Out of touch

EXE Magazine, November 1997

Bill Gates was here! He was in the UK for a day last month. Have you met him? After all, it's you Windows developers who helped Microsoft be so successful. Somehow, I don't think meeting British developers fitted into his agenda. His whole morning was booked for a meeting with Tony Blair as you no doubt read in the dailies or watched on the telly. And in the afternoon, he went to Cambridge to lecture a room full of undergraduates. Journos, including EXE's editorial staff, were lucky enough to be invited to a Q&A session with the great man himself.

The whole exercise was disappointing. A big media circus! The first few rows were reserved for the national press and foreign correspondents, then there was a row of TV cameras and behind it all the PC journalists. In other words, we couldn't see much. Of course, the sound system didnt work well – high technology! After a short five-minutes introduction by Bill Gates on how we all live in a wired world, it was Q&A time, a whole forty-five minutes of it. Most questions were from the Nationals. Well, they couldn't really see us behind the cameras. Bill Gates managed never not to give any precise answers. Of all the PC journos I talked to after the Q&A, not one found the event newsworthy.

How has Microsoft managed to evolve all these years? Some ten years ago, Bill Gates used to come to Europe often, once or twice a year. He had the time to meet with small groups of techy journos and with developers. Everyone really had the opportunity to ask him questions and he replyied directly to them.

Microsoft ‘owns’ at least 80% of the desktop according to most market studies. Microsoft decisions have a very strong and direct impact on the work of most developers these days, but at the same time Bill Gates is more and more out of touch.

It used to be easy to have a techy to techy talk with Microsoft's developers, even with Bill Gates himself. Now all relationships with Microsoft are governed by the strong marketing and PR team. It's hard to get through to techies and most of them practise marketing-speak. This even shows up in things like the Knowledge Base. Look at recent items on security issues, you won't find any clear explanation of what went wrong.

No wonder this attitude creates resentment in the developers' community.

David Mery

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