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Magazine: The New Yorker
Issue: January 10, 1994
Title: A Reporter at Large: E-Mail from Bill
Author: John Seabrook

At the moment, the best way to communicate with another person on the
information highway is to exchange electronic mail: to write a message
on a computer and send it through the telephone lines into someone
else's computer. In the future, people will send each other sound and
pictures as well as text, and do it in real time, and improved
technology will make it possible to have rich, human electronic
exchanges, but at present

E-mail is the closest thing we have to that. Even now, E-mail allows you
to meet and communicate with people in a way that would be impossible on
the phone, through the regular mail, or face to face, as I discovered
while I was working on this story. Sitting at my computer one day, I
realized that I could try to communicate with Bill Gates, the chairman
and co-founder of the software giant Microsoft, on the information
highway. At least, I could send E-mail to his electronic address, which
is widely available, not tell anyone at Microsoft I was doing it, and
see what happened. I wrote:

Dear Bill,

I am the guy who is writing the article about you for The New Yorker. It
occurs to me that we ought to be able to do some of the work through
e-mail. Which raises this fascinating question -- What kind of
understanding of another person can e-mail give you? . . .

You could begin by telling me what you think is unique about e-mail as a
form of communication.


I hit "return," and the computer said, "mail sent." I walked out to the
kitchen to get a drink of water and played with the cat for a while,
then came back and sat at my computer. Thinking that I was probably
wasting money, I nevertheless logged on again and entered my password.

"You have mail," the computer said.

I typed "get mail," and the computer got the following:

From: Bill Gates

Ok, let me know if you get this email.

According to my computer, eighteen minutes had passed between the time I
E-mailed Bill and he E-mailed me back. His message said:

E-mail is a unique communication vehicle for a lot of reasons. However
email is not a substitute for direct interaction. . . .

There are people who I have corresponded with on email for months before
actually meeting them -- people at work and otherwise. If someone isn't
saying something of interest its easier to not respond to their mail
than it is not to answer the phone. In fact I give out my home phone
number to almost no one but my email address is known very broadly. I am
the only person who reads my email so no one has to worry about
embarrassing themselves or going around people when they send a message.
Our email is completely secure. . . .

Email helps out with other types of communication. It allows you to
exchange a lot of information in advance of a meeting and make the
meeting far far more valuable. . . .

Email is not a good way to get mad at someone since you can't interact.
You can send friendly messages very easily since those are harder to

We began to E-mail each other three or four times a week. I would have a
question about something and say to myself, "I'm going to E-mail Bill
about that," and I'd write him a message and get a one- or two-page
message back within twenty-four hours, sometimes much sooner. At the
beginning of our electronic relationship, I would wake up in the middle
of the night and lie in bed wondering if I had E-mail from Bill.
Generally, he seemed to write messages at night, sleep (maybe), then
send them the next morning. We were intimate in a curious way, in the
sense of being wired into each other's minds, but our contact was
elaborately stylized, like ballroom dancing.

In some ways, my E-mail relationship with Bill was like an ongoing,
monthlong conversation, except that there was a pause after each
response to think; it was like football players huddling up after each
play. There was no beginning or end to Gates' messages -- no time wasted on
stuV like "Dear" and "Yours" -- and I quickly corrected this etiquette
breach in my own messages. Nor were there any
Wfth-grade-composition-book standards like "It may have come to your
attention that" and "Looking forward to hearing from you." Social
niceties are not what Bill Gates is about. Good spelling is not what
Bill Gates is about, either. He never signed his messages to me, but
sometimes he put an "& at the end, which, I learned, means "Write back"
in E-mail language. After a while, he stopped putting the "&," but I
wrote back anyway. He never addressed me by name. Instead of a
letterhead, there was this:

Received: from by
(5.67/5.930129sam) id AA03768; Wed, 6 Oct 93 14:00:51 -0400
Received: by (5.65/25-eef) id AA27745; Fri, 8 Oct 93
10:56:01 -0700
Message-Id: <9310081756.AA27745@>
X-Msmail-Message-Id: 15305A55
X-Msmail-Conversation-Id: 15305A55
From: Bill Gates
To: 73124.1524@CompuServe.COM

For years after the telephone was invented, in 1876, people thought it
was a device that would transmit news, drama, and music: the idea that
the telephone was a way to talk to other people took about twenty years
to sink in here, and about thirty years in Europe. Similarly, today one
hears about shopping, banking, and renting movies on the information
highway. These are all possible ways of making money, of course, but the
point of the information highway, it seems to me, is that it oVers a new
way of talking to other people. The trouble people have understanding
this simple point is the same trouble people in the nineteenth century
had understanding the telephone.

Bill Gates, aged thirty-eight, is one of the richest men in the
country -- the richest in 1992, and the second richest, after the investor
Warren Buffett, in 1993, with a fortune of six billion one hundred and
sixty mil- lion dollars, according to Forbes. Last March, when he
announced his engagement to Melinda French, a twenty-nine-year-old
manager at Microsoft, the news made the front page of the Wall Street
Journal. Gates controls the computer industry to an extent matched by no
other person in any other major industry. The Justice Department is
currently trying to determine whether his control constitutes a
monopoly. Microsoft now supplies eighty per cent of all the
personal-computer operating-system software in the world -- that is, the
layer of software that translates your commands so that the computer can
act on them -- and Wfty per cent of all the application software, which is
the tools, like Microsoft Word (writing) and Excel (accounting), that
run on top of the operating system. Microsoft uses its leverage in the
operating-system market as a competitive advantage in the applications
market -- a practice that is not nice but is not necessarily illegal. "You
could say, as I have said to Bill, that having achieved this much power
you should turn your attention to being magnanimous," a rival software
executive told me. "But Bill believes that now is not the time for
statesmanship. Now is the time to conquer new foes, plunder new lands.
He doesn't like being compared to John D. Rockefeller -- he goes, `Hey, I'm
not a grasping monopolist, am I?' -- but he doesn't know how to behave any
other way. To hold war councils and to design strategies with the
explicit aim of crushing an opponent -- this is very American. You know,
Mother Teresa is not going to build the broadband network of the future.

Recently, the wife of a software developer was listening to her husband
describe for me what it was like to be in the same industry as Bill
Gates: he was saying, in a pained but stoical way, that maybe Gates
didn't have to be quite so competitive now that he had achieved great
power, and that it might be better for the computer industry as a whole
if he behaved in a more benevolent way, when his wife interrupted and
said to me, "No. You don't understand. We talk about Bill Gates every
night at home. We think about Bill Gates all the time. It's like Bill
Gates lives with us." This enveloping sense of Bill Gates is hard for
someone outside the computer industry to fathom. To people who are
unfamiliar with computers, Gates is just a nerd, and if you try to get
them to square the negative connotation of the word "nerd" with Gates'
incredible success, and with the fact that, far from being on the margin
of society, Gates is now in a position to determine what society is
like, they're likely to say, "Well, I guess it really is the revenge of
the nerds." Actually, Gates probably represents the end of the word
"nerd" as we know it.

But all Gates' influence and success are small potatoes compared with the
inXuence he could have and with the opportunity that now lies before
him. The computer, which in twenty-five years has evolved from a
room-size mainframe into a laptop device, appears to be turning into a
new kind of machine. The new machine will be a communications device
that connects people to the information highway. It will penetrate far
beyond the Wfteen per cent of American households that now own a
computer, and it will control, or absorb, other communications machines
now in people's homes -- the phone, the fax, the television. It will sit in
the living room, not in the study. The problem of getting people to feel
comfortable with such a powerful machine will be partly solved by
putting it inside one of the most unobtrusive objects in the house -- the
set-top converter, which is the featureless black box on top of a
cable-connected TV set (the one the cat likes to sit on if the VCR is

Gates would like to have his software inside that box. Microsoft's
ambition is to supply the standard operating-system software for the
information-highway machine, just as it now supplies the standard
operating-system software, called Windows, for the personal computer.
Microsoft has two billion dollars in cash, and no debt, and is spending
a hundred million dollars a year developing software for the new
machine, which is a lot more than anyone else is spending. The plan is
Wrst to supply the software that allows people to rent videos over the
TV and makes home shopping more attractive, and then to use money from
the video-rental and home-shopping businesses to pay for the development
of the rest of the software. Therefore, Gates is now meeting with people
like Mike Ovitz and Barry Diller to discuss better ways of delivering
their products into people's homes. "I actually requested a meeting with
him," Ovitz told me last October. "I flew up to Seattle and we had dinner
together and spent three or four hours just talking about the future.

"Could you say specifically what you talked about?

"It was just very deep stuff about the future.

"Well, for example, did you talk about information-highway software?

"It goes much deeper than that.

At Microsoft's main offce, in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle, I saw a demo
of an early version of the company's operating software for the
information-highway machine, in which the user points at the TV screen
with a remote control, clicks onto icons, and selects from menus. I
heard a lot about "intelligent agents," which will at first be animated
characters that occasionally appear in the corner of your TV screen and
inform you, for example, that President Aristide is on "Meet the Press,"
because they know you're interested in Haitian politics, but will
eventually be out there on the information highway, Wltering the torrent
of information roaring along it, picking out books or articles or movies
for you, or receiving messages from individuals. As the agents become
steadily more intelligent, they will begin to replace more and more of
the functions of human intelligent agents -- stockbrokers, postal workers,
travel agents, librarians, editors, reporters. While I was at Microsoft,
I sometimes felt like prey.

Gates' greatest disadvantage in this new market is that Microsoft
doesn't own any wires into people's homes, nor does it have the
computers installed to handle all the switching and billing that two-way
communication requires. To solve this problem, Microsoft needs to make
an alliance with a cable company or a telephone company, or both.
Microsoft has an alliance with Intel Corporation, the world's leading
manufacturer of microprocessors, and General Instrument, a maker of
set-top converters, but it is not a very powerful alliance compared with
Bell Atlantic's alliance with Tele-Communications, Inc., the largest
cable company in the United States, or with U S West's alliance with
Time Warner, the second-largest cable company. Gates is currently
negotiating an alliance involving Time Warner and Tele-Communications,
Inc. -- a kind of granddaddy of all alliances, which would have the power
to set the standard for the information-highway machine. A major issue
in the negotiations will be the extent to which Microsoft would own the
software in the machine. Gates would like to retain the rights to the
software; Gerald Levin, the C.E.O. of Time Warner, and John Malone, the
C.E.O. of T.C.I., will not want to give Gates those rights.

If Gates does succeed in providing the operating system for the new
machine, he will have tremendous influence over the way people
communicate with one another: he, more than anyone else, will determine
what it is like to use the information highway. His great advantage is
that Microsoft knows how to make software, and neither the telephone
companies nor the cable companies know how to do that. Another advantage
Bill Gates has is that he already lives on the information highway.

New employees at Microsoft are likely to encounter Bill Gates
electronically long before they meet him in person. Some get to thinking
of him by his E-mail handle, which is "billg," rather than by his real
name. You'll be chatting with a Microsoft employee in the employee's
office, the computer will make a little belch or squeak, indicating an
incoming piece of electronic mail, and it'll be E-mail from Bill. It is
not unusual to hear a young employee say, "Hey, that's a good idea, I'm
going to E-mail Bill about that." While I was attending a lunchtime
cookout at Microsoft headquarters one day, I heard several people start
conversations by asking about E-mail from Bill: "Did you get mail from
Bill today?" "Did you see Bill's mail?" Bill and Melinda were in Africa
at the time, touring the valley where the oldest human skeleton, Lucy,
was discovered, but I had the sense that he was present, in the network,
Xying around the Microsoft campus and popping into people's computers.

The Microsoft campus looks like a college campus: there are playing
fields, and employees in T-shirts and jeans who aren't much older than
college students. Nowhere on earth do more millionaires and billionaires
go to work every day than do so here -- about twenty-two hundred of the
fifteen thousand employees own at least a million dollars' worth of
Microsoft stock -- but the campus is in no respect worldly. Workers spend
much of their day staring into large computer monitors and occasionally
exploding into a rapid Wngering of keys. Empty soda cans and cardboard
latte cups collect on their desks. Designing software -- or "writing code,"
as people in the trade say -- is a sort of intellectual handiwork.
Operating systems, the most monumental of all software constructions,
are like medieval cathedrals: thousands of laborers toil for years on
small parts of them, each one working by hand, fashioning zeros and ones
into patterns that control switches inside microprocessors, which
constitute the brains of a computer. The platonic nature of software -- it
is invisible, weightless, and odorless; it doesn't exist in the physical
world -- determines much of the culture that surrounds it. At Microsoft,
workers often describe each other as "smart" or "supersmart" or "one of
the smart- est people you'll meet around here, and it is almost an
article of faith that Bill Gates, who co-founded the company with Paul
Allen, a friend from his high-school days, in 1975, when he was nineteen
years old, is the smartest person of all. "Bill is just smarter than
everyone else," Mike Maples, an executive vice-president of Microsoft,
says. "There are probably more smart people per square foot right here
than anywhere else in the world, but Bill is just smarter.

Gates' office is exactly twice as large as the offices of junior employees,
and his carpeting is a little richer than the carpeting in other offices;
otherwise, there is nothing fancy about the place. A large monitor sits
on his desk, and on the wall behind the desk are pictures from important
moments in Gates' career, many of which coincide with important moments
in the history of the personal computer. There are also pictures of
Gates' two sisters, and of his mother and father. (No picture of Melinda
French is visible, partly because Gates wants to keep her job as normal
as he can.) As in all the Microsoft offices, one rarely hears the sound of
a ringing phone. The employees send a total of two hundred million
E-mail messages to each other every month. (Over at McCaw Cellular
Communications, another prominent high-tech company, whose headquarters
is a few miles from Microsoft's, phones ring all the time, and everyone
wears a beeper.) Gates spends at least two hours a day at his desk
staring into his monitor, reading and writing E-mail. E-mail allows
Gates to run the company in his head, in a sense. While he is working,
he rocks. Whether he is in business meetings, on airplanes, or listening
to a speech, his upper body rocks down to an almost forty-five-degree
angle, rocks back up, rocks down again. His elbows are often folded
together, resting in his crotch. He rocks at different levels of
intensity according to his mood. Sometimes people who are in the
meetings begin to rock with him. "I think it's just excess energy,"
Gates said to me about his rocking. "I should stop, but I haven't yet.
They claim I started at an extremely young age. I had a rocking horse
and they used to put me to sleep on my rocking horse, and I think that
addicted me.

Gates does not have the physical charisma of, say, Steve Jobs, the
co-founder of Apple Computer. Like Lenin, Gates leads by sheer force of
intellect. He looks like a teen-ager, but not because he actually looks
younger than thirty-eight. In some ways, he looks older -- a very old
little boy. It is the oddly undeveloped quality in his pale, freckled
face that makes him seem boyish. His hair is brown and is almost always
uncombed. He has heavy lips, which contort into odd shapes when he
talks. His characteristic pose when he is standing is pelvis pushed for-
ward slightly, one arm wrapped around his body, the other arm
occasionally going up into the air as he talks -- kind of flying up, almost
spastically, with the palm outstretched, then settling again somewhere
on his chest. His voice is toneless, with a somewhat weary note of
enthusiasm permanently etched into it, and his vocabulary is bland:
"stuV" is "cool," "neat," "crummy," "super," "supercool.

When Gates was in his twenties, his mother color-cošrdinated his
clothes -- he had green days, beige days, blue days -- and then the job was
taken over by girlfriends, and now it will presumably fall to his wife,
but so far no one has really handled the task successfully. "A lot of
his friends have said, `Bill, come on, let's go on a shopping spree,
we'll buy you some clothes,' but it never works," Ann Winblad, who is
now a highly respected venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, and was the
woman in Bill's life for Wve years, told me. "Bill just doesn't think
about clothes. And his hygiene is not good. And his glasses -- how can he
see out of them? But Bill's attitude is: I'm in this pure mind state,
and clothes and hygiene are last on the list." Esther Dyson, who edits a
computer-industry newletter called Release 1.0., says, "I'm told that
within Microsoft certain people are allowed to take Bill's glasses off
and wipe them, but I've never done it. You know, it's like -- `Don't try
this at home.

Gates is famously confrontational. If he strongly disagrees with what
you're saying, he is in the habit of blurting out, "That's the stupidest
fucking thing I've ever heard!" People tell stories of Gates spraying
saliva into the face of some hapless employee as he yells, "This stuff
isn't hard! I could do this stuV in a weekend!" What you're supposed to
do in a situation like this, as in encounters with grizzly bears, is
stand your ground: if you flee, the bear will think you're game and will
pursue you, and you can't outrun a bear. I had a chance to try this
approach one day in Gates' office, when I made a remark to him about
Microsoft's antitrust problems, and he got mad at me. I had mentioned
the theory that Anne Bingaman, who is the head of the Antitrust Division
of the Department of Justice, would not have taken the highly unusual
and public action of requesting the Microsoft file from the Federal Trade
Commission, which had pursued a three-year investigation of Microsoft,
if she had not felt she could make a good case against the company. (In
the end, the F.T.C. did not Wle any charges.) All the soft planes in
Gates' face contorted into an expression of pure sarcasm. "I think
you're a little confused," he said. "You're saying that before they read
even a single piece of paper they judge what kind of case they have?" He
choked slightly on his disgust for my stupidity. "I think you're
confused," he said again. "The Justice Department chose to get the
information to decide what to do. Saying they have a pretty good case
before they've read anything -- is that how these things work?" Going by
the book, I answered that someone at the F.T.C. could have told someone
in the Justice Department that the case against Microsoft was strong.
This seemed to make the situation worse. "Look," Gates said. "The
Department of Justice is looking at these Wles. You know? It's justice?
You're supposed to have facts before you decide things?" I felt a
trickle of sweat run down my back.

All the executives directly under Gates are male, and almost all are in
their mid-thirties. Nathan Mhyrvold, thirty-four, who as a graduate
student at Cambridge University interpreted for Stephen Hawking, is in
charge of new technology. Steve Ballmer, thirty-seven, who is Gates'
best friend, runs the numbers side of the business. He and Gates met
during freshman year at Harvard, when they lived down the hall from each
other. Cramming together for an advanced-economics exam was a
determining event in their relationship. Ballmer acted this scene out
for me, pacing around the room, waving his arms, the shirttail of his
oxford shirt poking out of his khakis, as he cried, " `Yes! We're
golden! We're going to pass! No! Shit! We're screwed! We're going to
fail! No! Yes! We're golden! We're screwed!' We'd get real up or real
down, and it's still that way. We love to get up and down.

Ballmer is the reason Gates always flies coach when he is travelling on
business. "If you're going to work for this company," Ballmer told me,
"you're going to rent a certain kind of car and stay in a certain kind
of hotel and fly coach, because that's business, and anything else is
just aggrandizement." Gates once chartered a plane because he had to get
somewhere in a hurry, but Ballmer gave him so much grief that Gates is
still explaining why he did it. Experienced fliers into and out of
Seattle know to scan the cabin for a man with a blanket over his
head -- that's Bill Gates, taking a nap.

Because Bill Gates was my Wrst E-mail relationship, I wasn't always sure
how to comport myself electronically, and occasionally I solicited
advice from experienced E-mailers. Once, while I was questioning a media
analyst named Mark Stahlman about a point of E-mail etiquette, he said
to me, "Well, hey, you're not a digital guy!" This line often popped
into my head when I was E-mailing Bill. Was I behaving like a digital
guy? Is digital guyhood what nerds will molt into when the information
highway reaches everyone's door? One evening, I was at home listening to
some music, doing this geeky dance I do and, as usual, wondering whether
the Wall Street types across the street were watching me, when I
suddenly thought, Would Bill Gates care about those guys? I took this as
a sign I was becoming a digital guy. Around the same time, I read an
essay in Wired magazine by Paul SaVo, who is a director of the Institute
for the Future, a think tank in Menlo Park, which argued that the
information highway is going to cause a flowering of personal expression
not seen in our society since the sixties, and that when this happens
(maybe in Wve years) people whom we now think of as computer nerds will
have the same hipness that in retrospect we now assign to beatniks.

I wrote Gates a message with the title "How does the future make you
feel?" (Putting a title on messages is one of the diVerent things about
E-mail communication. It is a little like writing a publicity release
for what you have to say. However, it does focus the message.) How does
the rapid change in the power of microprocessors make you feel? The
certainty that microprocessors will grow twice as fast every eighteen
months and that nothing in Nature, no fire or earthquake or tidal wave,
is powerful enough to stop this from happening. Are you thrilled by
this? Do you think that this power is God, as you understand God? Is it
possible this power could be bad?

Gates wrote back:

Feelings are pretty personal. I love coming up with new ideas or seeing
in advance what is going to count and then making it happen. I love
working with smart people. . . . Our business is very very
competitive -- one or two false moves and you can fall behind in a way that
would wipe you out. Market share does not give you the right to relax.
IBM is the best example of this. This is very scary but also makes it
very interesting.

The digital revolution is all about facilitation -- creating tools to make
things easy. When I was a kid I was a lot more curious than I am
today -- perhaps I have lost less curiosity than the average adult but if I
had had the information tools we are building today I would know a lot
more and not have given up learning some things.

These tools will be really cool. Say today you want to meet someone with
similar interests to talk or take a trip together or whatever? Its hard
and somewhat random. Say you want to make sure you pick a good doctor or
read a good book? We can make all of these things work so well -- its
empowering stuV.

Enough for now.

I wrote a message titled "TV as the Opium of the People":

Some people are afraid of interactive TV. TV is a drug, goes the
argument, and the technology that Microsoft and others are supplying is
going to make the drug stronger. People will be inside more than ever,
cut off from their neighbors, watching interactive monster truck

Or porno. They will pile up large cable and credit card charges. A "T.
S. Eliot wasteland . . . a nation of housebound zombies," as Michael
Eisner put it recently in a speech. Do you think this could happen? What
diVerence does it make if you invent smart boxes to deliver dumb

Gates wrote:

Interactive TV is probably a really bad name for the in-home device
connected to the information highway.

Lets say I am sitting at home wondering about some new drug that was
prescribed to me. Or wanting to ask a question to my children's teacher.
Or curious about my social security status. Or wondering about crime in
my neighborhood. Or wanting to exchange information with other people
thinking about visiting Tanzania. Or wondering if the new lawn mower I
want to buy works well and if its a good price. Or I want to ask people
who read a book what they thought of it before I take my time reading
it. In all of these cases being able to reach out and communicate by
using a messaging or bulletin board type system lets me do something I
could never do before. Assume that the infrastructure and device to do
this is easy to use and it was funded by the cable or phone company
primarily because I like to watch movies and video-conference with my

All of the above is about how adults will use the system. Kids will use
it in ways we can't even imagine.

The opportunity for people to reach out and share is amazing. This
doesnt mean you will spend more time inside! It means you will use your
time more eVectively and get to do the things you like more than in the
past as well as doing new things. If you like to get outside you will
Wnd out a lot more about the places that are not crowded and Wnd good
companions to go with.

The bottom line is that 2 way communication is a very diVerent beast
than 1 way communication. In some ways a phone that has an unbelievable
directory, lets you talk or send messages to lots of people, and works
with text and pictures is a better analogy than TV. The phone did change
the world by making it a smaller place. This will be even more dramatic.
There will be some secondary eVects that people will worry about but
they won't be the same as TV. We are involved in creating a new media
but it is not up to us to be the censors or referees of this media -- it is
up to public policy to make those decisions.

Because TV had very few channels the value of TV time was very high so
only things of very broad interest could be aired on those few channels.
The information highway will be the opposite of this -- more like the
library of congress but with an easy way to find things.

I sometimes felt that this correspondence was a game I was playing with
Gates through the computer, or maybe a game I was playing against a
computer. What is the right move? What question will get me past the
dragon and into the wizard's star chamber, where the rich information is
stored? I had no idea where Gates was when he wrote
to me, except that once he told me he was on a "think week" at his
family's summer place on Hood Canal. I could not tell whether he was
impatient or bored with my questions and was merely answering them
because it served his interest. Because we couldn't talk at the same
time, there was little chance for the conversation to move
spontaneously. On the other hand, his answers meant more, in a certain
way, being written, than answers I would have received on the phone. I
worried that he might think I was being "random" (a big putdown at
Microsoft) because I jumped from topic to topic. I sometimes wondered if
I was actually communicating with Bill Gates. How hard would it be for
an assistant to write these messages? Or for an intelligent agent to do

I wrote a message titled "What motivates you?":

You love to compete, right? Is that where your energy comes from -- love of
the game? I wonder how it feels to win on your level. How much do you
fear losing? How about immortality -- being remembered for a thousand years
after you're dead -- does that excite you? How strong is your desire to
improve people's lives (by providing them with better tools for thinking
and communicating)? Some driven people are trying to heal a wound or to
recover a loss. Is that the case with you?

Gates wrote back:

Its easy to understand why I think I have the best job around because of
day to day enjoyment rather than some grand long term deep psychological
explanation. Its a lot of fun to work with very smart people in a
competitive environment. . . . We get to hire the best people coming out
of school and give them challenging jobs. We get to try and figure out
how to sell software in every part of the world. Sometimes our ideas
work very well and sometimes they work very poorly. As long as we stay
in the feedback loop and keep trying its a lot of fun.

It is pretty cool that the products we work on empower individuals and
make their jobs more interesting. It helps a lot in inventing new
software ideas that I will be one of the users of the software so I can
model what's important. . . .

Just thinking of things as winning is a terrible approach. Success comes
from focusing in on what you really like and are good at -- not challenging
every random thing. My original vision of a personal computer on every
desk and every home will take more than 15 years to achieve so there
will have been more than 30 years since I Wrst got excited about that
goal. My work is not like sports where you actually win a game and its
over after a short period of time.

Besides a lot of luck, a high energy level and perhaps some IQ I think
having an ability to deal with things at a very detailed level and a
very broad level and synthesize between them is probably the thing that
helps me the most. This allows someone to take deep technical
understanding and figure out a business strategy that fits together with

It's ridiculous to consider how things will be remembered after you are
dead. The pioneers of personal computers including Jobs, Kapor, Lampson,
Roberts, Kaye, are all great people but I don't think any of us will
merit an entry in a history book.

I don't remember being wounded or losing something big so I don't think
that is driving me. I have wonderful parents and great siblings. I live
in the same neighborhood I grew up in (although I will be moving across
the lake when my new house is done). I can't remember any major
disappointments. I did figure out at one point that if I pursued pure
mathematics it would be hard to make a major contribution and there were
a few girls who turned me down when I asked them out.

At the end of one message, I wrote:

This reporting via e-mail is really fascinating and I think you are
going to come across in an attractive way, in case you weren't sure of

Gates wrote:

I comb my hair everytime before I send email hoping to appear
attractive. I try and use punctuation in a friendly way also. I send :)
and never :(. Iwrote a message asking Gates whether it was possible that
the alliance with Time Warner and T.C.I. was on shaky ground because
Gerald Levin and John Malone were afraid that Gates was too smart for

Gates wrote:

Your mail is the Wrst time I have ever heard anyone suggest that John
Malone and Jerry Levin deserve sympathy. They are both great people.
They are both smarter about deal making than I will ever be. John and
Jerry and I share a vision of what the Information Highway can become.
Its an incredible opportunity for all 3 companies and we have been
spending time to discussing how we might help each other. We don't have
anything concrete at this stage although we have developed a high level
of trust for each other.

I sent a message asking how much of his money Gates was planning on
giving away:

Will there one day be a Gates Foundation, the way we have Rockefeller,
Ford, Carnegie Foundations? When? How acutely do you feel a sense of
social responsibility? What kinds of philanthropy would you like your
money to perform? How do you feel about leaving a lot of money to your

Gates replied:

I think that giving money away takes a lot of effort. Not as much effort
as making it but still a lot to do it properly. Therefore when I am old
and have time I will put some effort into that. Assuming I still have a
lot of money by the time I retire which is certainly no certain thing I
will give away well over 90% of it since I dont believe in kids having
too much money. I am like my friend Warren Buffett in this respect. I
have already done some giving like to UW for a biotechnology department
[Gate gave the University of Washington twelve million dollars] and some
to Stanford for a computer science building [six million] and some to
United Way which I really believe in. I do believe in funding great
research so some of my philanthropy will relate to that. Some to humans
service activities. Some to education. Some to population control eVorts
if it looks like donations can really help there.

I wrote mail about "The Great Gatsby," which is one of Gates' favorite
books. ("The Catcher in the Rye" and "A Separate Peace" are other
favorites.) Gates dressed as Gatsby for his thirtieth birthday, and
again for an engagement party that friends and colleagues in Silicon
Valley threw for him and Melinda in September. (Melinda dressed as Daisy

Gates wrote:

Gatsby had a dream and he pursued it not even really thinking he might
fail or worse that what he dreamed of wasn't real. The green light is a
symbol of his optimism -- he had come so far he could hardly fail to grasp
it. At the end Fitz is reinforcing what a romantic figure Gatsby is. Its
also sort of about America but I think of it more in terms of the

Once, when I was composing E-mail to Gates on an airplane, I felt
physically closer to him than when I was composing from home. Perhaps I
was thinking of all the thousands of people who have encountered this
remarkable person on airplanes, restlessly wandering the aisles with his
shoes off, or sitting in a seat staring into the screen of his laptop
computer, rocking, writing E-mail that will be Wred into the network
when the plane lands and send hundreds of people at Microsoft scurrying
into action.

Many executives in the telegraph industry, which had enjoyed control of
the communications Weld since about 1840, believed that the telephone
did not present a threat to their business, because no one would want a
communications machine that did not leave a written record of the
conversation, as telegrams did. When William Orton, the president of
Western Union, which was the Microsoft of its day, was oVered the
opportunity to buy Alexander Graham Bell's patent on the telephone for a
hundred thousand dollars, he is said to have replied, "What use could
this company make of an electric toy?" This remark seems less dim to me

Technological change is not democratic, but if we did have a choice
would we vote for a man who sometimes behaves like a ten-year-old boy to
be the principal architect of the way we communicate with each other in
the future? Or is it Gates' gift that he isn't socialized in a way you'd
expect a corporate executive to be. When I was ten, I would sit around
with my friends watching it snow, and someone would say, "I wonder what
the deepest snowfall ever was," or something like that, and someone else
would say, "Yeah, it would be cool to know that." It seemed that there
should be this giant, all-knowing brain, which could answer that kind of
question. One of the lessons you learn in becoming an adult is that it
doesn't always pay to be curious. Some people learn to avoid curiosity
altogether. Gates appears to have completely failed to absorb this
lesson. My impression is that he still has the fantasy of the giant,
all-knowing brain, and that this is what the information highway means
to him. It's a place where curiosity is rewarded.

Not long ago, Paul SaVo, of the Institute for the Future, said to me,
"Bill Gates is an introvert. He is not the kind of person you want
building the social network of the future." Ann Winblad, Gates' former
girlfriend, told me, "People who know Bill know that you have to bring
him into a group -- say, `Hey, Bill, tell us the story of
such-and-such' -- because he doesn't have the social skills to do it on his
own. But that doesn't mean he isn't social. Bill is an open, emotional
guy -- very. He's actually more open with his feelings than most men I
know. He is not afraid to express fear, or sadness, but hardly anyone
sees that. You can't show that when you're in Bill's position, when
everyone is watching your tiniest gesture. It's not good leadership to
show weakness." An executive with a leading competitor of Microsoft's
says of Gates, "Hey -- I think the guy is truly dangerous. Bill is the most
surprisingly conscience-free individual I've ever met, and that amount
of power in the hands of a guy without a conscience is dangerous. Big
Brother did not happen in 1984, but it could happen in 2004. Ask
yourself, `If there was to be a technology-oriented dictator by the year
2004, who would he be? Bill Gates?

Gates argues that Microsoft has to behave aggressively because of a
principle called Moore's Law, which is named after Gordon Moore, one of
the founders of the Intel Corporation. Moore's Law is the reason the
computer industry is fundamentally different from any other industry in
history. It states that microprocessors get twice as powerful, or twice
as cheap, every eighteen months. This means that in twenty years what
now takes a year of computing will take fifteen minutes. We have no idea
what we are going to do with this power, but it will exist whether we
want it to or not.

No natural calamity or political upheaval short of world-wide anarchy is
powerful enough to stop it. Nathan Mhyrvold, of Microsoft, said to me,
"Nature has already signed oV on this stuff." Moore's Law is the primary
reason that all the companies that dominated the computer industry in
the nineteen-seventies are now struggling or gone, and the reason that
Microsoft, for all its power, could disappear in a decade.

Scott McNealy, the head of Sun Microsystems, which is a leading
manufacturer of computer workstations, told me, "I like Bill. Bill is a
smart guy. But I think the problem is that Microsoft has caught the
bunny. You know, when you go to the dog track they have that mechanical
bunny that makes the dogs run? Well, sometimes a dog is so fast he
catches the bunny and then the other dogs don't run anymore. That's the
situation in the software business today: Bill has caught the bunny. I
admire Bill for catching the bunny, but now we can't have a race. He
ought to be loosed from the bunny, to give the other dogs a chance.

The argument that Microsoft is shaping up to be the Standard Oil of the
Information Age and that the government ought to loose Bill from the
bunny before this happens is now being heard within the Department of
Justice. As the head of the Department's Antitrust Division, Anne
Bingaman is an antimonopolist, the sort of person who was common around
the Justice Department in the nineteen-thirties and forties, and was
thoroughly weeded out in the eighties, a period during which the laws on
what constitutes a monopoly were relaxed, making it harder for people
like Bingaman to operate. Now Bingaman is expected to regain some of the
ground lost by the anti-monopolists, and she seems to be using Microsoft
as her vehicle. Justice Department lawyers are currently studying the
Wle that Bingaman requested from the Federal Trade Commission, and are
said to be readying acase against Microsoft, though whether Bingaman
will bring narrow antitrust charges, which would require the company to
pay a Wne it could easily aVord, or will bring a broad antitrust case,
or will even attempt to break Microsoft up, has not been decided. There
is substantial political pressure not to prosecute Microsoft. Microsoft
is the principal reason that the United States is by far the world
leader in software production, an industry that has an unimaginable
potential for growth. Also, the government's huge antitrust case against
I.B.M., which was Wled in 1969 and ended with the government's giving up
on it in 1982, distracted and weakened that organization, and helped
companies like Microsoft to get the better of it. Some people argue that
the computer industry actually wants and needs a monopolistic presence
like Microsoft, because such a presence can work to create a standard
computer language that other companies can design products for and that
the public can use in common. That is the role I.B.M. played, and now
that I.B.M. has been dethroned, thanks partly to Microsoft, people
expect Microsoft to perform it.

One big diVerence between Gates and other early software entrepreneurs
is that, whereas the others were bright kids from middle-class homes who
achieved success beyond their expectations, Gates was born to rule. His
childhood was emphatically not the stuff of Horatio Alger novels. His
father, Bill Gates, Jr., is a well-known corporate lawyer in Seattle and
a former president of the Washington State Bar Association, and his
mother, Mary Gates, is a former regent at the University of Washington
and was on the national board of the United Way and of U S West.
Washington State governors and senators were guests at the house when
Bill was a boy. At dinner, the parents would lead the children -- Bill and
his sisters, Kristi and Libby -- in discussions of current affairs. The
family also played a lot of games and horsed around together. "I really
like Bill's family, but it would be nice if you could talk to them once
in a while when they weren't in a human pyramid," Ida Cole, a former
Microsoft executive, has said. Water-skiing was and remains a passion of
Gates': several Seattleites have described for me the experience of
coming across the Evergreen Bridge early on a Sunday morning in the
summer and seeing Gates' big powerboat on Lake Washington, with Gates'
white, toneless body water-skiing behind it and throwing up a big
coxcomb of spray. Young Bill was obsessive about improving aspects of
himself he didn't like. "He was always upset about his little toe
curling in, so he'd work on it. He'd spend time holding it out so he'd
have a straight toe," his sister Kristi told Stephen Manes and Paul
Andrews, the co-authors of "Gates," a recently published biography.
Gates used to try to impress his sisters by jumping out of a trash can,
and he still occasionally jumps over his offce chair from a standstill.
Sometimes, on his way to a business meeting, he suddenly jumps up and
tries to touch as high as he can on a wall, or to touch higher than the
spot he touched last time, but he says, in "Gates," "I don't jump
spontaneously the way I used to, in the early years of the company . . .
or even in a meeting. . . . Now the jumping is not that common."
However, he has planned a full-size trampoline for a house he is
building. In Japan, a comic book about the adventures of a boy modelled
on Bill Gates is called "Young Jump."

Gates attended Lakeside School, one of the best private schools in the
Seattle area, and there he met Paul Allen, who was three years older.
The two began spending a lot of time in the school's computer room. In
1971, when Gates was sixteen, he wrote a program that made it easier for
cities to collect traffc statistics. That same year, he and Allen started
a company called Traf-o-Data. In the Lakeside yearbook for 1973, Gates'
senior year, there is a picture of Gates in the computer room with a
stocking cap pulled over his head and lying on a table, over the caption
"Who is this man?"

Joseph Weizenbaum, a computer scientist at M.I.T., perhaps overstating
the case a little for eVect, wrote, in "Computer Power and Human
Reason," this early portrait of computer hackers: "Bright young men of
disheveled appearance, often with sunken glowing eyes, [who] can be seen
sitting at computer consoles . . . on which their attention seems to be
as riveted as a gambler's on the rolling dice. . . . They work until
they nearly drop, twenty, thirty hours at a time. Their food, if they
arrange it, is brought to them: coffee, Cokes, sandwiches. . . . Their
rumpled clothes, their unwashed and unshaven faces, and their uncombed
hair all testify that they are oblivious to their bodies and to the
world in which they move." This description matches Gates' outward
appearance, but Gates was diVerent from most hackers in one important
respect: Hackers were interested in computers as a hobby, mostly just
for fun, whereas Gates always saw computers as a way of making money.

Gates and Allen sometimes talked about how cool it would be to design
the software for the Wrst personal computer, which appeared to be on the
horizon, but this was not a serious career goal of Bill's. His father
wanted him to become a lawyer. "When I was in college, it was really
hard to pick a career, because everything seemed so attractive, and when
you had to pick a specific one you had to say no to all the others,"
Gates told me. "I'd think, Well, if I went to that law firm some partner
might not like me, and they might assign me to these crummy cases, and
I'd think, Well, God, that could be really crummy." The question was
settled in dramatic fashion in December, 1974, when Allen, who was
working in Boston, passed a newsstand in Harvard Square and saw on the
cover of Popular Electronics a computer called the Altair 8800. The
Altair 8800 was the first computer that ordinary electronics hobbyists
could afford to buy and that people with reasonable technical knowledge
could assemble in their homes. Basically, it was the first personal
computer. Allen bought the magazine, rushed over to Gates' dorm, and
showed it to him. "Look!" Allen said. "It's going to happen! I told you
this was going to happen! And we're going to miss it!"

They called Ed Roberts, the man who created the Altair, and told him
that they had written a version of a programming language called basic
for his computer. That wasn't true. It was an early use of a now common
strategy in the computer industry, and at Microsoft in particular:
announcing products that don't exist (known in the industry as
"vaporware") in order to discourage possible competitors. After talking
to Roberts, Bill and Paul went on an eight-week code-writing binge, with
Gates writing most of the code, often falling asleep at the keyboard,
dreaming in code, waking up, and immediately starting to write code
again, with no real transition between dreaming and waking -- just code.
loaded the software into the Altair, and typed "print 2 + 2." The Altair
spat out "4." The program worked.

By the end of 1975, Gates and Allen had founded a company, Micro-soft,
to sell their basic. (The hyphen was dropped a few years later.) Now
came what is perhaps the pivotal moment in the early history of the
software industry. Computer hobbyists who had bought the Altair were
dismayed to Wnd that it didn't come with the software to operate it, and
were even more dismayed when they learned that they had to buy the
software for four hundred and Wfty dollars from Micro-soft. At that
time, no one thought of software as something you paid for. Software was
just rolls of paper tape with little holes punched in it. A hacker would
write a cool piece of software for fun, copy it, and give it away to his
friends. Altair owners began to do the same thing with Micro-soft's
basic. Then, in February of 1976, Gates published "An Open Letter to
Hobbyists" in the Altair newsletter, and the letter now stands as a sort
of Magna Carta of the software industry -- the underpinning of the
intellectual-property structure. It stated, "As the majority of
hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software," and went on
to argue that software was just as much a commodity as hardware, because
it represented someone's intellectual work, and that the creators of the
software should be compensated just as creators of hardware were.

Gates shuttled between Harvard and Albuquerque until the start of his
senior year, when he dropped out for good. The business expanded, and he
and Allen relocated it to Seattle in 1978. In 1980, I.B.M. approached
Gates to write an operating system for the personal computer it was
designing, the I.B.M. PC. Gates flew down to Florida to meet the I.B.M.
executives working on the project, realized on the way that he had
forgotten to bring a tie, and drove around looking for a place to buy
one. The I.B.M. executives, who had never laid eyes on Gates, were
stunned to see that their prospective partner looked exactly like one of
the hackers they were beginning to read about in the press. They told
Gates they needed an operating system in three months -- an impossibly
short time -- and Gates accepted the job. Upon returning to Seattle, he
bought an operating system called qdos, which was short for Quick and
Dirty Operating System, from another software developer, Seattle
Computer, for around seventy-five thousand dollars, renamed it ms-dos,
and, in a three-month code-writing marathon, converted it to I.B.M.'s

Software is sometimes said to be to the age of information as oil was to
the age of the machine. Software is what makes information systems
operate. Software is like a natural resource, except that its source is
not in the earth but in the human mind: people carry pools of software
in their heads. Its lack of physical existence makes its importance easy
to underestimate. I.B.M., which was one of the great business
organizations in history, and which was perfectly placed to own the
personal-computer business, disastrously failed to appreciate the
importance of the software Gates designed for it. Because I.B.M. thought
that the money was going to be in the hardware, in the computers
themselves, it allowed Gates to retain the rights to ms-dos. During the
nineteen-eighties, the PC was cloned by other American manufacturers and
by the Japanese, who could make and sell the machines more cheaply than
I.B.M. could, but no one knew how to clone ms-dos, and Bill Gates
collected a fee for every PC and every PC clone sold in the world.

Two books about the fall of I.B.M. and Gates' role in it have recently
appeared -- "Big Blues," by Paul Carroll, and "Computer Wars," by Charles
H. Ferguson and Charles R. Morris -- and an occasional chill runs up the
spine of anyone reading them at the ease with which Gates eviscerated
men much older and more experienced than he was. "I kept wanting to say
to Cannavino, `We need a shorthand because these meetings are taking too
long,' " Gates says in "Big Blues." James Cannavino was an I.B.M.
executive with whom Gates negotiated about operating systems. Cannavino
would begin meetings by making small talk about, say, his new car, in a
misguided eVort to establish some sort of personal rapport with Gates.
Also, like many other American corporate executives of his generation,
Cannavino would spend a lot of time talking about his company's values.
This would drive Gates mad. "Every time you say `thirteen,' I'll know
that what that means is that all you want to do is what the customer
wants," Gates says he imagined himself saying to Cannavino. "And for
every one of these other gibberish slogans, we can also get little
numbers. There are a lot of small integers available. We'll just tighten
these meetings up. You know, Cannavino, if you want to talk about how
you're going to save the U.S. educational system, okay, we've heard that
story. That's a good Wfteen-minute one. That can be number eleven."
However, Gates managed to swallow these thoughts and let Cannavino talk.
"I'm really very good at this stuff," he says. "I know how to be
somebody's son. You know, `Yes, Dad.

A prominent software executive told me, "I.B.M. thought they had Gates
by the balls. He's just a hacker, they thought. A harmless nerd. What
they actually had by the balls was an organism which has been bred for
the accumulation of great power and maximum profit, the child of a
lawyer, who knew the language of contracts, and who just ripped those
I.B.M. guys apart." Another leading executive in the software industry
said, "Think of I.B.M. and Microsoft as being a chess game, where
Microsoft plays black. So they're at a disadvantage. So they have to set
up a trap. Microsoft becomes the only supplier of a commodity that
I.B.M. could not produce itself. Having done that, it proceeds to market
that asset to weaken its partner's position. It's brilliant!

Now, thirteen years after that contract, Microsoft is by far the largest
software company in the world. It has a market capitalization of
twenty-three billion dollars -- more than General Motors, Xerox, or I.B.M.
To what extent Gates is mainly a product of I.B.M.'s blunder, and
therefore a kind of historical accident, and to what extent he is the
Wrst person to imagine software as a shrink-wrapped commodity, and is
therefore a visionary, is a good question to ask if you are seated next
to a computer-industry executive at a dinner party. Although Microsoft
continues to manufacture ms-dos, it has severed most of its ties with
I.B.M. The break came over the operating system Windows, which Gates
introduced in 1985. (Paul Allen, who had a scary encounter with
Hodgkin's disease in 1983, retired, cashed in some of his Microsoft
stock, bought the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, and built a
house with a basketball court on the property, where the team could
practice. He also provided the funds for a Jimi Hendrix museum in
Seattle. Lately, Allen, whose Microsoft stock is now worth $2.9 billion,
has been in the news for buying nearly twenty-five per cent of America
Online, an information service, and, most recently, for buying eighty
per cent of TicketMaster.)

Windows is a graphical user interface, or gui (computer people pronounce
it "gooey"). Instead of operating the computer with keyboard commands,
as you do in dos, in Windows you use a pointing device -- a mouse -- to acc little folders and
documents on your electronic desktop. Xerox developed
the desktop metaphor in the late seventies, and in the early eighties
Apple Computer commercialized it. Gates saw that Apple's gui was an
easier system to use than dos, and borrowed it. When Windows first
appeared, it was widely viewed as a kludge (a dog): it was buggy (it had
glitches) and was a memory pig (it used up a lot of space in the
computer's hard drive), and it was generally less elegant than Apple's
gui. But Gates stayed with Windows and kept improving it. Gates
understood that it did not matter if the software used lots of space on
the hard drive as long as hard drives kept getting twice as powerful
every eighteen months. Also, whereas Apple chose to keep its software
proprietary -- it could run only on machines that Apple made -- Gates licensed
Windows to any computer manufacturer that wanted it, just as he had done
with dos. When Apple realized its mistake -- its strategy limited Apple's
share of the operating-system market to the number of computers Apple
could sell -- it sued Microsoft for copyright infringement, but a federal
court ruled that "the look and feel" of the desktop metaphor was not
covered under Apple's copyright.

It is often said by Gates' detractors that he has never invented
anything, and this is true in a sense, but you could say the same thing
about Henry Ford. When the Model T appeared, in 1908, it was by no means
the best car on the road, but it worked well enough, and it was
aVordable and easy to produce, and Ford stayed with it. Even today, most
users still Wnd Apple's operating system more intuitive than Windows,
but, because the market for Windows is so much larger, other software
manufacturers are more inclined to make applications for Windows than
for Apple's operating system. If there is to be a standard computer
language -- which from the point of view of the public is greatly
desirable -- it now appears that Windows will be the one. But Gates has to
worry that someone will do to Microsoft what Microsoft did to Apple.
Apple is designing a new operating system with I.B.M.; it's code-named
Pink, and is expected to appear sometime in 1995.

After a month of E-mail between Gates and me, my hour in his physical
presence arrived. As we shook hands, he said, "Hello, I'm Bill Gates,"
and emitted a low, vaguely embarrassed chuckle. Is this the sound one
E-mailer makes to another when they Wnally meet in real space? I was
aware of a feeling of being discovered. In the front part of Gates'
oYce, we sat down at right angles to each other. Gates had on
normal-looking clothes -- a green shirt with purple stripes, brown pants,
black loafers. He rocked throughout our time together. He did not look
at me very often but either looked down as he was talking or lifted his
eyes above my head to look out the window in the direction of the
campus. The angle of the light caused the purple stripes in his shirt to
reXect in his glasses, which, in turn, threw an indigo tinge into the
dark circles around his eyes.

The emotional boundaries of our encounter seemed to have been much
expanded by the E-mail that preceded it: Gates would be angry one
minute, almost goofily happy the next. I wondered if he was consciously
using our present form of communication to express feelings that E-mail
cannot convey. Maybe this is the way lots of people will communicate in
the future: meet on the information highway, exchange messages, get to
know the lining of each other's mind, then meet face to face.

In each other's physical presence, they will be able to eliminate a lot
of the polite formalities that clutter people's encounters now, and say
what they really mean. If this happens, it will be a good thing about
the information highway: electronic communication won't reduce
face-to-face communication; instead, it will focus it.

I had been told not to ask Gates about his marriage, because he didn't
want to talk about it, but I was emboldened by the familiarity that
E-mail had established between us and asked anyway. Gates was silent,
rocking gently (I interpreted that as a good sign) and staring down at
his shoes. "Well, it's a pretty conventional marriage," he said after a
while. "I'm male, and I'm marrying a female. And there's just two of us.
And we plan to have rings on our fingers. And there'll be a minister. Or,
actually, a priest, I think. Since I'm marrying a Catholic." He giggled.
"Pretty standard stuff. In most dimensions, including this one, I'm just
like everybody else. I found a girl and fell in love with her. I'm kind
of old." As he talked, he began to make a peculiar ahhh sound -- a sort of
rapturous vocalized pause, with a little shyness in it, as if he were
confiding in me.

"Some of your competitors are hoping that marriage is going to make you
spend less time in the offce," I said.

"Yeah, I think . . . ahhh . . . that's a pretty strange thing. Being
married I don't think is that big a change. It did take up a lot of
energy and time being single. I think in a way it's more complicated
than being married. I mean, marriage has its own complexities, but
they're different . . . ahhh . . . and I don't think timewise they're
much different. And I've been going out with this person oV and on for a
number of years, so it's not like the day I get married it will be,
like, whoa, wait a minute, she uses curlers to curl her hair, my God!

Gates and his bride are constructing a thirty-five-million-dollar house
on the eastern slope of Lake Washington, just outside Seattle -- a series
of five pavilions connected by underground passageways, with display
screens scattered throughout the rooms and linked to a central data base
containing hundreds of thousands of famous works of art in digital form.
Gates does not own the art; he owns the right to reproduce the art
digitally, and he and his assistants continue to throw museum offcials
around the world into confusion by offering to buy the digital rights to
works in their collections.

"Do you worry that your wealth is going to corrupt you?

"Absolutely." Gates sat upright and raised his arms in the air.
"Absolutely. Hey. Being in the spotlight is a corrupting thing. Being
successful is a corrupting thing. Having lots of money is a corrupting
thing. These are very dangerous things, to be guarded against carefully.
And I think that's very, very hard to do.

"How do you do it?

"I'm very close to my family. And that's important to me. It's a very
centering thing. I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in. One of my
sisters lives there. We get together as a family a lot. The woman I'm
marrying wants when we have kids to have a normal environment for them.
So we'll mutually brainstorm about how to do the best we can at that."
Gates thought for a while, then said, "I am a person who is very
conscious of, like, why don't I have a TV in my house? I think TV is
great. When I'm in a hotel room, I sit there and try all these new
channels and see what's going on. I probably stay up too late watching
stuV. TV is neat. I don't have a TV at home, because I would probably
watch it, and I prefer to spend that time thinking -- or, mostly, reading.
So I'm pretty conscious about not letting myself get used to certain

"So do you consider yourself a puritanical person?

"Oh, no no no. I'm not a puritan," Gates said. "Hey, if I was a
puritan -- " He grinned, apparently mentally flipping through a sequence of
unpuritanical acts he had committed. "O.K., it's a little bit like this.
I go to a baseball game, and I'm having a good time, watching the game,
but then I feel myself getting drawn in. I start wondering, Who are
these guys? Who are the good ones? How much are they paid? How are the
other teams compared to this one? How have the rules changed? How do
these guys compare to the guys twenty years ago? It just gets so
interesting. I know if I let myself go to ten games I'd be addicted, and
I'd want to go more. And there's only so much time in the day. And,
frankly, it's easy for me to get interested in anything. I think, Gosh,
am I going to get good at tennis? Well, we got these kayaks recently. I
think, you know, Are we going to get into that? I was just in Africa. I
think, Should I do my next two or three trips there -- there's just so much
there -- but I'd sort of like to go to China, and actually I think I'll end
up doing that for my next big trip, in two or three years. So there's
all these choices, but time is this very scarce resource.

As we were saying goodbye, Gates said, "Well, you're welcome to keep
sending me mail.

I walked out to my car, drove off the Microsoft campus, and headed back
over the Evergreen Bridge to Seattle. When I got to my hotel, I logged
on and saw I had E-mail from Bill. It had been written about two hours
after I left his office. There was no reference to our having just met.
He was responding to mail I had sent him several days earlier, asking
what he thought of Henry Ford:

Ford is not that admirable -- he did great things but he was very very
narrow minded and was willing to use brute force power too much. His
relationship with his family is tragic. His model of the world was plain
wrong in a lot of ways. He decided he knew everything he needed to
fairly early in his life.

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