Bill Gates Discusses IT Evolution, Web Privacy During Reddit AMA

Although his philanthropic work and some personal musings were the order of the day, the former Microsoft CEO opened a window into how he views the IT landscape.

Bill Gates spent time on Reddit yesterday answering questions during one of the site's popular AMA (ask me anything) sessions.

In an AMA and its offshoots, Reddit's huge community is encouraged to present the subject with questions that they would like to see answered. Past participants have included the Mars Curiosity Rover team at NASA, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and U.S. President Barack Obama.

While the Microsoft founder and former CEO, and now current co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, mainly stuck to philanthropy and societal issues, he did answer a couple of questions pertaining to Microsoft and technology in general. Gates' replies provided insights into how he sees the IT industry and where it's headed after handing the helm of his software empire to Steve Ballmer.

With his keyboard at the ready and photographic proof in hand, Gates took his turn.

On a Microsoft product that failed to see the light of day

"We had a rich database as the client/cloud store that was part of a Windows release that was before its time. This is an idea that will reemerge since your cloud store will be rich with schema rather than just a bunch of files, and the client will be a partial replica of it with rich schema understanding," Gates wrote.

When asked if he meant WinFS, he confirmed that he indeed was referring to the file system that failed to see a commercial release.

WinFS was to be Microsoft's next-generation, schema-driven Windows File System. Microsoft initially planned for it to be included with Windows Vista and Longhorn Server (Windows 2008), but those products shipped without it.

On where consumer computing is headed

Tablets and smartphones may be all the rage now, but Gates envisions a future in which the very concept of personal computing will change radically. "Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at 'computers.' Once seeing, hearing and reading (including handwriting) work very well, you will interact in new ways," he wrote.

On an open and free Internet

When asked about his thoughts on initiatives like the Stop Online Piracy Act, Gates tackled this thorny topic diplomatically and in two parts.

First, he gave his thoughts on the roles of both free and commercial software in the growth of the Internet. "The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting to see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often have services people choose to pay for," he said.

Unlike Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's dim view of online anonymity, Gates feels that there's a place for it.

"The second thing is the anonymous versus identified tension. This is another one where both will probably thrive since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space, but it will improve," said Gates.

On owning a Mac

Although he didn't outright admit to owning any Apple hardware during the AMA, he did cop to at least spending some hands-on time with Cupertino's wares.

"Microsoft does a lot of software for the Mac. I mostly use Windows machines, but from time to time I have tried all of Apple products."

On his relationship with Steve Jobs

They may have been fierce competitors in the IT marketplace, but Bill Gates describes a genial picture of where the two stood before Jobs died in 2011.

"He and I respected each other. Our biggest joint project was the Mac where Microsoft had more people on the project than Apple did as we wrote a lot of applications. I saw Steve regularly over the years, including spending an afternoon with him a few months before he tragically passed away ...," answered Gates.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...