Interview with Bill Gates -- "I would rather make a bet than just sit and watch"

Interview with Bill Gates

Apr 9, 2001

Bill Gates
Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation

Gates entered Harvard University in 1973 where he developed the BASIC programming language. He left Harvard in 1975 to incorporate Microsoft Corp. together with Paul Allen, his childhood friend. In 1981, IBM adopted MS-DOS as its PC OS, which opened the victorious history of Microsoft. In 2000, Gates descended from the post of CEO to assume a new post of Chief Software Architect with the aim of spending more time in technology development. In 1995, his book entitled The Road Ahead made a big hit by looking into the future to be realized with high technology. Gates was born in Seattle in 1955. In 1994, he married Melinda. They now have a four-year-old daughter named Jennifer and a two-year-old son named Rory. Bill and Melinda have made donations of over US$21 billion. Gates's favorite hobby is bridge and golf.

Q: Xbox is coming in the fall of 2001.

A:The power of Xbox redefines how people think of gaming, and allows you to do kinds of games that never would have been possible before. Fundamentally, Xbox is about fun. We expect that games you have never seen before will pull in different age groups. We think this will expand the market.

Q: So, Xbox is for men and women as well as for adults and children?

A:We want to sell it to everyone. The initial buying group will be very heavy in men from 14 to 30. These initial buyers will demonstrate Xbox to other people and word-of-mouth will get it to people of every age. The power of Xbox isn't just for the popular racing and boxing games. Its possibilities are wide open. There will be games that women like, while there will be others that capture the hearts of the elderly. Such expansion of the user base is healthy for the software industry.

Q: Mr. Ken Kutaragi of Sony Computer Entertainment says that PlayStation2 is no longer a mere video game console but a new computer entertainment equipment. Is Xbox simply a game console for the home?

A:Xbox has a hard disk drive as well as Ethernet connection for broadband access. Xbox brings the idea of having socialization and communication at the same time as entertainment. What's the most interesting thing? It's listening to other people, talking with other people, and competing with other people. All of these are possible with Xbox.

Q: Microsoft joined hands with NTT Communications regarding Xbox, meaning that Microsoft will be charging money to consumers via communications carriers. This appears to be a new approach that Microsoft never tried with a personal computer.

A:Is communications free? You have to pay to use an i-Mode phone. You have to pay when you have cable TV. What about the phone? People have to pay for communications. The reason why Microsoft charges money from communications fee is because the business model is different from that of personal computers. All the products in the world is either subsidized or non-subsidized. PC hardware and TV are not subsidized, so the hardware price includes development fee, etc. On the other hand, cell phones and game consoles are sold at low prices, instead of which you have to have some royalty on the software in order to fund the R&D. This is the subsidized model.

PCs and other devices complement each other

Q:During the past few years, Microsoft's name has often appeared in non-PC-related fields. Among them, what is the most interesting device for you?

A:I'm interested in people rather than the various devices. Microsoft's .NET strategy is not centered around a certain device. It's about all devices. Our expertise is about software. It always has been. So, we have been involved in a greater variety of devices than any other company. Look at what we have done with WebTV, UltimateTV and PocketPC. There are a number of devices in the world. There are large-screen devices, small-screen devices, devices that you sit close with a mouse and pen, and devices that you carry around. Everything that can run software, Microsoft has been involved in. Actually, video games are a sort of the last frontier. It's the one software-driven device in which Microsoft had not been involved.

Q: Listening to you, it sounds like a PC is only one of the many devices. In fact, you even sound like Xbox is to be placed at the center of a house. There are some PC users who are feeling somewhat lonely because it seems you are no longer interested in PCs.

A:There is no one who has been investing in the breakthrough advancements of PCs like Microsoft. The Xbox connects up to the TV and it's purely about having fun. The PC is not just about having fun. You can do your homework on a PC, you can fill out your tax returns, you can plan a trip, you can organize photos and music, and you can edit videos. Xbox is not for such applications. Lots of great software for such applications are available for PCs and the uses of PCs are expanding quite dramatically. The device that you will spend the most time on is the PC. Every year, the PC moves forward. Anybody can write software for it without any royalty. There's nothing like the PC. Look at the volume of the PC and compare it to any other screen-based device. With the .NET strategy, PCs will take on more new capabilities. All of the devices will be made to run in accordance with people's behavior. The .NET strategy allows us to connect the mobile phone, the car computer, the Xbox and so on. Supposing you use your PC to organize a trip. In your car, you can be notified if your flight has been canceled. You can also be notified if the stock price changes quite a bit while you are out.

Q: So, the .NET strategy is not making light of PCs but rather making better use of PCs.

A:PCs have their own use, while portables have theirs. The .NET strategy allows the different devices to complement each other.

The future is something you build

Q:In the age of broadband, will the society really become affluent? Sony Chairman Idei says that he sees darkness in the next five years.

A:Nobody has a perfect view of the future. The future is not something you ask a fortune-teller to tell you but something you build. Somebody's got to do it. Some things we do will be right and some things will be wrong. In the face of uncertainty, there are people who just sit and watch, while there are people who move to make an action. I prefer to be the latter. I go out and hire the top engineers, develop a vision and do it.

Q:Will broadband change the world?

A:The world is already changing. The impact is greater with the always-on connection rather than with faster data transfer. Having to wait for dial-up connection isn't really a good environment to obtain information. Always-on connection makes people want to know about scorecards, weather news and stock price on a real-time basis. Whether you have always-on connection or not will make a difference in how a family obtains information. High technology is indeed changing the world. Take music for example. The convenience of working with music is radically better. You can choose the order of things and you're in charge. Ask young people if they would go back to the days when they had to go get a CD, open it up, put it in, listen to just those songs in just that order. Nobody can go back to those days. It's not just music. It's the same with photos. The world is changing and it's companies like Microsoft and Sony that are changing the world.

Q: Is Sony Microsoft's rival or partner?

A:I know you're trying to get me to disagree with Idei. But that's not so. Idei and I meet with each other all the time. We met with each other this week. When we talk about the future, his vision and my vision are the same at the 90% level. We are not that different in our visions. For example, Sony became our partner with TabletPC that we announced just this March. We're both taking a risk and we're making bets about its future. We also believe that broadband gaming is an important future market. In that case, we happen to be competitors. But I think it's very healthy what comes out of that.

People are the most important

Q:What is the biggest headache that you have right now.

A:I have some challenges but I don't get headaches. We always have to renew our technology. For each field we challenge, we have excellent people. We have competitors in all the fields we are in, including PocketPC and Xbox. So, we have to keep pushing ourselves and make sure that the developers understand these strategies. My job is fun because there's a lot to worry about and a lot of things we have to do well. The basic principles are to hire the best people, to listen to the feedback from our customers and to focus on software development. I tell my people that is why Microsoft has had the success that it's had.

Q:It seems the dotcom fad is cooling down in the U.S.

A:The dotcom mania has returned to a more sober approach. A lot of people who went and worked for startups are now saying, "Hey, it's really long-term R&D. It's really long-term commitment that allows you to do great products." This is creating a very positive environment for us in hiring the best people.

Q: So you're spending more time now with technology?

A:Ever since I became Chief Software Architect, I've had more time working with developers. When I was CEO, I spent about 40% of my time on technical issues. Now, I can spend about 80%. I'm having a lot of fun. Sometimes, I write sample codes just to know how a tool works or how hard it is to write XML programs. But my most important mission is to hire the most capable people and guide them so that they won't go into wrong directions.

Q: Do you think the high-tech industry is at a turning point?

A:There is no year in history that was not the key year. The present is always the key year.

Q: As symbolizes the phrase "dog year," one year is like seven with all the changes taking place?

A:The pace of change in the 70s, 80s, 90s and this decade has been very fast but it's not dramatically faster. The pace has been more or less the same for the past thirty years. It's not that changes are faster in one year and slower in another. Just like the Moore's law, technology innovation is advancing at a fixed pace.

Q: In Japan, we say a company's lifespan is thirty years. Microsoft is about to become 26 years old.

A:It depends on the industry. In a business like Coca-Cola, for example, they don't have to make big bets because they are sure to be around thirty years from now. But in an industry like ours, you really have to do breakthrough every four or five years. You have to take risks and renew your company. The .NET strategy is a big bet and Xbox is a big bet. I'm not an astrologer and I haven't looked up in the sky to see the lifespan of a company. But I think it's the quality of the people, the products and partnerships that create the life of a company.