There is something deeply off-putting about Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ annual Think Week. As chronicled in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, it is a week that he supposedly spends alone while reading, you know, smart stuff about the future of technology. But the idea of Gates padding around some cottage in Washington state while drinking Diet Orange Crush and reading internal Microsoft papers on life, the universe, and computers is like something out of a cross between “Joe versus the Volcano” and a lost Coen brothers film:
What had he read of interest this week? “Actually, let’s go upstairs real quick and I’ll show you, because that’s where I spend all my time,” he responded, as he popped out of his chair and bounded up the stairs two steps at a time, landing in his upstairs study.
Facing the windows with a water view stood a desk with two Dell personal-computer monitors. To the side was a bookshelf lined with “The Great Books” series of literature classics. A portrait of Victor Hugo hung on the wall. A bathroom and a small refrigerator, stocked with Diet Orange Crush and Diet Coke, were added to the office in recent years, Mr. Gates said, so he could maximize his reading time by not having to go downstairs. Papers in bright orange covers littered the floor, their pages stamped “Microsoft Confidential.”
Two more semi-serious comments. First, you can sense Gates chafes a little at his inability to simply say that he likes something anymore. As he points out, if he reads an internal paper and responds “Cool”, then “They’ll assign 20 people to it”.
Second, in all the chatter about what Gates is reading and so on there is very little to indicate we are in 2005 versus, say, 1997. It’s all security, languages, storage, education, and office productivity. There is nary a glimmer about Internet 2.0, nor a hint that the Microsoft chief software architect is spending any time thinking about open source, Ajax, etc.