At first glance, Bill appears to be an ordinary man. But he is anything but ordinary.
In his time, Bill helped spur the PC revolution that has changed how people work and live. And he built one of the most powerful and influential companies that the world has ever seen.
But today is the day that Bill is stepping down from day-to-day activities at the company that he built, and he can’t help but feel sad.
“What have I really accomplished?” thinks Bill, sitting in his plush office. “Sure, there’s the obscene amount of money I’ve made. And the power and influence I’ve gained over countries and markets. And, of course, the many competitors that were crushed.
“But, still, lots of people make fun of or even actively dislike our products. All the cool kids want to use the stuff from that guy Steve’s fruity company. And those darn open-source guys are giving away software that we could be making millions selling.”
With a heavy sigh, Bill says out loud, “You know, sometimes I wish I had never been born.”
A Great Gift
“Hi Bill,” said a strange voice.
“What? Who’s there? Clippy?”
“That’s right, Bill,” said Clippy. “You’ve been given a great gift. I’m going to show you what the world would be like if you had never been born.”
“This is crazy,” said Bill. “I know I shouldn’t have gone out last night with the old Albuquerque crew. I need to clear my head. I know-I’ll go visit Paul’s Experience Music Project.”
“But, you can’t,” said Clippy. “The Experience Music Project doesn’t exist. Paul Allen never met you in high school and never got into computers and made big bucks. All of the Seattle sports teams are in Oklahoma, and Paul plays guitar in a wedding band.”
“Shut up, Clippy!” shouted Bill, stamping his feet and waving his fists. “You’re just a figment of my imagination. We should have left you in Bob, where you belonged. I’m going to Redmond!”
But when Bill got to the place he once knew as Redmond, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“What’s this? They’ve changed the name of Redmond to Mac Town?!”
“That’s right, Bill,” said Clippy. “Without you there to compete against, Steve Jobs was able to build his company into the most dominant, monopolistic and ruthlessly anti-competitive company that the world has ever seen. Now, nearly everyone uses a Mac, and while most people like the systems, they have few hardware and software options outside of what Steve allows.”
“But, what about the open-source guys? They must be causing Steve headaches,” said Bill hopefully.
“No, Bill,” replied Clippy. “Without you and your company there to spur people to try their products, the open-source guys have been relegated to a small and pathetic group of losers who live on the fringes of computing.”
“This is all wrong, Clippy! I just need to talk to someone else. I’ll call … Wait a second!” cries Bill, as he holds a device away from him like it was covered in maggots. M-m-m-my phone’s an … iPhone! Aaahhh!!!!”
“That’s right, Bill,” said Clippy, holding his arms under Bill, should he faint. “Without you, there’s no Windows Mobile-there are no Windows operating systems at all. IBM ended up buying DOS and didn’t do anything with it. There’s no Office; everyone uses Lotus SmartSuite. There’s no Internet Explorer, no Xbox. And Warren Buffett had to figure out on his own what to do with his money.”
“I’m going crazy,” said Bill. “I need help. I need to talk to Stevie B. Clippy? Clippy?! Where’s Steve!”
Clippy hung what passed for his head. It took several minutes before he could answer Bill.
“You aren’t going to like what you find Bill.”
“Just tell me where he is, you, you … office supply!”
“He’s, he’s at … the convention center,” Clippy blurted out.
Bill ran to the convention center as fast as he could. Standing there, in front of a sign that said, “Linux: Built for hard-core geeks by hard-core geeks,” was a large, bald man.
Bill ran up to the man and said, “Steve, Steve-you have to help me. I think I’m going crazy. Everything is all wrong!”
“No problem, sir,” said the man, without an ounce of recognition. I understand your frustrations with the operating systems of today. Here’s a copy of Slackware 20, the latest and most intuitive of Linux systems. I can show you how to install it in 42 somewhat simple steps.”
“Linux?!” cried Bill. “What are you talking about, Steveo? Don’t you recognize me? Don’t you remember the company? All of the proprietary systems we created? All the money we made selling software?”
“Selling software?” said the large, bald man, blinking his eyes. “I assure you, sir, that I do not sell software nor have anything to do with proprietary systems. Software should be free. And I mean free as in free speech, not free as in beer. Come to think of it, I think it should be free as in beer, too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with my friend, Richard, to discuss the latest version of the GPL.”
“No, Steve, noooo!”
Bill dropped to his knees and began to cry.
“Clippy! Help me, Clippy. I want to go back. I want to run Windows on XOs. I want to play Halo on my Xbox. I want to surf the Web with IE. Please, Clippy!”
With a start, Bill found himself back in his plush office.
“Bill, there you are.”
“Get away, Steve-I don’t want to hear about you and your Linux buddies,” said Bill.
“Linux?” asks Steve, “I hate Linux. I won’t even run a wireless router that uses embedded Linux. You know that!”
Bill looked up. “Wait, is it really you, Steve?”
“Sure, it’s me. What’s wrong with you? Your retirement party is about to start. I even invited a whole bunch of developers, developers, developers.”
So Bill followed his friend to the retirement party. And, on the way, he saw people running his operating systems on PCs that had become ridiculously inexpensive due to the commoditization that his company made possible. He saw workers taking time off to play video games on a console that had helped revitalize a moribund market. And nearly every system he saw, even Macs, was running one of his pieces of software.
Bill began to think. Sure, lots of people hated him and his company, and some of that hatred was probably earned.
But his company had done a lot of good, too, and accomplished quite a bit to help bring about the current computing age. And if the company was sometimes the villain, that wasn’t such a bad thing. By being a force that many felt they had to compete with, his company had helped mobilize many different groups across the industry. And that helped bring about much of the diversity and innovation that is driving the economy.
Bill smiled and thought to himself: “You know, my life is pretty darn good, after all.”
And, as he walked into the party, he saw all of his friends-like Steve and Nathan and Ray. And, walking up to give a toast was one of his oldest friends, Paul.
Paul raised a glass and said, “To my friend, Bill, the richest man in this-or any other-town.”