Feb. 1, 2007 — On the morning of the launch of the Vista operating system earlier this week, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talked with NEWSWEEK's Stephen Levi about the new version of Windows - and the one after that. He also shared his views on those Apple television commercials in which the Mac is represented by a hip guy and the PC by, well, a dweeb. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: If one of our readers confronted you in a CompUSA and said, 'Bill, why upgrade to Vista?' what would be your elevator pitch?
Bill Gates: The most effective thing would be if I could stop the elevator right there between floors and sit down with them right there and have then open my fly and just take them through my new look for a couple of minutes. On screen I'd show them the Sidebar which is an excellent copy of both Yahoo's Konfabulator and Apple's Dashboard. I'd show them the way our search lets you go through lots of things despite our having to abandon WinFS, including lots of photos just like Apple's iPhoto. Together we'd set up a parental control so children couldn't visit the websites I'd show them next.
And then I might edit a high definition movie and make a little DVD that's got photos of Windows switchers from my Getty Images. And we'd take pictures of ourselves naked in the elevator too. And of course I wouldn't point out that our new DRM deliberately corrupts the quality of the results. If I were afraid they were onto me I'd distract them. 'Oh look over there at that spider on the wall!' I'd shout and while they looked away I'd exit the program and make the screen go blank. But ultimately they'd say, 'holy cow, Bill, but this system of yours is a piece of crap!'
Vista has been a very long time in coming, and parts of it were jettisoned along the way. Do you feel satisfied at the outcome now that it's finally shipped?
You also talk about improved security in Vista.
Yes, although security is a [complicated concept]. At least for me. I've never fully understood it and I don't try to hide that fact. I wanted a computer on every desktop but I never said I wanted them connected! You're [referring to] the fact that there have been some 114,000 viruses for Windows over the years. This is not our fault. We can't be held responsible if network providers let malicious traffic attack our machines. For example, the transatlantic cables. Who's checking for viruses on them? If we at Microsoft were allowed to run the transatlantic cables and the Internet backbone things would be a lot different.
I'm sure most people would agree with you there. Are you bugged by the Apple commercial where John Hodgman is the PC and he has to undergo surgery to get Vista?
I've never seen it. I don't watch television if there's going to be anti-Microsoft lies on. We had all the televisions turned off for Super Bowl Sunday for example. And I don't think the over 90% of the [population] who use Windows PCs think of themselves as dullards, or the kind of klutzes that somebody is trying to say they are. It's more like 89.9%. I'll have Monkey Boy [Ballmer] check this tomorrow.
How about the implication that you need surgery to upgrade?
Well that's partially true. If you're seriously considering upgrading to yet another version of Windows you need BRAIN surgery. Definitely. But honesty doesn't matter in these things, or if you're really cool, that means you get to be a lying person whenever you feel like it. I'm not particularly cool but I'm a fucking great liar. Do you know how many bank accounts I have in how many countries? I've driven a Porsche, you know.
Does the entire tenor of that campaign bother you, that Mac is the cool guy and PC-
That's for my customers to decide. And if they decide they don't want my system anymore it's for them to figure out how to get out. That's always fun to watch.
In many of the Vista reviews, even the positive ones, people note that some Vista features are already in the Mac operating system.
You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first if you care about the facts. If you just want to say 'Steve Jobs invented the world and then the rest of us came along in our Porsches', that's fine. If you're interested, [Vista development chief] Jim Allchin will be glad to educate you feature by feature what the truth is. We use a rack and Chinese water torture and it's very effective. And let's be realistic, who came up with [the] file, edit, view, help [menu bar]? Do you want to go back to the original Mac and think about where those interface concepts came from? They came from MS-DOS.
Is this Vista launch the last hurrah of the big operating system?
Well, people have said that at every major Windows release. Basically because we're so hated. Java was going to eliminate Windows programming, or thin clients were going to eliminate people buying PCs. But we fucked Sun and Java over good and gladly took the rap at the DOJ in Washington. Bottom line is there are a lot of good ideas out there but we own the market and I can guarantee you'll never see them.
You mentioned that Microsoft can now be more agile in updating. Are you thinking of rolling upgrades as opposed to big major releases?
Well how many days will it take for the first major Vista worm outbreak? I'm figuring about a week. After all, our software is pathetic. And everybody knows it. So what would we do if we couldn't roll out automatic updates? And as for what we're doing to the Internet with all this ridiculous traffic that customers are ultimately going to have to pay for - just don't go there. Not if you value your job security.
So you feel in 2010-2011 Microsoft will be back with the next big one?
My wife hopes it will be sooner but she's always been an optimist. I used to order our big ones from a supplier in Hong Kong who got shut down. We don't know where we're going to get big ones anymore.
I was referring to the next major Windows update.
Oh. Sorry. Scratch that last reply of mine, will you?
Of course. You're leaving your full time role at Microsoft in July 2008. What involvement are you going to have in the next operating system?
About as much as now. As many people have noted, I may be a bastard of a genius when it comes to dirty marketing tricks, but aside from stealing code and CPU time at Harvard I don't know shit about computers. I've mostly been holding a lot of meetings that ended up pushing back our deadlines and putting a lot of people to sleep. Now that I'm gone our programmers will be able to get back to what they do best.
Flight Simulator Cupertino™. That and paint ball of course. I hate paint ball but our departmental execs love it. So if they want to play paint ball in our corridors I have to let them. The meetings got in the way.
So can you give us an indication of what the next Windows will be like?
Yes. By the next version we will have eliminated bugs, crashes, hangs, spyware, trojans, viruses and worms. Believe me: this time it's true. I know I've lied to you many times in the past but this time I'm not lying. I promise. But unfortunately you won't be able to upgrade. You'll have to buy an entirely new licence.
A new version already in the works? Does it have a name yet?
Uh - no. No name. Not yet.
Well does it at least have a code name? Can you tell us the code name?
It does have a code name but I'm not sure I'm allowed to reveal it under the terms of our NDA. I'll have to ask about that. It's the name of a cat.
NEWSWEEK: Should we end here, Bill?
SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Cancel or allow?
Bill Gates: Allow.