Stalking Bill Gates

EXE Magazine, November 1997

If you read Need to Know, the UK's self-proclaimed most sarcastic weekly technology news e-zine (, you might have been wondering what the following (NTK 10/10/97) is all about:

‘So it was with great reluctance and irritation that we award ten pounds and a bunch of CDs to NTK reader David Mery for winning last week's Stalking Bill Gates challenge. David, who works at NTK's favourite hardcore top-shelf development mag, EXE [thanks for this, erm, rather unusual description – Ed], not only met the man himself on his visit to Cambridge (requirement #1), but also incomprehensibly harangued him in front of the world's press about releasing the source to the original Gates-and-Allen coded 4 KB Basic (as Gates promised to do almost a decade ago) – winning him an extra bonus fiver.’

Here's the full story. Nearly ten years ago, a French mathematician and freelance journalist, Andre Warusfel, asked Bill Gates for the source code of the Basic he co-wrote with Paul Allen in 4 KB for the Altair. Bill Gates promised to send him the code as soon as he was back in Redmond. Andre never received the source code. I then took over this quest and every time I met Bill Gates, probably five or six times in the past ten years, I asked him for the very same code. Bill Gates regularly said he had forgotten and would send it as soon as he was back in his office.

Since I never received the code I took the opportunity of meeting him in Cambridge last month (see Out of touch) to remind him of his promise. He asked me to provide him with the name of the two persons to whom he made this promise. It has now been two weeks and I've not even had an acknowledgement of my email to Microsoft's PR agency.

This Basic 4K, as it is nicknamed, is a historic artefact. It's of no commercial use today so there isn't any business need to keep it confidential. It is this very program which started the micro-computing commercial software industry. The Gates and Allen Basic was licensed for the Altair by MITS in 1975 and was the genesis of Microsoft. The PC software industry has a short history and we should have access to the milestones of its evolution.

I'll keep you posted on any new development.

David Mery

(C)1997, Centaur Communications Ltd. Reproduced with the kind permission of EXE Magazine.