back to article Bill Gates has gone, what's his legacy?

This week marks another first in the 33-year history of Microsoft - life without Billg. The company and the man who co-founded it and rose to become the world's richest geek have parted ways. Bill Gates is no longer chief software architect and will be checking in only as company chairman. Gates is hailed as the visionary who …


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  1. Geoff Mackenzie

    Minor point

    MS-DOS stands for "MicroSoft Dirty Operating System." The OS was originally called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) and wasn't exactly *written* by MS either.

    Well, either that or this is a cute myth. I believe it's true though.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very good, even-handed piece

    Gates' legacy will inevitably be categorised in terms of recognition of both sides of his business decisions and behaviours, the good and the ill. The question is whether or not Microsoft still has, lurking somewhere at its core, the ability to ride out the repercussions of its past mistakes.

    With that, let the fanboi flaming begin!

    PS: it would be both billg icons for obvious reasons. Surely this week has to be time to swap them for Ballmer?

  3. TeeCee Gold badge
    Gates Horns

    You forgot.

    One of the main reasons he succeeded was his willingness to build central control into his systems, however daft some of the controls may be. The corporate market loves the ability to grind the life out of its users under the heels of spotty MCSAs and their RTFM sekuritty pollysees.

    The stability and function of the system doesn't matter too much, as long as you can prevent the plebs swapping the corporate wallpaper for a picture of their cat or, heaven forfend, actually displaying 1280x1024 pixels on a 1280x1024 TFT monitor.

    If I ever find out who was responsible for the password policies in WM6 with Exchange there will be a extended blowtorch/bollocks juxtapositioning coming their way.

    Don't worry Bill, Satan's keeping the forks warm for you.

  4. Mark

    BG's Legacy?

    It's the bit above his ankle, see.

  5. Mark Land

    DECs World

    "Had it been left to companies like DEC and IBM, computing today would likely be a different, analogue, green-screen world."

    That's why my computer of choice today is a Mac Book Pro, running a Unix almost identical to that which was on the Multi-user Dec Vax system I was using at Uni in the 80's?!

    At the time of MSDOS, I remember Apple and Sun having a GUI. I really doubt we would have a green screen world today...

    btw: I tried to buy a magazine in a shop today, but had to wait while they control-alt-del the thing, only in hung up with an "End now" box, they tried another terminal, but user was already logged in. Now tell me that would not happen with a Dec or IBM cash register - it was running Windos duh!

    I thing Gates legacy to us is CTRL-ALT-DEL and Norton 360. lol.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Ghost writer

    I get the distinct feeling this is being ghost written. OK Mitch Kapor put down the keyboard, we get it you, got outplayed, stop doing a Jens Lehman and admit it.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    Various things I felt missing from this article:

    a. The world would not have been a green-screen place if MS had not come along. Apple, Commodore and others were already on the scene back then and developing computers which by mid-1980s had become common place in the classrooms as well as homes

    b. Microsoft's lack of ability to create their own ideas existed back in their foundations, when they purchased and re-labelled Q-DOS and changed the name to MS-DOS. So this was not just something of the Internet/Open Source age, but from the start

    c. By the time Microsoft went to a WIMP environment others had already gotten there first (Apple, Xerox, UNIX, etc)

    d. Saying Microsoft products were easier to use could be true if compared with niche UNIX-based products of the time, but compared to other platforms were generally designed a lot more unintuitively. Products like their Office suite and MSN chat client seemed to be the exception though, and this is something many people used primarily on their computers

    e. Microsoft claimed the Internet came about through the invention of IE (Win95 days), despite Mosaic, Netscape and all that offered the Web to users before IE!

    f. What of the Y2K bug which seemed to affect Windows more than any other mainstream platform at the time?

    g. Microsoft's choice to go down the DRM path lost them a lot of favour with their user base

    h. Various of the key components of Windows actually came through companies Microsoft had acquired rather than any internal projects (ie DirectX, DirectAudio)

    i. As the article mentions, they failed to capitalise on Open Source for their own good and instead fought it tooth and nail, Apple has been smart and utilised it Open Source well (alongside *NIX vendors who nicely screwed over Open Source projects as soon as they could make a buck out of it!)

    j. Part of their success was due in their earlier days to their divide and conquer strategy, often being known at the time to take competitors to court or buy them out, anything they could do to avoid competition

    k. Google has already launched their own productivity suite applications on-line.. free, Microsoft still has nothing here ready for the public

    Microsoft's/Bill Gates credit was to find technologies they felt accessible to a mass market, copy it, and make it significantly more affordable than what had come before it. They also had the smarts to know how to market things better than most others before or after them were able to (Where Do You Want to Go Today came before any of Apple's current signing dancing ads).

    Microsoft/Bill Gates also had the intelligence to create their own software market by reeling in developers to make sure the platform was well supported and covered applications people were likely to need. But this point is one which is retrospective now, as the article points out the market place changed and they failed to adapt quickly, weighing themselves down with legacy ideas than copying new trends sufficiently.

    Microsoft, as mentioned in article were also good at getting their products up a grade and bringing it to a level which allowed some of their products to become industry standards (as to how good people considered whilst using them varied). But then all you have to do is look at something like Vista (ME v2) to see this too is an area Microsoft has gone backwards on.

    History will remember the man in such a way which is typically afforded to people who pass, with rose coloured glasses. He will be viewed as the innovator he wasn't, but accurately will be remembered as being able to bring a product to a mass market on a level previously never achieved before his day. His failure to adapt to change will probably be left to only obituaries of his career.

    Mines the coat with the History of computing in the pocket...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: DECs World

    If memory serves, CTRL-ALT-DEL is bios level, not OS level, so in fact it's a lagacy of IBM not Microsoft.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Judging from the photo on the third page...

    Judging from the photo on the third page Bill already has a future mapped out: setting up Playmobil scenes for the Reg.

  10. richard

    "only as company chairman"

    exactly, nothings changed, he STILL WORKS THERE EVERYONE!!!!

    i'm sick of hearing that he's left, he hasn't, he still goes in one day a week and is still the chairman and still controls 99.9% of what microsoft says, hears and sniffs!!!

    will the whole of the worlds media STOP SAYING THAT HE'S LEFT!!!!!


  11. Francis Vaughan


    About the time MS became majority owned by other shareholders BG lost the ability to innovate. That day his job description changed. His job was thenceforth to protect his shareholder's interests. No more, no less. Nothing unusual about this, it happens all the time.

    There is a sweet irony to the comment about DEC's world. Those VAX systems only tended to run Unix in universities, and then mostly BSD, and not DEC's own clone, Ultrix. All the other VAXen out there ran VMS. VMS was the big rival to Unix in the early 80's. The irony? VMS won. MS didn't design Windows-NT either. They bought the man who architected VMS - Dave Cutler from DEC. They are still trying to get all of VMS into the OS. The database as file system, RMS (records management system) didn't make it this time. Maybe next.

    Those that remember 2001 will recall that there was a rumour that HAL had been named because that by taking the successor letter of HAL you got: IBM. It is left as an exercise for the reader to do the same for VMS.

  12. Tom
    IT Angle

    The history of Billg is the history of MS

    And when he leaves, what will be left? A company which rose to power on a good idea, and stayed at the top through grabbing the good ideas of others (not a bad thing), and is now slipping because others are now doing the same (google, anyone?).

    That said, the really *good* old guard companies never die, they just refocus on what they're good at. Newspapers never died when online news appeared, they just shuffled up a bit. A smaller slice of a bigger pie. It may be that Linux or OSX become the OS of choice for Laptots and consumer PCs, but windows remains as the OS of the megacorp. More expensive licenses, fewer, richer customers. Or maybe they'll embrace open source and slip into the pool of modular and infinitely customisable software out there...

    The icon is to say "what now for IT?"

  13. Nile Heffernan

    Perfection is the enemy of good-enough

    A reasonable piece: Gates is much damned by faint praise as by well-earned criticism of his company's failiures and misbehaviour.

    Microsoft succeeded and came to dominate by recognising and avoiding some of the failures of their rivals - some, but not all; getting some features to work better than other companies' first attempts - some, but not all; and by getting most of what they did to work, first or maybe second or third time around - most, but not all.

    All of their competitors made at least one crippling strategic blunder; up until Vista, Gates and Allen had not. It is tempting to say that this is the flipside of a lack of vision: no overarching ambitions, no abysmal failure. But they are, after all, the people who said 'A computer on every desk and in every home', at a time when such a thing was unimaginable.

  14. James Anderson
    Thumb Down

    Microsoft did NOTHING original.

    Except perhaps a business model based on copying then undercutting any company which had original products.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: Omissions

    Sorry, correction of my previous post...

    Should have said...

    "d. Saying Microsoft products were easier to use could be true if compared with niche UNIX-based products of the time, but *not* compared to other platforms *which* were generally designed a lot more unintuitively. Products like their Office suite and MSN chat client seemed to be the exception though, and this is something many people used primarily on their computers"

    My bad for not re-reading what i wrote before posting! Now where's that sentence checker in Opera gone again.... ;-)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Gates legacy.

    When daddy installed in him the teachings of the lowest aspects of the lawyering trade, the second oldest profession in the world and the first most despicable. With Bill being a crafty exploiter rather than a brilliant(or even adequate) coder and that he was in the right place at the right time, he had the lack of morals and ethics to exploit this opportunity.

    He made his fortune, but the rest of the industry but uses his products, dearly pays the price.

    With Exxon having its compo payout reduced for its crime against the environment in Alaska, don't expect any compo from M$ deep pockets, any time soon. The EU should not spend the procedes of the M$ fine until the overdue payment of the check clears the bank.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ah bugger... i forgot to change the word 'unintuitively' to 'intuitively' ! :/

    (Yay for Mondays....)

    Editor: Please fix my previous post for me! <Off to the pub...>

  18. Paul Talbot
    Dead Vulture

    Misleading rubbish

    "Had it been left to companies like DEC and IBM, computing today would likely be a different, analogue, green-screen world."

    I gave up reading here. MS-DOS, the cornerstone of the empire, was provided by Microsoft at the behest of IBM's fledgling PC division. When Microsoft started making inroads into GUI systems in 1985 with Windows 1.0, Apple, Xerox, Atari, MIT (x-windows) and Commodore (among others) had already created or were creating graphical interfaces. Not only that, but Windows 95 was an offshoot of the OS/2 project, a collaboration with IBM.

    Gates has done a lot of good things on top of the bad, but we can write his professional sort-of-obituary without resorting to fantasy and misleading statements like this.

  19. Robert Grant

    Yes, he doesn't say computing would've been green-screen these days FULL STOP.

    "Had it been left to companies like DEC and IBM, computing today would likely be a different, analogue, green-screen world."

    Where does it say there that Apple wouldn't have come along and introduced decent GUIs (and probably had already done by then)? He's saying that the DECs and IBMs wouldn't have done it.

    Mine's the one with someone who read the article wearing it :)

  20. English Bob

    The Final Act of a Visionary

    Why say that Bill is not a visionary? His decision to, if not actually leave (thanks richard for that incisive commentary), then at least edge a little closer to the escape chute, may prove to be a fine piece of foresight.

  21. Dazed and Confused

    Has he died or something

    That kind of fingers down the throat eulogy is usually reserved for the dearly departed.

    Just coz it's retired does mean you have to be nice to him.

    Bill Gate is no saint, he didn't write MS-DOS, he bought. He did write a BASIC interpretor, but that's somewhat difference. He didn't invent Windows, he pinched the idea and pre-windows 3 it was an amazingly primitive thing compared to the windows environments from Xerox, apple or X-Windows, I might be wrong here but didn't Sun's NEWS windows system also pre-date Windows 3.

    Windows 3 looked much better, you can thank HP for that one actually not MS, the look and feel and the 3D stuff all came from them.

    As to building the system around common cheap industry standard components. Bill Gates had nothing to do with the Hardware, IBM choose the hardware platform. There choice wasn't exactly cheap either, the IBM PC was expensive when it came out, but it had that all important accessory fitted as standard. It came with an IBM badge on the front. At the time of it's release I had an HP 68000 based system on my desk which was cheaper and a damn sight faster. The release of the PC-AT stopped a machine being released that ran MS-DOS in windows back in 1984.

    Bill Gates' success is down to not getting him self tied into a deal where by only IBM could sell MSDOS systems.

    The world was then handed to him on a plate.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I saw a Unix OS recently

    It is just like DOS! Why do you greybeards get so down on MSDOS its just like Unix.

  23. Thomas

    Key points from this article

    1) Bill Gates excels in business, is maybe adequate as a coder.

    2) Intel hardware is low cost.

  24. Steve

    LOL @ the nay-sayers

    The thing is guys, he's achieved something that nobody else has. It's well documented that he had a vision of a PC in everyones house... and through Microsoft it's happened.

    Have a vision of something that's not been achieved... and then you do it. That's pretty much a visionary if you ask me.

    Was he a superb coder? An excellent designer? Any good at man-management? Nah - not really.

    BillG was/is a superb businessman. Given that Microsoft "didn't get" the internet in the mid-90's and that OSS Linux has been in development for over a decade and a half, Microsoft seem to be doing pretty well looking at their share price and desktop/server market penetration.

    Even if Microsoft have lost their "leader" and all focus and are now heading for the pan, it's got to be at least a decade from now before there will be any major shift in the desktop arena due to the high density Windows / Office has.

    BillG wasn't an innovator, but I think he can scape the title of visionary - and he sure as hell gets kudos for being a bloody good businessman.

    His bank balance has come from somewhere....

  25. Richie M
    Gates Halo

    1st photo (via link)

    Am I the only one that noticed that one of the guys in the photo (centre right, ginger(ish) long hair,beard and glasses) is now a chick!

    I also love the way BillG is sitting as far away from everyone he can while still being in shot.

  26. Mark

    Re: Re: DECs World

    From what little I can remember, IBM were pissed off because CTRL-ALT-DEL was supposed to be (in the hardware) a non maskable interrupt. I.e. a panic button.

    However, MS used it to reboot. Probably to piss off IBM (who couldn't do much about it because they were under Anti-trust at the time).

  27. Mark

    Re: LOL @ the nay-sayers

    WHAT has he achieved? Nothing that others hadn't already done.

    What they achieved was riding IBM's reluctance to steer (because of anti-trust oversight) into a lock-in strategy.

    If there's one thing that MS *did* to that was innovative was ensure that code never leaked. Code was often available (there were closed source companies, but they weren't really leveraging their monopoly and were competing with lots of others). MS hid and phreaked their API to ensure lock-in. That was unusual. But interoperability *at the OS level* was pretty new and MS rode that pony until we were all knackered.

    Not really a legacy I'd like to leave behind, but Bill has enough money to pay someone to write history "correctly".

    PS His bank balance came from us, but its germ was the shitload of money his parents had. He turned a huge fortune into a MASSIVE fortune.

    Not quite as impressive as Alan Sugar's fortune from nearly nothing.

  28. A J Stiles
    Gates Horns

    Alternative History

    I would dearly love to see what might have happened if, at the meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club following the publication of *that* Open Letter, Bill Gates had been dragged into the Gents' and given a stern lecture, accompanied with head-flushing and other visual aids, on the unownability of software.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When BillG finally shuffles off his mortal coil ...

    Will his tombstone have a BSOD engraved on it?

  30. J

    Re: Re: DECs World

    Well, the NEED to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL must be a legacy of his, I suspect.

    @I saw a Unix OS recently

    Hey, troll! You must have used only MS DOS (if even that, which I doubt) then, if you think that they are the same. Just because both are command line based, do you think it's all the same thing? Sometimes I have the impression a test and a license should be necessary for some people to be allowed to use computers...

  31. Kevin Gurney
    Gates Halo


    At the end of the day, the man gets a cut of the sale of almost every PC sold. Now that sounds like good business to me.

    So he bought MSDOS instead of writing it ? So what ?

    So DEC and Xerox had GUI OS's already ? So what ? Where are they now ?

    Face it, MS are here to say and it matters not one bit how many people slag them off and say MACOS is better or UNIX is better. Windows rules the corporate and home market by virtue of the fact that most people can't be bothered wiping their new PC and setting it up again. They wan't it to look like it does in work or in their kids school.

    Bill - if you're reading this thread (and I would hope that you read El Reg in your spare time), congratulations on your retirement.

  32. Glenn Amspaugh
    Thumb Down

    It's not what you know...

    Don't forget that Bill G's Dad was a high powered patent attorney, specializing in Intellectual Property law and that Bill's Mom is the one that got IBM looking at MicroSoft:

    "In 1980, Mary Maxwell Gates, Bill's mother, got to know John Opel, the chairman of IBM, through their work at the United Way Foundation.

    At the time, IBM was preparing to release the first PC, and it needed an operating system. Opel chose tiny Microsoft as its OS vendor partly on the strength of his connection to the Gates family -- a decision, Dash writes, "that ended up being the greatest turning point in the history of the biggest software company that's ever been created."" -Machinist's Blog,

    So, not a garage visionary, battling Goliath's, but a rich kid with connections, later willing to use MS leverage to spread FUD when running up against new tech, hoping to slow things down until MS could release their version. Heck of a vision, Billy!

  33. DZ-Jay

    Computing History v.2.0

    @Nile Heffernan:

    "All of their competitors made at least one crippling strategic blunder; up until Vista, Gates and Allen had not. It is tempting to say that this is the flipside of a lack of vision: no overarching ambitions, no abysmal failure.

    You are conveniently missing some well known facts that describe very conspicuous strategic blunders made by Gates and Microsoft in general. Some of these, as alluded in the article, were dismissing the Internet as a fad, focusing instead on MSN, which was merely a portal and "Online Service" such as the pre-ISP days; building "push" advertising on the desktop (Win98's "Channels"); and their many misteps on industries outside their core assets (e.g. smart-phones, embedded systems, etc.). The fact that they had so much cash at hand that they were able to recover or switch gears mid-stride does not invalidate these assertions nor attests "perfection".

    "But they are, after all, the people who said 'A computer on every desk and in every home', at a time when such a thing was unimaginable."

    This "vision" is not Bill's alone--it was shared by most if not all the pioneers of the personal computing industry. There were many computer companies before the IBM PC came into the fray, most of which had the goal of supplying a mass market with their wares. Granted, most did not survive for too long; but to suggest that Bill Gates alone had a vision of a world where regular people used computers is disengenuous at best. He had more vision than the established large players at the time, which were very few, that was all.

    I'm sure I am not the only one who does not buy the idea that if it weren't for Microsoft, nobody would be using computers, or they would still be relegated to the computer scientists and the military. To accept this is to ignore a large part of the actual history of the industry and its many participants and achievements. It was, in a true sense, a revolution. And it started much before Microsoft came into the game.


  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    analogue green-screen world .. :)

    "Had it been left to companies like DEC and IBM, computing today would likely be a different, analogue, green-screen world"

    Seriously though, in the BB (that's Before Bill) computing world, there were a number of companies offering both hardware and software desktop solutions, including Apple. Doesn't the contribution of Apple (1977, that's 4BB) or Palo Alto (1974, 7BB) exist in your parallel universe .. :)

    It was in response to this market that IBM concocted the IBM PC in Boca Raton in 1981. That they deliberately made it low-spec is a given, as is them failing to keep control of the market after Columbia Data Products successfully cloned the BIOS and letting 'Bill' keep control of the Operating System. Anything else is just so much retrospective BOGU towards Redmond in the press. What's sad is seeing the Reg indulging in same .. :)

    "The decade also saw the launch of .. Windows NT ..this was before networks provided the kind of connectivity that meant bad people could abuse systems or data on Windows machines"

    Seriously though, if NT wasn't designed for the Internet then why was it touted as a secure server platform for for Web servers and Internet publishing, in 1996?

  35. Herby

    Compare to another zillionare

    OK, bad comparison, but it might be OK. I am reminded of this guy from Benton Arkansas, Sam Walton. He had gobs of $$$ and made his fortune building huge stores and squeezing out competitors. Yes, it worked for him, and we have Wal-Marts to see the results. The problem is that while they "Low prices, always Low Prices", the stuff they sell is CHEAP. Now we have this other company in Redmond Washington, that seems to follow the model. Yes, they have something that works, but it really is CHEAP. Competitors have better stuff, but some way or another the Microsoft stuff is sold, because it is "CHEAPer" (in the first analysis). Unfortunately for all of us, that is the only thing any bean counter does, the first analysis. When you take into consideration other factors (security, ease of use, compatibility, etc..) the real cost goes up. At Wal_Mart, the items just wear out real quickly, or just don't work that well.

    We will always hold Mr. Bill in high regard since he has more money (about $10 for each person on this planet) than anyone can count. He will now proceed to give it away and become the darline in out eyes.

  36. Deryk Barker

    A 20th century disaster

    Am I mistaken or has nobody mentioned the countless BILLIONS of pounds/dollars/euros and countless working hours wasted because Bill and his crowd don't understand the simplest security concepts?

    My problem with "fair minded" pieces like this is that they largely ignore MS's continual contempt for legality.

    Still, Andrew Carnegie bought his posthumous reputation as a philanthropist - as opposed to the robber baron he really was - so why not Gates?

    Of course, even with all of his charitable 'donations', he still lives better than 99.9999999999999% of the rest of us.

    And we're supposed to admire this monopolist crook?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Gates' legacy

    [looks down list]

    You're a jerk, Gates. A complete kneebiter.

    [flies off]

  38. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Saint and sinner

    Bill gates was lucky, got the DOS deal with IBM and ran off with a sackful of cash, then used advertising and the 'it runs on an IBM pc' to run off with even more cash, mostly from dumb business types who are still looking for the 'any' key when the PC says 'press any key'.

    Then started using dodgy tactics to buy up rivals, and/or squeeze the competion out of the market.

    Remember Spyglass, who created IE 1 for microsoft and sold it to them for a % of each IE sold..... then microsoft gave it away free and spyglass got shafted.

    Then came the years of the abominations where WinMe springs to mind....

    and the years of anti-trust suits

    Finally releashing windows Vista on an unsuspecting world that was using WinXp Sp2( a decent OS after 20 years of trying).

    Yupp, in the past 20 years CPUs, HDDs, GFX cards have all been getting faster and faster.... so why does my PC boot and run slower than my olde worlde win95 box I use for legacy testing.

    Thanks for a few things Bill, but please dont come back to the world of computers


    PS The reason why m$ refuses to release its windows code as open sauce is because we'd be able to see how much of it was lifted from the open source operating systems

  39. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    But Gates _could_ write code!

    Trying to cram the mind-crippling BASIC into 4K, it says here:

    Of course afterwards Bill went all emo about freetards copying his BASIC paper tape. Give the man credit to be the first to apply the verb "to steal" to software.

    Obligatory wikipedia reference:

  40. Anonymous Coward

    If there is justice in the world,

    His tombstone will be blue.

    He will be remembered for the hours of lost work, the crashes, the failed installs, the rip it all out, format the disk, start agains....

    "Procuctivity" ---- Pah!

  41. b166er

    Rein it in a bit

    So much envy in here, we all got fat off Bill G.

    Fair play to the man. I mean, imagine it was you that had bought Q-DOS for 20k bucks and become the worlds richest man by doing so. Would you be struggling with your conscience? I would have been a little more pliable once I had achieved what he did in the 90s, but we can't all be the same. I think John Carmack is right up there in that respect.

    I worked for Microsoft Upgrade Centre (the only company in the UK at the time selling upgrades for Microsoft) either side of Windows 95 and regularly visited MS in Winnersh and later in TVP. There was a cultural shift in the workplace due to imaginative, innovative companies like MS and Cisco. Out went the ties and the vending machines, and in came dynamic, exciting people. Perhaps this is more his legacy; brute-forcing the business ways of the geek into the workplace.

    On the subject of progress being a little stale at Microsoft; as long as there are shareholders who aren't also employees, margins will tighten and wages will fall. It happens to all companies, they reach critical mass, sit on their haunches neglecting their customers ride along on the crest and then when people really get pissed off, they throw a few million at their image and they're back in business. (Ballmer/Yahoo)

    Microsoft aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

    Vista was rushed, but the ideology is sound. It's addressing the security issues that have plagued Microsoft and its legacy code. Sure it's a major PITA and maybe they should have waited and made Windows7 bulletproof instead, but they put the idea out there, we know what's coming and programmers are going to have to stop insisting their applications run with administrative rights.

    The more applications move into the cloud, the more attractive *free* OSes will become, this will inevitably drive down the price of a much securer Windows environment and it will all be rosy. We'll be able to pick and choose.

    Seems there will always be some die-hards who refuse to buy MS, just because some clever bloke made some intelligent business decisions. It makes me laugh, I worked at Apple in Uxbridge occasionally too (back when they had to halve their workforce to pay the rent, about the same time as MS bailed them out with a massive cheque). The reason it all went wrong for them, was because they refused to lower the price of Macintosh's when threatened with the low-cost IBM compatible/Windows machines and look at the outcome. When I worked in the city at a stockbrokers, they were all using Sun SparcStations (between 20 and 50k each) and Unix. Then along came Compaq dual Pentium Pros and WindowsNT for 3k and you know what happened next.

    Protectionism? Fsck that, innovate! (Apple finally got the message with the iPod, here's hoping the media cartels do too)

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Remember Bill is primarily a lawyer, from legal stock, rather than a software engineer. This shows: MS has gained advantage through legal maneuvering rather than technical excellence.

    The only thing he wrote in MSDOS was the cheque/check for $50k or whatever.

    His tombstone should be the MS EULA.

  43. b166er

    How bizzare

    When I clicked 'Post Comment' and was taken to the blah-de-blah moderate page, an HTML TITLE appeared in a blank area of the page, that read 'iHate' ???

    What gives, is this some subliminal service you are providing to people who use the phrase iPod in their posts?

  44. Will
    Gates Halo

    I wonder

    If they gave him the 3 finger salute as he left the building...

  45. Goat Jam

    Good greif

    What an utter load of bollocks. If you wish to write a eulogy for a retiring exec, you should at least make sure you get your facts straight.

    Gates is a crook, who was in the right place at the right time.

    The only noteworthy thing he did was to lie to IBM when he answered "yes" to IBM's question, "Do you have an O/S we can use on our new toy PC?". A bold move when he had no such thing to offer. After DR dropped the ball, his rushed purchase of qDos outright for peanuts was pretty shrewd too, although I expect he was "economical" with the truth there too.

    He took advantage of IBM, who didn't recognise the potential in PC's and signed his infamous OEM deal while Big Blue was asleep at the wheel. Once the clone makers came along he convinced them to accept the idea of the "Microsoft Tax" and from there the MS monopoly was born, surviving to this very day.

    If Microsoft had not gained such a complete stranglehold on the emerging market it would have evolved into a very different beast for sure, however I seriously doubt whether we would be all still using "analog green screens" without Bill G's input.

    And no, he didn't invent the gui either. His first decade of experimenting with GUI's was notably pathetic. It wasn't until WFW3.11 that Windows became at all usable.

  46. Charles Manning

    re: delivering on the vision of a PC in every home


    MS has never delivered a single PC to any home. They have never made any PC hardware. MSDOS did run on non-IBM compatable PCs but it was really only when IBM compatability emerged with IBM and cheap clones that computers started to get more popular. All MS did was do some shady deals buying MSDOS (though not yet called that) and onselling it to these vendors.

    There were a lot better architectures kicking around before the PC and a lot better since and it is a pity that these did not emerge.

  47. Patrick
    Gates Horns

    Bill Gate's legacy is not CTRL-ALT-DEL, its B.S.O.D. Blue Screen Of Death

    No seriously!

    Thats why the current Mac OS X icons for windows computers you browse on the network are monitors with blue screens.

    And if you are curious and zoom the icons large on Mac OS X you see the windows computers icons are in fact, you guessed it Windows Blue Screens Of Death.

    Got to love the legacy. It lives on forever in the competition.

  48. Ronny Cook


    > Remember Bill is primarily a lawyer, from legal stock, rather than a software engineer

    Bill is (or at least was) a *programmer*, with little or no formal training in software engineering practices. The breed was very common at the time, and probably explains a lot of the bugginess in later projects. Many software engineers start as programmers (without a firm eye on the specification & design process) but most eventually learn better.

    The fact that his father was a lawyer does not make Bill primarily a lawyer, although I'm sure it gave him some useful insights. My father was a truck driver, but that doesn't make me "primaily" a truck driver - I don't even have a licence. (Although I do have some idea of how tough life can be for truckie owner/drivers.)


  49. Henry Wertz Gold badge


    @AC that said "I saw a Unix OS recently It is just like DOS! Why do you greybeards get so down on MSDOS its just like Unix.", no it's not. DOS supports 640K of RAM, but apps run in segmented mode (only 64KB at a time in other words!). No multitasking. Pipes are faked by writing stuff to a file, then feeding that file into the next program in the pipeline. No proper shell. No proper utilities (sed, grep, more, etc.) And so on. Even the "old-school" UNIX systems had a proper shell, proper multitasking, proper pipes, proper utilities, and proper memory access (apps use "flat memory" model, not 64KB segments). Most had support for virtual memory as well. Also, if you had more than one screen attached (usually additional screen attached via serial ports), UNIX is also multiuser!

    Ctrl-alt-del: It doesn't generate any special interrupt at the hardware level.. but, in DOS (or other real-mode stuff), keyboard generates IRQ 1 for each keystroke, and the BIOS keyboard handler is hard wired to recognize ctrl-alt-del and handle it specially. Windows NT also handles it specially for security purposes... (probably, they chose that combo since it was already well-known). Microsoft flubbed a LOT of security stuff, but someone realized "Hey, people could write a fake login prompt program to collect passwords", and that is why you have to hit ctrl-alt-del in NT and 2000 to get to a login prompt -- so you KNOW it's the real one. And, it's hardwired to fire up task manager the rest of the time so you can wrestle control back from rogue apps.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <insert title here>

    I think the point Thomas commented on earlier is spot on. At one point I thought the article may have been sponsored by Intel and their "low cost hardware".

    If I recall wasn't it Commodore (Amiga) and Atari (ST) that were the one's to give the consumer (i.e. people in their homes) a GUI driven desktop environment?

  51. Quinch

    Computer in their home

    A bit of a quote correction there; while the "noone would want a computer in their home" quote is factually true, it's also completely out of context, since the original quotee referred to the big, clunky ubercomputers with a role more reminiscent of modern-day servers than play-and-surf PCs of today.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Goat Jam

    I'm no Micro$haft fanboy but the most successful businesses are usually those with the best legal team. I don't condone M$'s actions but history has shown many a time that as long as you can defend yourself in court, you can lie, steal, cheat and bully your way to success and fortune.

    "If there is justice in the world, his tombstone will be blue."

    Best quote ever!

  53. Mark

    Re: Rein it in a bit

    So when Myra Hindley is so roundly villified, it's because we all envy her?

    Or is the reason why rich people aren't ever guilty of crimes because we are envious of them?

    This is not envy.

    Wipe your nose, there's some clag on it.

  54. Mark

    DEC and Xerox

    Xerox is STILL a huge company. Revenues are higher than Microsoft's.

    DEC were, until Compaq bought them out (probably to kill a competitor), another huge company that had revenues bigger than MS. The DEC motherboard tech was purchased by AMD and is far more capable than the motherboard tech Intel uses. AMD have large revenues, despite Intel's leveraging.

  55. A J Stiles

    @ Patrick

    It's not just Windows boxes; Samba servers also show up as "blue screen of death" on a Mac.

  56. Anonymous Coward

    Had to be said...

    "Had it been left to companies like DEC and IBM, computing today would likely be a different, analogue, green-screen world."

    Rather than the blue-screen world given to us by Microsoft :-)

  57. Gareth Gouldstone
    Gates Horns

    Microsoft's first operating system was Xenix.

    Bill had vison, all right! Don't forget, Xenix was a joint SCO/Microsoft variant of Unix. All their early development until circa 1993 was done on Xenix, which is why MSDOS 2.x and later had unix-style directories. Somewhere along the line he lost his vision and sold Xenix to SCO. Now MS are chasing a Unix/Linux server market he practically gave away.

  58. Rogan Paneer

    Three little words

    Not a bad article, but it didn't include the three words that characterise Microsoft's approach to commerce- Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

  59. Colin Pendred

    Re: Gates' legacy

    Bill Gates...

    [looks down list]


    I've done you before, haven't I?

  60. druck Silver badge
    Gates Horns

    Visonary my arse

    "History will record Gates as a visionary. Gates was a bits and bytes man"

    My arse he was. His only real programming was Altair BASIC, Gates is a business man, one of the most shrewd, cunning and ruthless ones that has ever existed, but not a visionary. He had a lucky break selling someone else's DOS to IBM, and has capitalised on it for nearly 3 decades, running rings around the competition and regulators, making a success of Microsoft's late to market, mediocre clones of true innovators products.

    Microsoft has screwed over its competitors so successfully, it has taken the rise of a completely different business model of open source development, which can't be bought up and crushed, to emerge and take the running. Gates has shown no vision in the last couple of years to be able tackle this new threat.

  61. Jel Mist

    A gateway to Linux?

    How significant was Microsoft's contribution to the popularity of Linux?

    IIRC, by the time Linux had spread outside the realms of academia MS-DOS and Windows were a common sight in offices and had perhaps started to spread into the home. I'm wondering how many people have ended up in the Linux/open source community who would never have got involved but for Microsoft's popularization and commoditization of computing.

  62. Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft BASIC

    Billy boy and co wrote Amiga BASIC for the Amiga, and god damn it was awful! It made lots of Amiga users glad they never developed virtually anything else for the platform!

  63. Ascylto
    Paris Hilton

    The Legacy ...

    of Little Billy Gates is yet to come.

    In the meantime, for Microsoft, he's left Steve 'Get Me Out Of This Straitjacket' Ballmer.

    But to come ... The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ...


    And you thought Hitler, Himmler and crew were baaaaaaaad!

    Paris, because she knows a knob when she sees one.

  64. Jel Mist

    8086 architecture

    Re. post "Ctrl-Alt-Del and Unix" 1st July 2008 02:45 GMT: The segmented mode you refer to was part and parcel of the Intel 8086 architecture.

    The AX, BX, CX and DX registers were 16-bit (range 0-FFFF). To access the full 640K memory range you had to augment memory references with the DS (data segment) and ES (extra segment) registers. The DS register specified the default current segment, so that an assembler command such as MOV WORD PTR [BX],4 was essentially short-hand for MOV WORD PTR DS:[BX],4.

    This was nothing to do with MS-DOS per se. If Unix managed to implement a flat memory model on the 8086 I guess it would have done so by abstracting the model away from the implementation details. But on an 8086, even Unix had to cope with the underlying segmented model, however good a job it did of hiding it from programmers.

  65. Doug Glass

    Land For Sale in Florida, USA

    If anybody actually believes Bill Gates will back out of Microsoft's business, well, I have some great "waterfront" property in Florida I'll sell you. I'll even throw in, at a reduced price, several bridges in large US cities I happen to have for sale also.

  66. Anonymous Coward

    A HIPPY?


    Do me a favour, that's close to slander that is.

    I spent years growing my hair, not washing and using Linux and this is what I get for it?

    To be likened to greatest breadhead that ever lived?

    Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmm - I am calm.

  67. Joe M

    Get the names right at least

    Its Ken Olsen NOT Olson. He is important enough to the history of computing to get his name right!

    As for the implication that DEC didn't much care about software: there is virtualy nothing in a modern OS which doesn't owe something to DEC. Even the BS which Microsoft was shovelling by the bucketload as "operating systems" in the 80's and early 90's only came good when a team from DEC finally developed the NT kernel.

    Disclosure: I'm an ex Digit and DECUS librarian.

  68. Philip Nicholls Silver badge


    The PC revolution happened despite, not because of, MS.

    We all remember Marc Andreessen, yes? And the Mosaic Killa? Just imagine if Web 2.0 had arrived 10 years ago. As it should have.

  69. Mark

    @A J Stiles

    "It's not just Windows boxes; Samba servers also show up as "blue screen of death" on a Mac."

    Well, Samba was meant to be Windows Compatible..!

  70. Francis Vaughan

    And another thing....

    Actually another point to make about MS's success and technological progress. A large fraction of the the success of Windows comes from continual performance improvements that allowed the PC to overtake workstations. Think back to the late 80's and early 90's. The performance difference between an x86 PC of the time and say an SPARC or MIPS (let alone and Alpha) based machine was extraordinary. The PC was just not in the hunt. People paid the premium for the workstation for good reason. But as we know, the steamroller that was Wintel overtook the workstations.

    And I still remember playing with a Xerox workstation in the early 80's. It had really good ideas, usability, and integration features that are still missing from the current crop of OSs. They really could have owned it all.

    There is no doubt that the face of computing would have been different without Bill, but I very much doubt that it would be any less advanced. The market needed a unifying OS to emerge. Whoever gained control of that would have done exactly what MS did.

    It was luck that put Bill and MS where they are, the cards could have fallen many other ways. But imagine if the cards had fallen the way of Apple or Sun. Does anyone really think that Steve or Scott would have been any less of a total bastard? Compared to those guys Bill is probably a bit of a pussycat.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    my 2 bytes worth...

    The legacy is plain for all to see: the primordial origins of a true 64bit operating system; still heavily reliant on 32 bit extensions for a 16 bit patch to an 8 bit operating system originally coded for a 4 bit microprocessor, written by a 2 bit company that can't handle 1 bit of competition.

    PS - Dearly looking forward to painting his gravestone blue.

  72. Mark

    Re: And another thing....

    Which was NOTHING to do with Moore's law meaning that computers would get faster? It was all in software...

    Sheesh, that's not even *rose* tinted spectacles!

  73. Chris

    "History will record Gates as a visionary."

    Of course it will - with his sort of money, he'll make damn sure it does!

    All the failures, all the unethical business practices, all the fumbled opportunities, all the lack of vision... that will all be buried and conveniently forgotten.

    What 'date bug'? It never happened...

    What 'stupidly low memory limit? Nope, never happened...

    What 'duhhhh? Interweb? Wot's that? Nope, never happened...

    What 'crap OSs (ME, Vista)? Nope, never happened...

    That last, well, in a way, it never DID - that's the point though :-)

    In a couple of years history will be convoluted so that St. William really DID walk on water.

    It's kind of sad though. Because very few people will really care... He's... history.

    True or false, who really cares?

  74. b166er

    Tch, Mark

    That is all

  75. Neil Greatorex

    'A computer on every desk'

    That would be the ICL "One Per Desk" then. Conceived in 1981, launched in 1984.

    The earliest reference to Billyboy is 1985.

    I'm gone already :-)

  76. Goat Jam
    Gates Horns

    @I'm no Micro$haft fanboy

    Sure, lie, cheat and steal your way to the top and hire a good lawyer to cover your ass. It's the American Way after all. I get that.

    Doesn't mean we all have to sanctify the bastards who are doing it as "visionaries" and place them up on a pedestal. He's got his money, he doesn't deserve accolades as well

  77. Chris Hedley Silver badge

    The modern wonder that is Microsoft BASIC

    >> "Billy boy and co wrote Amiga BASIC for the Amiga, and god damn it was awful! It made lots of Amiga users glad they never developed virtually anything else for the platform!"

    That brings back painful memories. Gates' BASIC made my first computer, a Dragon 32, a laughing stock with the contemporary technology press. At the time I thought that they were just being rather mean spirited towards the Welsh wonder, but the inevitable reality gradually dawned that it was indeed encumbered by a spectacularly crap version of the language compared to many of the other pre-IBM PC home computers. My realisation that Microsoft's products tended not to live up to the hype was a lesson learnt the hard way.

    >> "DEC were, until Compaq bought them out (probably to kill a competitor), another huge company that had revenues bigger than MS."

    DEC fell victim not to Compaq's taste for acquisitions, but inept management: after the board inexplicably (or at least too hastily) replaced Olsen with the visionless Palmer, the only way was down. Very sad, really, a lot of good technology sunk with it, but they were too busy with in-fighting and endless reorganisations to bother with apparently tedious irrelevances like customers. Who, ironically, were often lining up to buy their stuff only to find that they couldn't even beg DEC to sell it to them under Palmer's regime.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    The trouble with History

    Being a public figure means you can't write your own epitaph. The various stories about Bill Gates--such as the whole Xerox Parc episode, or Seattle Computer Products and 86-DOS, have been repeated so often they've become canon, regardless of whatever may really have transpired.

    When the dust is settled and the emotions die down is when things start to take perspective; the trouble is that perspective is rarely an objective lens of truth. Instead, it's all the things people have accepted as correct, with the occasional episode of enlightenment.

    I doubt we'll see Bill Gates remembered as a leader or iconic visionary, what I think is more likely to happen is this plain vanilla geek who everyone seemed to hate but no one really knew will just slip gradually into obscurity. Don't think so--anyone know the the founding father of IBM off the top of their head? Eventually, all people will ever really remember is Microsoft.

  79. Francis Vaughan


    Yeah, that was actually what I was trying to say, but it didn't come out as well as I might have liked. MS rode Moore's law. Not just to make their bloatware runnable, but, in a way that might have been harder to predict, Moore's law meant that the PC technologically outran the higher end machines, so in an unusual way, the low end outgrew the mid and high end. MS were there riding that wave. So when the PC had credible performance, they were the default OS on everything.

  80. amanfromMars Silver badge

    AI Turing MaJIC for All ..... and None but the Apache Brave Squaw Lover.

    "Microsoft has screwed over its competitors so successfully, it has taken the rise of a completely different business model of open source development, which can't be bought up and crushed, to emerge and take the running. Gates has shown no vision in the last couple of years to be able tackle this new threat.".... By druck Posted Tuesday 1st July 2008 09:46 GMT

    A mirror of Uncle Sam's Administration, both at home and abroad ..... and now in catastrophic decline/meltdown?

    A Change of Game with Open Source, Virtualised Operating Systems Network InterNetworking in Cloud Strata contains and nurtures the NXXXXT* Generation for Global Command and Control? And Just Simply Perfect for Python and all of ITS Iterations of IT.

    And its AIMazing Saving Grace/Perfect Security Configuration? Oh, that is remarkably Simple too. ITs Use of Future Memory for Novel SurReal Application of ProgramMIng .... Media Initiation.

    Feed Media with AI and a Novel Picture and they will Paint a NeuReal AI Picture in whatever Phorm they would wish to share.

    If one considers the Present Programming, one would have to conclude that their Sources are, at best, Sub-Prime, and probably a great deal worse than that ...... for they Pimp unashamedly for War and Terror .... which is Real Dumb in a SMARTer World which is so Easily Virtualised into Alternate Realities.

    And if you can't Virtualise Globally, it doesn't really matter, because you don't need to whenever it can be so easily done for you by Virtual Machinery which Shares the Bigger Pictures with you, through Media Channels, for Viewing/Comprehension/Comment/Feedback/Input.

    Comprendez, El Reg?

    * amfM NEUKlearer XXXX Technologies for Crystal Clear Reception ..... which is nothing like the Present with its Current in Presidential Deceptions.

    And the Alien because ..... well, the Future is Foreign to All if IT is not Transparently Shared.

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