Salon 21st | Why Bill Gates still doesn't get the Net

Joachim Feise (
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 15:41:42 -0800

If you plow through "Business @ the Speed of
Thought" you will quickly realize three things:
Nearly everything Gates writes is obvious. Nearly
everything Gates writes is right. Yet somehow he
has missed the real story.

He's right that digital technology allows companies
to react faster. He's right that e-mail allows
important news to bypass hierarchical bottlenecks
and get to the people who need to know it. He's
right that abandoning paper and "going digital" can
not only cut costs but create new business

To such revelations, at this point in history, one
can only respond: duh!

But your eyes may glaze over as Gates delivers
example after example of mega-corporations like
McDonald's, Nabisco, Boeing and Coca-Cola
achieving digital nirvana. And as the book
progresses, a subtle blurring of a key distinction
takes place: Going digital is gradually equated
with replacing all your old systems with
Windows-based PCs. A handy appendix at the
book's end provides a technical roadmap; all that's
missing is a 1-800 telephone sales line for
Windows 2000.
But the Internet that Gates depicts is barely
recognizable as the Net on which more and more
of us work and play. For better and worse, today's
Internet is a vast, teeming commons on which
buggy technological innovations, experimental
business plans, fringe political movements and
evanescent pop-culture trends are all emerging,
converging and mutating. The Net has become
such a crucible for human energy because its
technical standards remain wide open -- it's the
proverbial "level playing field." Gates does wield
considerable influence, largely because he sits
upon an enormous mountain of cash that enables
Microsoft to acquire promising small companies
whenever it chooses. But he does not call the

This must be galling to him.

The pessimist complains about the wind,
The optimist expects it to change,
The realist adjusts the sails.