On The Road Ahead by Bill Gates

Even with ghostwriters, Bill Gates isn't much of a writer. Or maybe he just dictated the book. Whatever the cause, this book is a bit plodding, somewhat mechanical, as if it were first outlined and then anecdotes and stories plugged into the appropriate sections.
    But hey, I read it, and so have many others, so I guess the bottom line is who cares about adroit verbal gymnastics when the richest man in the world talks? I wanted to see what he had to say.
    His main topic is the information superhighway, which he insists is not the Internet but is instead what the Internet will become when the bandwidth for video-on-demand is available to all. Whatever.

The Appeteasers
Subtopics are a few scant details about the house he's building (just a home with a couple unobtrusive experimental ideas, he proclaims); and his view on the failure of OS/2. This latter was interesting: Bill's plausible point is that IBM had too many mainframe-related feature requests that diluted the project's focus. The thing is, it was almost too plausible: if that's the reason how come I've never heard it before? Could it be that the real reason is partly MS's fault rather than this conveniently IBM-is-stupid viewpoint? I just can't shake the feeling that Bill doesn't really believe his own explanation here, but that's mostly because I'm used to thinking of him as a coniving businessman who wouldn't hesitate to make up a story for his book if it would help his business. Maybe he's being straight and the explanation of the OS/2 debacle really is that simple.

The Main Course
The underlying thread of the book is how the net will change our lives. He trots out the standard extrapolations, but does a good job of giving a wide view. He must be a pragmatic sort of fellow, because he gets quite excited about ideas like the wallet PC and advertising on the net.
    As a result, the book jumps from new technology ideas (like email that pays you to read it), which never range outside the scope of making a dollar, to obviously money-related topics like the financial and technical overviews of cable vs telephone as the dominant Internet medium. He includes a chapter on education, seemingly a less avaricious subject matter, but with the telling title "Education: The Best Investment".
    Overall this book is about the implications for business of the net, and how the lessons that he's learned from the PC software industry can be applied to this new revolution. The lessons were as interesting to me as the book's purported subject matter, as they reflect the same rules that seem to be behind the new revolution: move fast, use standards, have lunch or be lunch.
    The book leaves me convinced that Bill is one of the few people who really works at foreseeing the future; the other companies in the business had better work equally hard or they're going to be trampled.
    In retrospect, the most interesting aspect of the book is the very one that brought me to it in the first place: how does this master of money moves think? Even as this book tries to be a footloose exploration of the mind-boggling potentialities of the net, the subtext shouts the answer to this question: think hard, be scared, and keep a constant focus on making a buck.

Substantive changes:
    April 25, 1996: created.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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