The Curse of Vista Claims Bill Gates

Opinion: Is there a curse connected to OS development that can strike down top execs in their prime? There are plenty of examples to consider, including Apple's own Steve Jobs.

With Bill Gates scheduling his exit interview for sometime before or after the 2008 Fourth of July holiday, you have to wonder about the power of a new operating system to shake the executive suite. Or perhaps its just that OS development gives corporate dogs a push out the door.

However, the superstitious in our community might believe that there exists a strange curse on C-level execs in relation to the development of operating systems. Its a less dire punishment than the Curse of the Pharaohs, but still painful. Be warned.

As Bill Gates starts to plan his going-away party, there can be no doubt that hes looking forward to the day that he doesnt have to pitch Windows Vista or its siblings. Or have to remember on any given day what technology is in Longhorn and what technology is out, or what its key technology of the moment is.

Certainly, Longhorn code and features were being crafted back in the 1999 to 2000 time frame. While its hard to pin down for certain, the original goal for release was some time in 2003. Gates has been pushing the PowerPoint slides for a long time.

So, is it the curse? Or just that Gates must be nauseous at the sight of Vista, even the smallest component? Thats what must have led him to cut the cord on day-to-day involvement with his company. Hes sick to death of Longhorn, Vista or whatever you want to call it. Enough!

After all, when youre the worlds richest man, who needs it?

/zimages/5/28571.gifOn the vision-of-the-founder front, Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch wonders whether Microsoft will be the same without Bill Gates. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, some may remember that Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple Computer following a contentious OS development—okay, the Macintosh software came with hardware too. But with the 1984 introduction of the 128K Mac clouded by the haze of history, its easy to focus on the Macs award-winning industrial design and forget the operating system software: the Finder (by Steve Capps and Bruce Horn) and the QuickDraw underpinnings (by Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld), as well as the package with MacPaint (Atkinson) and MacWrite (Randy Wigginton).

The development took its toll on the team, and also caused broader contention within Apple. The famous pirates episode was an early symbol of the platforms place within the company. And when it was released, things werent much better. Remember that the money-making operating system (and hardware platform) at Apple in 1985 wasnt the Mac; rather it was the Apple OS and Apple // line of computers.

Jobs resigned the summer of 1985, only a year and a half after the Macs introduction. The curse in action.

He returned to Apple 11 years later following another problematic operating system transition. Next Computers OS was purchased because Apples internal OS transition, called Copland, had run aground following years of delays and development problems.

This Copland failure eventually bounced then CEO Gil Amelio and Chief Technology Officer Ellen Hancock out of Apple. They were replaced by the Next Computer crew. Yet another example of the curse of operating systems.

Gates departure presents an opportunity for Microsoft to become less paranoid and more realistic about its place in the industry.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWhat were Bill Gates top 10 flops? Click here to read more.

Back in the 80s and up to the present, Ive noticed a culture of paranoia at Microsoft. Buddies of mine, all smart people, would go to work in Redmond or elsewhere and after six months or so, they would somehow believe that Microsoft was No. 2, not the worlds largest software maker and owner of 95 percent of all the worlds desktops.

This culture has gotten Microsoft into trouble with the Department of Justice and the European Union over anticompetitive practices. Its because deep down, Microsofties believe that the wolf is at the door and they have to bite and scratch their way to the top—an impossible goal since they are already there.

So, perhaps Gates leaving will work like a dose of Prozac for the rank and file. But most likely not, since Steve Ballmer has more than enough energy to keep the paranoia going strong.

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

David Morgenstern, senior news editor, brings to Ziff Davis Internet a long and varied career in the computer industry. Known for his coverage of microprocessor-based and high-performance storage, this award-winning editor has directed publications in the professional content creation and digital asset management areas. As a marketing manager, hes worked for monitor and digital video startups. Some may remember him "in the days" as the editor of Ziff Davis MacWEEK. He can be reached at

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.