Thursday, October 28, 2004
Happy Birthday, BillG
Bill Gates is 49 years old today.
Remember just a few short years ago when Bill was seen as the Devil Incarnate? "How dare that man bundle a browser into Microsoft Windows!" yelled the critics, and for the most part, we, the mobs on the ramparts, responded with cries for BillG's head.
Meanwhile, Enron's Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow socked away millions while they lead their company to self-destruction. In the process, thousands of honest Enron employees lost their jobs and their life savings, while billions of dollars evaporated from the national economy. Arthur Anderson, LLP stood by, holding Enron's hand and illegally shredding documents into their own oblivion. Worldcomm's Scott Sullivan and his cronies similarly drove his high-flying company into bankruptcy, destroying billions in market value and shattering the confidence of investors. Steve Case finally resigned as CEO of AOL-Time-Warner (now simply "Time-Warner") after managing to drag a company with shares selling in the '90s almost to the realm of the penny stocks.
Wow, it's a good thing the Justice Department went after Bill Gates and the Evil Empire Microsoft, isn't it?
The opening volley in the war that became the Microsoft Antitrust Trial was fired seven years ago this month, October 1997. This is when the Justice Department, taken in by hard-lobbying companies like Netscape, ORACLE, and Novell, accused Microsoft of violating a 1995 consent decree. Within months, a full-scale antitrust trial against Microsoft was underway, a circus that ended only two years ago, November 2002, with a settlement after the trial judge was reversed.
During the same five-year period, the software industry, already one of the most dynamic and competitive segments of the economy in 1997, continued to expand at a fantastic rate. Although the antitrust trial and its aftermath accomplished little, the market itself provided us with more functionality and choices than ever. Want a desktop computer running Linux? You can buy one for 300 bucks at Wal-Mart (not that I'd recommend it, but there it is.)
But also during the same five-year period, we saw tremendous, some would say dangerous, consolidation in other industries: pharmaceuticals, energy, and perhaps most ominous, the media.
While we were focused on Bill Gates as the Great Satan, did we drop the ball and let so many other much more important events slip by us?... Enron... Worldcomm ... Tyco... I'd say so.
And while we piled opprobrium onto Bill, what did he do? Did he pick up his gigabucks and go into splendid isolation? No, he decided that he would use his fortune to do something concrete to improve global health and education. And he wasn't just going to write checks.
I asked myself, "Am I going to be just a naive giver, or am I going to make a wholehearted commitment to learn and study about these things?"
And so while trash-talking Larry Ellison, the Billionaire Playboy of ORACLE, sucks the life out of PeopleSoft with his hostile takeover attempt and dreams of buying a MiG-29 fighter, BillG dreams of a world without polio.
BillG has endowed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with over 27 Billion dollars, and the foundation has already made grants of over 7 Billion.
And just this past summer, when Microsoft declared a one-time dividend of three dollars per share, BillG pledged his cut of this windfall, over 3 Billion dollars, to the Foundation.
I think we owe BillG an apology.
Or at least a "Happy Birthday, BillG!"
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