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The wit and wisdom of Bill Gates

Notable quotes from the Microsoft icon

As the personification of both Microsoft and geek success, Bill Gates has had plenty of opportunities to pontificate on a wide range of tech-related topics. Sometimes his insights have proved visionary. Other times, well, not so much.

Following is a collection of Gates' wit and wisdom over the past two decades:

1983

"A lot of software is out there now, and the primary marketplace for it is the PC. Right now, the percentage is very much skewed toward that one machine [the IBM PC], but that will change, although it will probably never drop below 50 percent."

"There's really a lot of dirty software on the market now; we'll have to educate the developers about how to write better software."

1983/1984

"But until Paul Allen and I developed the first microcomputer BASIC in 1975, high-level languages were restricted to mainframes and minicomputers, with which you had the luxury of fast processing capability and large memory."

"Computer languages will continue to adapt to new conditions. In that respect a computer language is just like a human language. Our languages are not static; they follow trends and adjust to new situations. Similarly, computer languages will continue to evolve as the role of the microcomputer continues to expand in our society."

1986

"We believe there'll soon be a time when many organisations will have a PC on every desk. We need two key ingredients before that can happen - a graphical user interface, in part to take advantage of advances like larger screen, new chips, and laser printers; and networking. People will start to see the benefit of applications that run in a distributed way."

"A year from now all PCs sold will be 286-based. Within three years we'll see them become 386-based. Today, we really don't trust the machine in terms of its storage capacity (or the ease of getting at programs) to the extent that we keep data on it long term... Eventually, companies will hand out programs tailored for the work they do. Standard applications and hardware will improve dramatically to a point where they'll help promote PC use. People will feel that if they don't have a PC, they can't be as productive."

"We haven't seen a super-small machine with only 10 non-memory chips, a chip display with 1,000x1,000-pixel resolution, or a variable-frequency monitor. But we'll get there in the next three years. People in word processing will look at the 640x200 we have today and wonder what we were doing - it's like a hammer and a chisel."

1987

His favourite program: "Excel. It is a program that you appreciate more and more as you use it. I use Word often, but since it can't be programmed, it doesn't tap my creativity in the same way."

His most significant accomplishment: "Helping to create a workstation standard with MS-DOS so that the same programs can run on millions of machines. When I was 16, working day and night on a FORTRAN compiler, I realised that hundreds of programs had been written before and mine might not be the best. But they all had to be written because there were so many different instruction sets and operating systems. I wondered then if there was some way to eliminate the wasted effort and get fewer but better programs. Accomplishing that is something I feel good about."

1993

"The work group is a growing phenomenon that will drive the use of PCs... All [future] Microsoft applications will be workgroup applications, and [Windows for Workgroups] is a way for that to come true before we get to their next revisions."

1997

"Our vision is one where not only is the PC experience better with a high-speed connection, but of a new generation of TV experience," Gates said, pointing to Microsoft's pending $425m deal to buy WebTV Networks.

1999

"The digital world can do better... We have got to make [technology] simpler, we've got to make it cheaper, and we've got to make it relevant."

Privacy issues, he said, can be easily solved by technology, but privacy policy is best left to politicians - not technologists. Gates also urged that more testing be done to ensure software quality, which struck observers as welcome news for Microsoft customers.

"The PC will be a server where you store information and create documents. But in terms of browsing the net and seeing what's going on, you'll have a whole range of devices to choose from."

2000

"Personal TV is the ability to record the TV shows you want and watch them when you want to."

With networked gadgets new and old, "the home will be like a computer".

"They want to sit on the panel and talk about how the computers will solve all the world's problems. They're amazing in what they can do, but they have to be put into the perspective of human values. And certainly as a father of two children, thinking about the medicines I take for granted that are not available elsewhere, that sort of rises to the top of the list."

2001

"[The Tablet PC is] a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

2003

"I think I am still dreaming of that PC that works very, very well someday, and I'll use a new Microsoft product and I won't be sending mail out to all the developers saying, 'Why did you do this?'"

"If you take a big enough vision, you never run out of, in your lifetime, enough work to achieve that vision."

2004

"If we look at the PC today, it is certainly a glass half-full in terms of the ease of use."

2006

"We can't be device-centric - we have to be user-centric."

"We do see, over time, that the ink input for the tablet and speech input will become as important as the keyboard, not replacing it but equally important."

"In fact, we see a day where every student, instead of their textbooks, will simply have their tablet computer connected up to the wireless internet... That student can have that tablet with them wherever they go, and it's actually lighter than the textbooks and more flexible, richer in terms of what it can offer."


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