average PC had 64k RAM, and IBM's marketting department was projecting sales of around 500,000 and foresaw no major hardware upgrades.)
  • by levl289 (72277) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:41AM (#1352374) Homepage
    From the posts that I've seen so far, it seems like many people are forgetting when this took place.

    20 years is a long time as far as computer technology goes - that's patently obvious. But at the same time, it's also a long time for a sector of the economy which was just beginning to see the light of day (yes, they had computers, and computer programs before that yada yada yada - PC's are different though).

    Thinking about it, would the OSS model have even taken shape if Bill Gates (and his ilk) had just given away their product? Very likely not.

    OSS is a logical progression, and slamming BG just 'cus you like linux is shortsighted.

  • by slashdot-terminal (83882) on Friday January 21 2000, @08:05AM (#1352375) Homepage
    What in the world is wrong with charging for software? We are in a capitalist society. You see, we exchange money for goods and services. Designing software is a service in my opinion. I'm a computer science student at a major
    american university, and I hope to be able to pay for food and shelter after I graduate.

    What many modern people object to today is that software is buggy and does not work as advertised. If we wish to think in terms of capitalism we are selling a service or a product but if it isn't quality then people have a right to compalain. If for example your car or your house had as many problems with it as many software releases do now I would think that you would be a little irritated. We are in a similar state that people were in the late 1800's when people were producing all sorts of goods and society was advancing but several things about those services/products were shoddy and monopolies were in place to support the development of those industries. Getting software up to the year 2000 will be an ongoing process probably well into 2050 or so.
  • by sydj (90817) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:43AM (#1352376) Homepage
    1. In this interview, both parties express the opinion that people who copy their software without their permission are bad and wrong.

      Surely they have a right to feel like this. If they choose to develop software in a closed source type fashion, surely if we rip off this software this is wrong. Even if we feel that it was wrong of them to have written their software in that manner.

    2. The part where Bill Gates is defending the fact that parts of the Trs-80, especially the ROM, were not fully documented. His (fairly inarticulate) defence shows how little he cared for the customers who were buying his stuff, many of whom would have been enthusiasts who wanted to use the machine to it's utmost. A policy which of course is still very much in evidence today in things like hidden API's and an OS which keeps all but the most determined away from the machine. Has anybody got a machine with Windows to be exactly as they wanted it?

    3. Even back then he was firmly of the view that decent software could and would not be written by enthusiastic volunteers. He still can not see it, even with all the amazing stuff that has come out of decades of software sharing.
  • by re-geeked (113937) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:51AM (#1352377)
    Gates does not seem to grasp the concept that WE HAVE A RIGHT, AND A NEED, TO FIGURE THINGS OUT ON OUR OWN.

    He cannot grasp the concept (and the legal and ethical cleanliness) of REVERSE ENGINEERING, because he doesn't understand that someone would take the provided tool and want to use it for something else, or improve it, without going back to the original toolmaker and begging permission.

    He cannot grasp the concept of DISCLOSURE, because that would not be useful to spoonfed consumers who wouldn't want to invent or extend new uses for a product. It doesn't mean we would flood Radio Shack with support calls -- those who know how to code have a need for this information.

    He cannot grasp the concept of FLEXIBILITY, because that would not matter to people who have no creative ideas on how to use the tool.

    Bill wants to provide us with a monolithic, closed box that only performs the functions he has decided to enable, and wants to make sure we come back to him to get more capability. And so today we have Code Generation Wizards, closed, undocumented APIs, the EULA, and Service Packs.

    This paternalistic attitude can only be explained by feelings of superiority or lust for power, and probably both.

    Thanks to Slashdot for this revealing article.
  • by Powers (118325) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:58AM (#1352378)
    Okay, everyone laugh at 20-something Bill Gates. Ready, on three. One, two, three. HA HA HA.

    Right, now that that's over with, can we actually have an intelligent discussion of the issues without letting anti-MS and anti-BG biases show through?


    I see.

    Well, I'll try anyway. I think he made some good points in this interview. Sure, he came across as somewhat agressive -- but you don't get to be a multi-billionare by being passive. The interviewer was a little on the agressive side too.

    His points on copyrights are often forgotten nowadays... if I write a piece of software, that software belongs to me (assuming I didn't give the rights to it away to my employer or someone else). I can do whatever I want with it. *I* own it; *I* am responsible and in charge of its distribution. If I want it distributed freely, fine. If I want people to pay for it, fine. The point is that the choice is *mine* to make.

    Bill Gates' points about copyright law and how they apply (or applied then) to software were quite good, if you can get past the "what an idiot he is," stage of thinking.

  • by dannyspanner (135912) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:05AM (#1352379) Homepage

    What we currently refer to as open source software is the product of an improving network infrastructure, i.e. the ability to cheaply and quickly diseminate code and fixes, and to communicate with other developers.

    If open source is a logical progression from closed, then of course it would have emerged in the end, not because of some Microsoft-like hate figure to rally against, but because it is just a good way of doing things.

    The "OSS" movement shouldn't define itself in terms of Microsoft, it should just worry about making the best software it can.
  • by Kalvos (137750) <> on Friday January 21 2000, @06:52AM (#1352380) Homepage

    The original article was an extensively researched overview of copyright -- in fact, it was the first significant piece on the topic to appear in the small computer press. (Remember that the Datacash decision had only been made a few months earlier, and the Copyright Office was still refusing object code).

    Although quite a few of Gates's comments made it into the final piece, he was only one of many quoted. And no (outside the context of two decades of history!), Gates really sounded like a minor player, as everyone was in the days when small computer were still viewed as toys.

    Actually, I wasn't looking for him to 'succumb to an answer', but I was hoping that he would spend some time on the concept of copyright and its basis in the idea of encouraging the creation of new work, and so forth. Copyright was not originally conceived of as strictly an economic tool, although most interpretation and practice have employed it that way. So I was looking for some marrow of philosophy from Gates, and kept gnawing on that bone.

    The letter I received from John Hersey, for example, discussed the distinction between human and machine readability. Other interviewees tossed around the balance between adapted ideas and stolen ideas.

    A sidebar discussed the idea of the re-organization of bits in a non-human-readable form (object code) by rotation would in fact result in a different yet executable (even if flawed) piece of code. Would that be protected by copyright? And if the user observed the rotation and reversed it? What law would be broken? By whom? And so forth... none of it was clear two decades ago.

    Unfortunately, I don't have the original article in electronic form, but there are still many thousands of copies of 80 Microcomputing from that era floating around!


  • The fact is that code is like art or literature, you spend your time and energy to create something, and you would like it to be protected from some loozer coming along and claiming it as his.

    This was not a fact at the time with respect to object code -- read the quote I included up front about the Datacase decision. Here's more in Judge Flaum's decision:

    Normally, a computer program consists of several phases [...] The first phase is the development of a flow chart [...]. It sets forth the logical steps involved in solving a given problem. The second phase is the development of a "source program" which is a translation of the flow chart into computer programming language [...] The third phase is the development of an "assembly program" which is a translation of the programming language into machine language, i.e., mechanically readable computer language. Unlike source programs, which are readable by trained programmers, assembly programs are virtually unintelligible except by the computer itself. Finally, the fourth phase is the development of the "object program" which is a conversion of the machine language into a device commanding a series of electrical impulses. Object programs, which enter into the mechanical process itself, cannot be read without the aid of special equipment and cannot be understood by even the most highly trained programmers...

    And here is what he decided:

    2. The Copyright Act of 1976 applies to computer programs in their flow chart, source and assumbly phases, but not in their object phase.

    4. The object phase of a computer program was not a "copy" within meaning of the Copyright Act of 1909 or common law, since the object phase is not in a form which one can see and read witht he naked eye but a mechanical tool or machine part.

    This is precisely why Gates and 20 others were contacted for this article. It all seems so obvious 20 years later, doesn't it?


  • by Yogurtu (11354) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:25AM (#1352382) Homepage
    How can you people get trolled by a FUNNY POST!?!?!? In my opinion, it's even a bit overdone, but no, you have to go and REBUKE the post!

    I'll summarize my claim that it was a sarcastic post: You can't say this, believe it, and be able to spell, all at the same time. This is a collective flame. Those reacting violently to the aforementioned post are hereby sentenced to get a clue or join the Katz Club for People Who Don't Belong But Want to Participate All The Same And Also Change The Place A Bit Because It's Not What They Expected After All.

  • by konstant (63560) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:28AM (#1352383)
    BillG sez...
    G: Just like you go to a bank, and as a gesture of humanitarianism, you take their money and you give it away! That's a gesture of humanitarianism! In society, we don't need to pay... If something's expensive to develop, and somebody's not going to get paid, it won't get developed. So you decide: Do you want software to be written, or not?

    Of course he's wrong about the banking metaphor. Money is unitary and only can increase through interest accruing loans (AFAIK). Software is like fire - it can be freely distributed without lessening the original flame.

    He is right about the second comment, in a way, but in the context of freely distributed software, he doesn't understand what "expensive" really means. Not that I blame him for being unable to predict the future or understand a culture he had no hand in.

    "Expensive", in terms of open source/bazaar software, is measured in units of *glamour* rather than units of *money*. Projects that are highly glamorous, like an OS, a compiler, or a web server, are built quickly and voluntarily. This is because the reward to a developer on an OSS project is the personal excitement and the renown that accrue to them through their work. But on the other hand, projects that almost anyone would consider tedious - like documentation of the third UI widget to the left three dialogs deep - is "expensive". It won't get done unless there is some other form of reward.

    In OSS, that reward seems to be the incentive of converting newbies and defeating MS, but it's clearly not the overpowering drive that's enjoyed by, say, the KDE project.

    I would be very interested to see how the future of the free software movement pans out with relation to these unglamorous undertakings. Will they eventually be assimilated into OSS, or will they remain in the purview of money-driven operations like MS?

    Yes! We are all individuals! I'm not!
  • by TuRRIcaNEd (115141) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:17AM (#1352384)
    all the proof you need that software innovation and quality was NEVER Gates's watchword, being wholly dumped for the holy $. Not only does he come across as arrogant, but he seems to regard with distaste anything he's not making a profit out of. Jeez, Bill! In those days you NEEDED to share ideas just to build a computing community. His tone when he finds that a piece of code has been shared in hex is quite a nasty thing to hear. It would be deliciously ironic if one of his programmers today started with that little bunch of hex back at the turn of the '80s.

    Sounds to me like he had his heart set on a monopoly from the very beginning.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21 2000, @06:59AM (#1352385)
    You folks get into this Microsoft bashing and Bill Gates is the devil, and don't look at what he is saying. I bet if you replaced all the Bill Gates references with Linus references, everyone would be praising this as some kind of manifesto that everyone should be following. Give me a break.

    The fact is that code is like art or literature, you spend your time and energy to create something, and you would like it to be protected from some loozer coming along and claiming it as his.

    Get off the "I hate Bill" and concentrate on what he is saying. He's saying that he's entitled to protect his work. If someone publishes his work without his permission, he should have legal rights to sue or otherwise get reparations (SP?).

    This isn't something that was invented by Bill and Microsoft, it's an idea thats been around for years and years before.

  • by Hrunting (2191) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:46AM (#1352386) Homepage
    Most interesting to me are Gates' opinions about supporting software and the costs associated with such. I'm kind of brought back to the original story post, which says:

    [Gates] talks at length about how no one will ever write software if they can't make money at it.

    First off, Gates is talking about commercial software, not the garage software or college project software that frequented this time. Secondly, in the context of the time of the interview, he's absolutely right. I mean, we can look at the Open Source world today and say, "Look, Redhat's making money and giving away their software! So is Debian! Blah blah blah!" but really, they're not making money off the software. They make their money off of support, selling the manuals and consulting with large businesses. Gates mentions the incredible burden that supporting software could be, especially more technical issues. He's absolutely right. The reason it works so well today is because the base-entry level for technical support is so far above what it was back then. Kids routinely know more about the systems they use when they join the workforce than even their bosses do, and entry level tech support is around minimum wage. These types of people were 'experts' before, and commanded reasonable sums of money, not to mention they were rare. Back then, a company who said, "Hey, we'll give away our software and code and charge for support," would've lost money because of a) the more expensive costs of developing software and b) the more expensive costs of support.

    You may or may not agree with Bill Gates, but he has an excellent business sense and does a good job of recognizing what is happening in the computer world around him. It's this kind of business attitude that has made him very successful. In this interview, you see a little of that, and especially with issues like support and free code, he clearly understood where money could be made in the industry and where it couldn't. That's the mark of a very successful (future) businessman.
  • by dsplat (73054) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:40AM (#1352387)
    One of the reasons that many people in the open source community are so aggressively anti-MS is the fact that we know what is in our interest much better than Bill Gates. He was never looking out for anyone else's interests other than his own and those of his shareholders, nor should he have been. The success of Microsoft attests to the fact that it has repeatedly built and marketted products that people actually bought which is what exactly what it should be doing. You don't make money in any business without satisfying some customers' needs.

    However, there are people in open source who point out all of the things they need or want that MS doesn't provide:

    1. The level of reliability of Linux or *BSD.
    2. Configurability. I have made this point before. Open source opens up hooks for other people besides the core programmer or team to tailor the program without changing the code.
    3. Access to the source to get bug fixes and enhancements done.
    4. Peer review. Which helps achieve items 1 and 3.
    5. Portability. What does Linux run on? Emacs? gcc? Windows?
    6. File formats and interfaces that are easily manipulated with existing tools.

    The usual answer from MS or its defenders is that Windows is as good or good enough or that the item isn't necessary. The point that usually goes unstated and shouldn't is really very simple: It's my machine. These are my computing tasks. I say these things are necessary. Attacking my opinions and my best judgement concerning how to fulfill my needs is a quick way to alienate me.

    Alienating potential allies is a good way to turn them into opponents. That's no problem when they are your competitors. But when they were potential customers, it isn't good business. Open source OSs for the i386 architecture gave a lot of people like me the option of saying, "Fine, I'll be over here getting some work done." They gave the zealots a rallying point to try to take market share from MS. I'm not in the zealot camp, but every bit of FUD I read pushes me that way.

    I am a cynic in some ways. I have eyes and a brain. When someone tells me something that contradicts my experience, I take a look. If I can't find a hole that makes it at least plausible that I am wrong and I find that their version would benefit them, I assume that I am being lied to. Note my choice of wording. When I am told something that in my experience can't possibly be true but would benefit them, I don't assume that the speaker is merely mistaken.

    My reason is simple. I hold people to a standard of competence when they demand a change from me. People have a right to be mistaken without a presumption of malice. When they apply their own judgement to me, for their own benefit, I expect them to be right. I don't apply that standard to the neighbor who offers me a cookie with the words, "You'll love this new recipe." I do apply it to the painter who says he can paint my house less expensively than his competitor.

    If somebody wants me to buy, use or recommend software, they have to convince me that it can do the job. There are some jobs that Windows can do. All but the most hardcore of zealots will agree to that. I'm not ready to recommend to my mother that she replace Windows with Linux on her machine. There are things that Windows can't do. There is no Windows equivalent to Beowolf that I known of. Windows won't run on a lot of hardware platforms that Linux has been ported to. The middle ground is heavily disputed.

    Wanting to be better than the competition isn't enough. Wanting people to believe that you are better than the competition isn't enough. Being better and convincing customers of it is the bottom line. My mind is still open. Windows didn't freeze at 3.1. Linux has evolved since the 1.0 kernel. If MS wants me, I'm out here, but they have to have something to say [].
  • by re-geeked (113937) on Friday January 21 2000, @07:21AM (#1352388)
    Well, good software has always been about making the machine do the work (compilers to write assemply code, interpreters to write object code, 4GL's to generate interpreted code, etc.), so I think Open Source software can move pretty safely by coming up with clever (read glamorous) ways to have the app self-document the third command button from the left, or ways to not have to document it, or whatever.

    In fact, this is exactly what has been happening: need, interest, and poverty have driven people to write enough of their own software that there are surprisingly few unattended pieces of software out there.

    The other good thing about just letting people's interests and needs drive development is that software lives and dies of its merits: the attention paid to improve it is there because someone needs it, not because a marketeer wants to shove it down our throats, or because Billy wants to lock up more of the market, and make us more dependent.
  • by mikeee (137160) on Friday January 21 2000, @06:56AM (#1352389)
    February 3, 1976

    An open Letter to Hobbysts

    To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now
    is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself.
    Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a
    hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the
    hobby market?

    Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby
    market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC.
    Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have
    spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding fea-
    tures to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC.
    The values of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.

    The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who
    say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising
    things are apparent, however. 1) Most of these "users" never bought
    BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and
    2) the amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbysts
    make the time spent of Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

    Why is this? As the majority of hobbysts must be aware, most
    of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but soft-
    ware is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked
    on it get paid?

    Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is
    get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't
    make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual,
    the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing
    you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can af-
    ford to do proffesional work for nothing? What hobbist can put
    3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his pro-
    duct and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has
    invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800
    BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very lit-
    tle incentive to make this software available to hobbists. Most
    directly, the thing you do is theft.

    What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they mak-
    ing money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported
    to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbysts a
    bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up

    I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or
    has a suggestion ot comment. Just write me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114,
    Alburquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than
    being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with
    good software.

    Bill Gates
    General Partner, Micro-Soft