Sanity check: Five things we have learned from Bill Gates

With the Bill Gates era coming to an end at Microsoft, this is the perfect opportunity to look back and examine five preeminent lessons we have learned from the world's greatestcomputer geek.

With the Bill Gates era coming to an end at Microsoft, this is the perfect opportunity to look back and examine five preeminent lessons we have learned from the world's greatest computer geek.


Whether or not you are a fan of Bill Gates, it is impossible to deny the impact he has made on the spread of computer technology across the planet during the past three decades. Since Friday was Gates' last day as a full-time Microsoft employee, this is the perfect time to look back at five of the most important lessons we've learned from the meteoric, tumultuous, and lucrative career of the world's most famous software engineer.

5. Geeks can be businessmen, too

Before Bill Gates, computer programmers were mostly considered to be a necessary evil for businesses. They were stereotyped as misanthropic weirdos that you stick in dark corners in the back office. However, Gates, became the most successful businessman on earth — if you judge business success by profits — and almost singlehandedly transformed the term "geek" from an insult to a badge of honor in the process.

4. You don't have to be first to win

Gates and Microsoft rarely got to the party first with new technologies and innovations, but they were simply better at bringing technology products to the masses than anyone else in the industry. Internet Explorer is the most famous example, but Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel are also great examples. Microsoft was merely better at executing. It didn't hurt that Microsoft often had the most resources, but Gates and Co. showed over and over again that they knew how to best take advantage of those resources.

3. Computing will spread everywhere

In the 1980s when the computer was still mostly a novelty, Gates expressed his vision that there would one day be "a computer on every desk and in every home." That vision has nearly become a reality in the U.S. and it's in the process of coming to fruition across the globe. Plus, Gates' vision of the computing experience has continued to inspire the industry in general as well as Microsoft's product plans — from the smartphone to the Tablet PC to speech recognition to the touch-based interface.

2. Arrogance breeds failure

In the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, the Bill Gates character says to Steve Ballmer, "Success is a menace. It fools smart people into thinking that they can't lose." He was referring to IBM and the fact that it let Microsoft sneak in and steal the thunder in the launch of the PC. A decade later, Microsoft's own success and arrogance led to its anti-trust defeat to the U.S. government. But Microsoft also remained humble and paranoid enough to always be on the lookout for the next small company that might do to it what it had done to IBM. Some of the most popular targets in its cross hairs: Apple, Netscape, Linux, and Google.

1. Software matters

The one message that Bill Gates spent his career reiterating was that software matters. Gates and Microsoft always believed in the magic of software to create amazing digital experiences. When "Micros-Soft" (as it was originally known) first launched in the 1970s, the computer business was all about the hardware. It was Gates and his vision of what people could do with computers that moved software to the center of the computing experience.


Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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