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Bill Gates's The Road Ahead, 15 Years Later 280

Posted by kdawson
from the answer-unclear-try-again dept.
smooth wombat writes "It's been 15 years since Bill Gates wrote his book The Road Ahead, in which he talks about how technology would shape the future. In the intervening years, technology has changed many aspects of our lives for better and worse. So how did Bill do on his predictions? The Atlantic takes a look at the hits and misses of some of his prognostications. Overall, it appears Bill let optimism guide his thoughts, except when it came to the Internet — his biggest miss of all."
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Bill Gates's The Road Ahead, 15 Years Later

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  • by ls671 (1122017) * on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:10PM (#32295244) Homepage

    I feel like Microsoft has never developed a key software innovation and is not that good at predictions. I guess a lot of people feel the same as me. They are excellent at marketing their products and at keeping a healthy business although.

    I searched Google with the terms "Microsoft innovation" and "Microsoft best innovation" to try to prove myself wrong but I did not find anything. Try it for yourself.

    The best innovation from Microsoft I could think of is DOS, but it was originally written to IBM specs then Microsoft recycled it into MS-DOS which is more a profiting after the fact attitude.

    So here we go slashdotters: What is the best innovation Microsoft has brought to us and/or which Microsoft prophecy turned out to be the best prediction ? []

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:13PM (#32295292) Journal

    You forgot, "never show empathy." And now we have a complete diagnosis: sociopath. Only sociopaths have what it takes to succeed in modern business, everyone else is just too weak. We used to shun or kill monsters, now we elevate them to the status of Gods.

  • Email... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Knara (9377) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:15PM (#32295318)

    Does anyone really work for an organization that 1) has people who regularly don't get emails and 2) is encouraging people to use email less?

    Seems like workflow problems, not email problems.

  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:18PM (#32295352) Homepage Journal

    DOS is not a great innovation. DOS, like most Microsoft products, is just a rework of someone's earlier innovation. If there is innovation there it's in how they adapted well established systems (like CP/M and, even earlier, BASIC) from Mainframe and Mini computers to much less powerful PCs and home computers. Bill Gates is good at that, but he by no means has been an inventor. At best he's dumbed down many of the best computer innovations so he can get them through the front door of offices and homes.

  • Re:Email... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:30PM (#32295500)
    Yes, I currently work at such a place. One old fart hates Email and so no-one ever sends him any. The rest of us however, are normal.
  • So what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:36PM (#32295592)

    Bill Gates missed on a few points. So what? What am I supposed to infer from this?

    This book was a snapshot of Bill Gates's thoughts at that particular moment in time. Beyond being mildly interesting it's completely irrelevant. His expectations were based on what he was seeing around him. His predictions were based on the state of technology at the time and colored by his own work. Clearly has ideas have evolved in the intervening years. Microsoft likely would have been out of business by now if he hadn't changed his expectations.

    Technology has so many interdependencies that it's impossible to accurately predict the future. The internet was just beginning to see somewhat mainstream use 15 years ago. Services like Prodigy and American Online were still big. It's only a matter of time before something comes along that dramatically changes the way we browse the web, rendering today's predictions just as meaningless.

  • by Artifakt (700173) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:40PM (#32295654)

    Microsoft sort of faltered on some of its arguably best ideas. They implemented dynamic linking libraries, for example, and then couldn't or didn't get all the 3rd party developers to put the DLL's in the same place (Windows/system). They added the System32 subdirectory to keep 32 bit and 16 bit DLLs separate, and couldn't get cooperation on that either. Notice that Microsoft could have not issued its Windows certified or compatible stickers to anyone who didn't play along. They decided they would rather be able to brag about how much 3rd party software Windows could run, than get strict compliance. The exact same thing happened with the registry and individual .ini files.
          I'm not saying that Microsoft originated the DLL concept in its underlying form mind you, just that it was a good concept in that it that fit the abstraction layer model for computing, and Microsoft was in a position to decide DLLs either all went in the program's own directory or in Microsoft's special place, and they took a few half hearted steps to try to enforce one system, flip-flopped to the other, and then faltered completely. The same goes for the registry - somebody at Microsoft had a vision for how the damned thing was supposed to work that arguably could have made for a better security model or more stable environment than what they ended up doing, and the vision was even partly implemented, then faltered over time.

  • Re:Email... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <> on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:43PM (#32295738) Journal

    I'll second that. In fact, I have worked in a place which had precisely the effect he's talking about -- we had a few short meetings, and a lot of discussions via email, version control logs, etc.

    The miss was "shared screens" -- no idea what he's talking about.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:44PM (#32295764) Homepage

    No. When that book was written, it was already obvious that the Internet was going to kill off proprietary services like Prodigy and AOL. By the time that the net came along those services were OLD. They were an OLD model. They were long overdue for a disruption. Any technophile worth his salt should have seen this. More likely, Gates saw his interest lying in replacing AOL and wanted to push that idea whether he thought it was likely or not.

    He simply wanted to try and push the world into his particular Walled Garden.

    What a businessman tells you can't be taken at face value.

    Ultimately he's going to want to sell you something.

  • Being a programmer will be a totally safe field -- it's not like people in India will suddenly all get computers and start coding.

    Not totally safe, but companies are starting to figure out that you get what you pay for, and demand is steadily increasing, particularly for people with actual comp sci degrees.

  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <> on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:47PM (#32295802) Journal

    Actually, many phones (not sure about yours) probably have a video card that's more than good enough to run Deus Ex. It's the CPU architecture that'd most likely be a problem.

  • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:52PM (#32295876)

    You're right. I remember reading a study in a psychology class about how sociopathic CEOs tended to be. If not a sociopath, they tend to be obsessive compulsive. Think about it: most people, if paid as much as a Fortune 500 CEO, would retire after one year. Being a CEO is extremely stressful and most will never utilize the vast amounts of wealth they acquire. For them, business is a game that they just can't put down.

    I think Microsoft with Gates/Balmer are a prime example of this. Their willingness to sink more resources into a project than it will profit for the sake of market-share demonstrates that they view business as a game of Monopoly. Look at the XBox, Bing, and IE. Gates cares more about his legacy than anything else. He cares more about having credit for modern technological achievements than actually contributing to society. Just look at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I know it's taboo to criticize, but as the Priest in A Clockwork Orange said, "What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness?" Intentions and motivations matter, and Gates has demonstrated time after time that he is motivated by selfishness and arrogance. If he cared about technological progress he wouldn't try to beat the competition to the market with half-assed products, stagnate progress once he has a lock on a market, and make an enemy of open source. If he cared about helping people then he wouldn't insist on being given credit for it with interviews every time his foundation spends a few cents. He's a sociopath.

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:03PM (#32296056) Homepage

    So here we go slashdotters: What is the best innovation Microsoft has brought to us...

    The "brought to us" part is the hard part. Plenty of important innovation has happened at Microsoft, but they aren't that good at turning it into products.

    For example, Microsoft researchers developed a kind of help system that observed what a user did, and learned their use patterns, and was able to recognize when they were having trouble with something and offer suggestions. It worked very well, mostly only interrupting with suggestions when you were in genuine need of help.

    When this moved from the lab to the product people, the marketing people loved it, but complained that it didn't show up enough. They wanted to advertise this great feature, but if the typical user only actually saw it do something once a week or so, that would suck (from the salesman's point of view). So marketing forced the people implementing to turn the thresholds way down, and make it pop up a lot, with often inane suggestions. And that's how Clippy went from being perhaps the most sophisticated automated assistant in the world when it was in the lab, to perhaps the most annoying automated pest in the world when it ended up in products.

    Another good example is statistical spam filtering. Microsoft internally had one of the earliest, and best, spam handling systems. They also were the first (in a partnership with outside researchers at, I think, Stanford) the first to publish academic papers on Bayesian filtering. But it was others who picked up on this and wrote articles for the non-academic crowd that made outside programmers aware of these techniques, and so few realize Microsoft was one of the pioneers here.

    Their spam filtering actually went far beyond just filtering for spam. At one time they had a system internally that could look at your incoming mail, analyze it, figure out what it was about, and rank the importance of it. This was tied in with other systems, such as the web cam on your computer and the microphone on your computer. The web cam could watch you, and the microphone listen to what was going on in your office. If it say and heard that you were meeting with others, it could see who they were, and hear what you are talking about, analyze that and figure out its importance, and decide if the mail you just received can wait or is important enough to interrupt you.

    Aside from one or two articles in the press that mentioned this system as part of stories profiling research at MS, I've not heard anything about it since. It apparently never made it to any kind of product development stage. Someday, someone else will do it all the way through to product (Google's a good candidate), and no one will remember that Microsoft had it first.

  • by dbuttric (9027) <> on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:06PM (#32296104) Homepage

    I was in the AI lab at MIT, testing my wits against LISP. In walks Marvin Minsky.

    I asked him if he could give me a tip or two about atoms.

    His response to me was: "Well, why dont you wait until the computer speaks your language... Then program it in that?"

    That was alot longer ago than 15 years...

  • Just 15 years?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RealityProphet (625675) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:28PM (#32296418)
    pffft...AT&T (of all companies) nailed the future in 1993! []
  • Re:face to face (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doctor Faustus (127273) <Slashdot@@@WilliamCleveland...Org> on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:29PM (#32296442) Homepage

    I met mine through the VMS Confer message boards set up at our college. They were already ancient in 1994, but still pretty popular.

  • Miss?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bored (40072) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:58PM (#32296948)

    Wireless Networks

    Prediction: "The wireless networks of the future will be faster, but unless there is a major breakthrough, wired networks will have a far greater bandwidth. Mobile devices will be able to send and receive messages, but it will be expensive and unusual to use them to receive an individual video stream."

    Sounds about spot on, especially if you consider HD video. Sure wireless is getting better but so are wired networks. I get 30+Mbit on my cable modem, and 10Gbit on my LAN. I can stream full 1080p HD quality compressed content over the internet without a second thought. I haven't seen to many wireless (ignoring 802.11g/n) networks capable of that, in fact its hard to stream any kind of video on any of the phone networks with any reliability.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday May 21, 2010 @02:06PM (#32297070)

    The problem is that there's really no way to program a computer in a human language and get it to work properly. It's impossible. Human language simply isn't precise enough. Two humans speaking the same language, who've known each other for years, can't even tell each other something without there being a misunderstanding of some kind. It happens with my wife and myself all the time; she says something, I think she means one thing, she meant another, argument ensues...

    That's why we have languages for communicating with computers which are perfectly logical and leave out all ambiguity. That's the only way you can ever tell a computer how to do any task that has any kind of complexity. Sure, you can have a system with very limited functions, like a house computer where you can tell it "turn on the living room lights" (because the number of functions you're allowed to speak to it are extremely limited, there's little room for error), but there's no way you can write an arbitrary program in English.

    If we ever get away from logical computer languages, it'd be because we developed a brain-computer interface, and the computers can read our minds.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday May 21, 2010 @02:39PM (#32297588)

    What about Office?

    Office is the sum of its parts, which were originally separate. Word was built on a prototype called Bravo that Microsoft bought from Xerox PARC. Access and Excel appear to be MS originals, though. Fun fact: Excel 1.0 was a Mac exclusive. Not until 2.0 (actually, 2.05) was there Excel for Windows.

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @05:13PM (#32299920) Journal

    As I stated, we reached a high water mark in capping the power of sociopaths sometime back in the fifties. The highest tax rate was 90%. Since then, the sociopathic class has fought back with their theories of trickle down economics and government deregulation. This isn't an insolvable problem, all it takes is for the vast majority of decent folks to realize that the rich do not have their best interests at heart, and as they are not sociopaths, they will never be let in the club.

  • by nine-times (778537) <> on Friday May 21, 2010 @05:43PM (#32300252) Homepage

    I disagree a little with you, but I don't quite agree with the author either. All in all, I wouldn't say that Gates was completely wrong, but it seems like he was kind of clueless and he missed the point. Like yes, he understood that online shopping will be important *somehow*, but he thought vendors would show you video of the products before you bought them. However, that's not what makes online shopping interesting at all; the process of buying things online is essentially not very different from buying out of a catalog. There are several issues, and I'd give some points for predicting any of these:

    • the concept of the "long tail" and how the Internet enables companies to make money selling low-volume products
    • the concept of boutique shops being able to reach a wider audience
    • the idea that user reviews would be posted along with products
    • some idea of how viral marketing would influence purchasing decision
    • the concept of aggregating pricing information to find the best deal
    • the idea that we would be buying media online instead of going to record stores, movie theaters, and paying for cable

    ... and I don't know. I had a few more in mind but I didn't write them down quickly enough and I forgot what I was going to say. My point is, there are a *lot* of interesting things about online shopping, and the idea of being able to see a live video stream of the product you're going to buy is a such a niche use that it's silly. I can't give him any credit for it. I also can't give him credit for simply thinking that you would buy some things online. Too obvious.

    And a lot of Gates' predications over the years have been like that: latching onto obvious possibilities, but showing little understanding of what will actually drive things.

    I'd also note that I love email and it is extremely useful, but it's also true that it is a bit of a time-waster (as much of the Internet is). I once measured this, and at my work address, something like 2% of the email messages that I receive are anything that I want to read. Literally 90% is spam. About 8% more are notifications and email conversations that I get copied on but which have absolutely nothing to do with me. Of those 2% remaining, I only skim them looking to see if there's anything I need to deal with, and I pretty well ignore the rest.

  • Maybe you're just trolling, but for the record, I'm not trying to explain my inability to put myself "out in front of the pack and take charge of anything". I used to be very ambitious and I worked my way to being "out in front of the pack" and I now I am in charge. I'm the boss. And I've discovered that being in charge is as much a burden as it is a reward. I wouldn't say I was "an idiot" when I sought power, but I was perhaps delusional and ignorant. Maybe even self-absorbed.

    Meanwhile I've have observed a lot of other people trying to wriggle themselves into various positions of power (including watching my underlings jockey for promotion), and there tend to be some commonalities. There's almost always a kind of prideful self-absorbed ignorance similar to what I'd suffered, and it's dangerous. And while it's scary enough to watch the people who are oblivious of the damage they're doing, what's even worse are the people who just don't care about the damaging they're doing.

You had mail, but the super-user read it, and deleted it!