Posts Tagged 'Bill Gates'

July 24, 2008

Here's to Bill

Bill Gates' final day as an employee of Microsoft was June 27, 2008. Let's all raise our virtual glasses in a toast! Or maybe a virtual fist-bump is better - here you go: III!

I had intended to type this up in time for Mr. Gates' last day, but just simply didn't have time. This marks a historic change at the software behemoth in Washington. Love him or hate him (and there are many people on each side), few people truly realize the impact he has had on the world as we know it.

I love the fact that in America, you can get a crazy and creative idea and run with it. Gates realized that Intel's 8080 chip released in April 1974 was the first affordable chip that could run BASIC in a computer that could be small enough to be classified as a "personal" computer. Then he read an article in the January '75 issue of Popular Electronics about a microcomputer called the Altair 8800 made by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), which ran on an Intel 8080. Realizing that he had to seize the moment because the timing would never be right again, Gates took a leave of absence as a student at Harvard and contacted MITS about developing a BASIC interpreter for that machine. He collaborated with Paul Allen to prepare demo software and close the deal, then he and Paul Allen formed a company named "Micro-soft." The hyphen was dropped in 1976.

Can we imagine what our world would be like had Gates missed reading that magazine in January ‘75? Or if he had decided to finish school and become a lawyer as his parents had hoped? I can't imagine what technology I'd be using to produce documents like this today if Gates and Allen didn't follow through on their crazy idea in 1975.

To get an idea of how deeply Bill Gates has influenced us today, just try either running a business or doing your job without interacting with a computer. If it's not impossible, it's very very difficult at best. Next, try running the computers for your business without ANY Microsoft products. Again, this is difficult but not totally impossible. Then, try interacting with other businesses that use Microsoft products. If you're then successful doing that, think of how many of your daily activities involve a Microsoft product.

I actually worked for a boss in the mid-90's who hated Microsoft. He ran IBM OS/2 operating systems and non-Microsoft applications (Word Perfect, Quattro Pro spreadsheets, etc.). He didn't want to be reminded that Gates originally helped develop OS/2 in partnership with IBM. When IBM dropped support for OS/2, my boss capitulated and migrated to Windows.

At SoftLayer, we use and support a lot of non-Microsoft products. But we couldn't do what we do today without Microsoft products, and many of our customers demand Microsoft products.
In typical American entrepreneurial fashion, SoftLayer started with some semi-crazy ideas to connect the dots between different products in creative ways that had not been previously done. We will do well to have a fraction of the impact that Bill Gates has made.

-Gary

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January 23, 2008

640K Ought to Be Enough for Everybody

I was talking with a friend about memory on computers. He said he wanted a computer with tons of memory for Photoshop. I said something to the effect that I've never seen a desktop that can handle more than 16 GB, and that most operating systems now don't want to handle more than that... that Windows will only give a process 4 GB max, 2 GB for the application and 2 GB shared with the operating system. He then said "I can't imagine having to use more than 16 GB!" This immediately reminded me of Bill Gates' famous quote, that "640K ought to be more than enough for everybody." Striving for accuracy, I went to the Internet to find when and where he said this.

Interesting fact came up: HE NEVER SAID IT. He vehemently denies having ever uttered this phrase. Every quote I've seen is always un-sourced, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt. So what makes this quote clog the tubes so easily?

First, the irony that a person renowned for his computer visions of the future would say something so backward causes people to smile. Secondly, there is a nugget of truth. In a 1989 speech, Bill Gates said:

"I have to say that in 1981, making those decisions, I felt like I was providing enough freedom for 10 years. That is, a move from 64k to 640k felt like something that would last a great deal of time. Well, it didn't - it took about only 6 years before people started to see that as a real problem."

Bill never said "640K is enough for everybody." He said "640K should keep everyone happy for the next 10 years." Turns out he was wrong. Within less than 6 years we started hitting the "640K limit"... which wasn't a hard limit at all, it was just a limit proposed by the operating system at the time. Mr. Gates thought that 640K was generous, and in the beginning it was. But as the industry marched forward, it started cramping. Pretty soon, we had DOS memory managers, extended and expanded memory, virtual memory... we would do ANYTHING to escape the 640K limit.

So what's the moral of this story? First, you can't believe just anything you read on the Internet. Sometimes something gets into the tubes because it's funny, not because it's accurate. Secondly, predicting the computer industry is hard. To be a successful computer development company (like the portion of SoftLayer I work in), you have to be able to look to the horizon and attempt to spy the most likely location the software industry is moving in. We developers work on projects 3, 6, 9, 12 months before they're used by our users; we have to make predictions at least double that size in advance to give growth room whilst the next tool is developed. And, I dare say, we've done a good job of that around here!

In conclusion, Bill Gates never said "640K should be enough for everybody." That quote is a myth. It's a funny joke, but a joke nonetheless. However, Bill Gates did actually say this at a Macintosh conference:

"To create a new standard, it takes something that's not just a little bit different; it takes something that's really new and really captures people's imagination — and the Macintosh, of all the machines I've ever seen, is the only one that meets that standard."

And this time there's video evidence. And there's the not-quite-quote where Bill Gates implies that Vista isn't really the best thing since 8086 Segmented Physical Memory Models. Aren't real quotes more humorous fake ones? I think so.

-Shawn

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