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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Bill’s Hideaway

Well now we know.

A breathless Wall Street Journal article today discloses that Microsoft founder Bill Gates spends two weeks a year completely alone in a cottage, thinking Big Thoughts about the Future of Technology.

Bill even has a name for it: “Think Week.”

According to the article, out of twenty years worth of these “Think Weeks” have come such brilliant Microsoft innovations as “plans to create Microsoft’s Tablet PC, build more-secure software and start an online videogame business,” and Bill’s decision that the internet was a Big Thought and therefore Microsoft ought to crush Netscape while the crushing was good.

Careful readers will grasp immediately that, aside from copying what Netscape had already done and distributing it for “free,” none of the so-called “plans” ever came to much—not the Tablet PC, and not, yet, the online videogame business.

And certainly not a “more-secure” software.

Still, we read with high drama how Mr. Gates starts each Think Week with a helicopter or seaplane visit to a “two-story clapboard cottage on a quiet waterfront,” from which “all outside visitors” are barred—even family. Only a caretaker “who slips him two simple meals a day” is allowed near.

Then, Mr. Gates reads papers. You know—the kind of white papers that make your eyes roll up into your head? Papers that companies like IBM and Digital Equipment and Lotus Development and Storage Technology used to lovingly reprint and mass-mail, and quote during Keynote Addresses while techno-geeks were stuffing their goody bags with free coffee mugs and pens and t-shirts, and the hung-over salesmen slept soundly in their chairs?

Right, those kinds of papers.

Well, according to the Journal, Bill reads those kinds of papers eighteen hours at a stretch, when he’s going strong, and his “record” is 112 papers in one Think Week. Sometimes he gets “goofy” he tells the reporter, and begins “reading aloud words.” After a week of thinking Big Thoughts he will have sent emails to “hundreds of people and also have written a Think Week summary for executives.”

And out of twenty years of doing all of this two times a year, he has come up with “a more-secure software” and the Tablet PC. Oh, yeah—and copying Netscape and driving them out of the market. Perhaps “Bob” and “.Net” and “MSNBC,” not to mention the mysterious “insert” key on your keyboard, also came out of this fecund swamp of dried pulp and ink.

But, hey, Bill set a “record” by reading 112 papers in one week.

Perhaps Mr. Gates should—rather than closeting himself in a cabin reading Microsoft papers—have been spending a few days at a Starbucks near a college campus, watching what future customers were doing on their computers, their iPods and their cell phones.

He might have figured out a few more things than how to copy Netscape, incorporate it into his operating system monopoly, and take over the internet access business.

He might have figured out that not every electronic device and every piece of software ought to be stuffed with a clunky, spam-prone Microsoft Monopoly Operating System that does six million things, all poorly, and only twelve of which customers actually use.

Heck, he might have figured out the iPod and iTunes and the Blackberry and Google and Mozilla and all kinds of cool things none of his executives bothered to write up for him to take to a cabin on a lake and read about them, eighteen hours at a stretch.

And he might then have developed a business model that would endure for another twenty five years, instead of an irrelevant monopoly that the world is passing by, as quickly as it can.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

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