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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 14, 2013 9:39 AM

CES: Finding console clues - a PlayStation 4K?

Posted by Brier Dudley

With all the hoopla at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, you'd never guess it was missing a few hugely important products that are about to be released by two of the industry's biggest players.

I'm talking about new versions of Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation that are expected to debut later this year. They're potentially the hottest consumer-electronics products of 2013, but there wasn't a peep about them at the annual gadget mecca.

Bill Gates unveiled the first Xbox at the 2001 CES, but this year Microsoft declined to participate. It's planning to make a splash at the E3 game conference in June, when it will presumably will reveal the third generation of its console.

Sony had its usual huge presence at CES, but said nothing about its new PlayStation, showing only the PS3 that first appeared in 2006.

This cone of silence -- and the variety of other new products on display that bring digital entertainment to TV sets -- raises questions about how much demand there is for expensive new game hardware.

Will people pay $300 to $400 to upgrade their consoles, or put that money toward a higher-definition TV with a quad-core processor that streams online movies and connects directly to cloud gaming services?

People are still buying lots of consoles, and Nintendo's Wii U is off to a pretty good start. But overall game-hardware sales in the U.S. declined 27 percent last year, to $4 billion, down from $5.6 billion in 2011, according to NPD research.

We're either at the low point of a hardware cycle, or interest is waning because there are other ways to expand the capability your TV.

I'm betting that it's mostly just a low tide. Especially after seeing clues at CES about the direction console-makers, particularly Sony, are taking. They made me think that the new consoles could be exciting and useful enough to extend their run for another five years or more.

Sony employees went silent whenever I asked about the PlayStation 4, but they showed a lot of technology that seems likely to be in the console, or at least complement the new hardware.

One of them accidentally mentioned to me a 4K video player that will be revealed later this year. My guess is that the PS4 will have this capability, similar to the way the PS3 arrived at the dawn of the Blu-ray era with a Blu-ray drive inside.

Sony lucked out in the naming department, with the PS4 arriving with a wave of 4K TVs coming out this year. The number refers to the roughly 4,000 lines of resolution the new displays have, nearly four times higher than 1080p high-definition sets. These TVs are called "ultra high definition" but Sony emphasizes the numeral 4.

Getting the most out of a 4K set today is tricky. There aren't 4K videodiscs or other media yet.

Online video services such as Netflix are gearing up to stream 4K content, which will be compressed to minimize the burden on your broadband service. The new 4K TVs can also digitally upscale 1080p content coming out of Blu-ray players.

But for uncompressed, unscaled 4K video, you stream the content from a hard drive containing the big video files. Sony began selling 4K sets last fall and loans buyers a server -- basically a PC -- that comes loaded with movies. (It's the least they can do when you pay $25,000 for an 84-inch set.)

Sony showed a prototype of a new version of this server last week. It was a round, metal box similar to the hat-box-shaped Sony Vaio Media Center PCs that Sony discontinued a few years ago. (It's pictured above and below, in a side view).

A representative wouldn't tell me anything about the capacity of this device, but I overheard a Sony executive showing it off to a group of VIPs. I'm pretty sure he said it will ship with 50 terabytes of storage capacity, preloaded with 90 movies to start, and can store up to 400 movies.

Sony can do this in part because it owns a major movie studio. It has been distributing 4K films for a while, delivering them on hard drives that are plugged in to digital projectors at the theater.

My guess is that Sony is working on some sort of memory device for storing and distributing 4K movies -- perhaps a solid-state memory cartridge? -- and the PS4 will be one of the first players. Either that, or Sony will to extend the technology developed for its 4K media server to the console.

Sony spokesman Philip Jones wouldn't talk about this with me when he showed me around the booth.

But Jones did point out some interesting things that you can do with a 4K TV and the current PlayStation. For instance, you can display photos on the screen with 8.3 megapixels of resolution, compared with about 2 megapixels of resolution you'll see on a current high-def TV.

That may not sound like much, but it tracks with the trend that Apple, Samsung and others are driving toward higher-resolution displays on phones and tablets. It all coincides with the broad enthusiasm for digital photography.

You don't need a PlayStation to display photos on a TV, but the console does have pretty nice photo-handling software.

Sony also has been dabbling in ways to let PlayStation owners play games side-by-side and see different action on the same set, when wearing 3-D glasses. Last year, it introduced this capability on a PlayStation-branded TV. At CES last week it was showing this feature on a wall-sized display.

Also highlighted in Sony's booth this year were various ways to use tablets and laptops to navigate and control a TV. The company also showed the Web tablets that it bundles with its 84-inch 4K sets, to browse and control the TV and server.

Combine some of these capabilities with even more vivid games enabled by the next generation of game consoles, and there may be hope yet for the traditional video game business.

I wasn't the only one snooping around Sony's booth and the rest of CES for clues about this technology, by the way.

On the plane ride home, I sat near a Microsoft employee who works on planning new Xbox products. When I floated my idea about the PS4 piggybacking on the move toward 4K TVs, he said he wasn't that enthused about 4K TVs.

The Xbox guy was more excited about video-streaming hardware components shown by Broadcom and others. Using the new 802.11ac flavor of Wi-Fi, Broadcom's new chips can stream content at up to 867 megabits per second. Broadcom refers to this fast wireless as "5G" technology.

I didn't make it to Broadcom's booth, but the company was showing how this hardware can connect four tablets to a TV set.

All four could simultaneously stream content, enabling them to be used for multiplayer gaming.

I'll let you do your own speculation about what that means for the next Xbox.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Digital TV , E3 , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Sony , Tablets , Video games , Wii U , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 2, 2013 3:32 PM

Bill Gates up $7 billion in 2012, world's second richest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's tech billionaires got richer in 2012, according to Bloomberg's billionaire index, which released a year-end report today.

Bill Gates gained $7 billion last year, bringing his estimated net worth to $62.7 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Jeff Bezos also jumped up the list with a $6.9 billion gain last year as his company's stock jumped 45 percent.

Bezos is now worth an estimated $23.6 billion, putting him at 20th place globally. He's also ahead of the Google guys and his former landlord, Paul Allen.

Overall the world's billionaires added $241 billion to their collective worth, Bloomberg reported. Only 16 of the top 100 billionaires saw a net loss in 2012.

Gates benefited from Microsoft stock rising 2.9 percent last year, though his holdings in the company now account for less than 20 percent of his fortune.

The gains weren't enough for Gates to overtake Mexico's Carlos Slim, who remains the world's richest.

But Gates still is the richest tech billionaire. Four of the top 10 tech billionaires live in the Seattle area. Bezos is in third place and Allen is in seventh, just ahead of Steve Ballmer.


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October 18, 2012 1:26 PM

Gates, Ballmer cheer employees' $1 billion charity mark

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's been awhile since Bill Gates headlined a Microsoft press conference, but he surfaced for an unusual event today at the company's Redmond headquarters.

Gates joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and other dignitaries to announce a milestone in the Microsoft employee giving program, which began 30 years ago after a nudge from Gates' parents.

The giving program -- in which Microsoft matches employee contributions to nonprofit organizations and provides direct corporate gifts -- has had a remarkable effect on the Puget Sound region in particular, where most of the employees are located.

Microsoft announced that giving through the program has reached $1 billion in cumulative donations to more than 31,000 non-profit groups. Earlier this month, when the company issued its annual citizenship report, the company said it expected to reach that level by the end of 2012.

Ballmer called it a "mind numbing" milestone and thanked the nonprofit "partners" who leveraged the donations and provided an outlet for "our folks' incredible desire to change the world."

Ballmer said that the effects of the giving are seen around the world, and employees "have really stood up in times of crisis" and helped people in more than 200 disasters.

Microsoft matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to $12,000 per year. For the last five years it has also donated $17 per hour to non-profit groups where its employees have donated at least 10 hours of their time volunteering.

The company's philanthropy helps attract new employees and introduces newcomers to non-profit organizations in the communities where they're hired, executives said.

In addition to Gates, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire attended the event, along with a number of former Microsoft executives who have become prominent philanthropists.

"Well, I come back for historical perspective whenever that's needed," Gates joked, before recounting how the program began.

Gates said it began with Sunday dinners with his mother and father, who were longtime supporters of United Way and encouraged him to start a giving program.

"In the early days I was a little bit reluctant to distract people from writing code day and night," he joked.

Eventually, he agreed and decided it was an area where Microsoft could apply "our analytical excellence to that field as well."

That first year, in 1983, about 200 employees raised $17,000 for non-profit groups. This year the company expects more than 35,000 employees will raise more than $100 million for non-profits around the world.

The $1 billion figure is just for employee donations and matching gifts from the company through its giving program. Total donations since 1983 - including donations of cash, software and services by the company and employees - are more than $6.5 billion.

Additionally, many former employees have gone on to start their own charitable programs and support efforts such as the Microsoft Alumni Foundation.

Over the last three decades, Microsoft and its employees have contributed $460 million to United Way, said Jon Fine, chief executive of United Way of King County.

"The impact of all that giving is almost incalculable," Fine said.

Fine said the company's "culture of generosity" has radiated beyond the campus and raised the bar for what it means to be a responsible corporation.

"This is an area where I feel Microsoft continues to set the pace for the entire technology sector," said Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, who oversees the company's philanthropic programs.

Gregoire noted that contributions to Washington nonprofits were more than $50 million last year and more than $520 million over the life of the program, an apt number considering the roadway that connects Microsoft's campus to Seattle.

The giving reflects "something that I think is about the values of Washington state," she said.

Gregoire said she found evidence of Microsoft employees' largesse on a recent trip to Hyderabad, India. She visited with employees there whose giving program this year supported the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, a nonprofit that provides eye care and rehabilitation. She also met a 1-year-old girl who was blind until she received corneal transplants from the institute.

"It was one of the most heartwarming experiences of my life," she said. "That's what you have done, that's what it means on the ground to the people who have benefited from your generosity."

Gates and Ballmer praised the milestone as the company was simultaneously delivering a particularly tough earnings report that pulled Microsoft stock down more than 2 percent in after-hours trading.

The earnings weren't mentioned, but Ballmer cast things in a positive light, saying the charitable milestone will be remembered along with the company's other big accomplishments this year, including the launch of Windows 8 next week.

Among the attendees was Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft president who is now chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has so far granted more than $23 billion.

"Cleary this is an incredible milestone ... but it really symbolizes the spirit of the company," Raikes said.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy , Seattle , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 15, 2012 10:14 AM

Windows 8 to come with free music, but no Zune

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft finally is saying goodbye to the Zune brand for good.

But instead of cuing up a dirge, the company is marking the occasion by throwing a music party.

Starting Tuesday, the company is dropping the Zune brand from its digital music store and streaming service, which now will be referred to as Xbox Music.

Xbox Music also will be the default music player on Windows 8 PCs and tablets when they go on sale Oct. 26, taking the place of Microsoft's trusty Windows Media Player.

Xbox Music_My Music.jpg
To sweeten the deal, Microsoft is providing free access to stream its entire music catalog on Windows 8 tablets and PCs.

"It will be the only tablet operating system that has free streaming of music," said Yusuf Mehdi, head of strategy and marketing in Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment business.

Free access to the catalog, which has about 18 million songs in the U.S. and 30 million globally, will be unlimited for six months, after which Microsoft will taper down access and encourage people to start paying $10 per month for an ad-free version of the service.

To support the free service, brief ads will be played about every 15 minutes.

The ad-free version of the service is comparable to streaming services offered by companies such as Spotify and Rhapsody.

Xbox Music_Enter Artist.jpg
The audio quality of the paid service will be slightly higher -- 256 kilobytes per second vs. 192 Kbps for the free version.

Xbox Music also includes a digital store, for downloading and buying music.

Like the Zune service, the Xbox Music service includes "smart playlists" that can automatically generate playlists around artists or genre.

Windows 8 users with Xbox Live premium subscriptions will be able to use "Smartglass" to play music selected on a tablet through a TV connected to an Xbox.

Microsoft launched Zune in 2006 -- with Bill Gates appearing at a launch concert in Seattle's Westlake Park -- as a belated challenge to Apple's iPod.

Last year, Microsoft discontinued Zune hardware but the brand continued on the Xbox and Windows Phone devices, where the company's music and video store are called the Zune Marketplace.

The Xbox Music brand will begin rolling out with an upgrade to the Xbox console that begins Tuesday.

It will come to Windows 8 when it launches Oct. 26 and to Windows Phone devices with the new version of the platform that arrives Oct. 29.

Zune lives on in spirit, though. The bold interface design of the player and service were a major influence on the design of Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Here's Gates at the Zune launch, in a 2006 photo by Ken Lambert, Times staff photographer:


Here's Microsoft's comparison of Xbox music with other streaming music services:


Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Rhapsody , Sonos , Windows 8 , Windows Phone , Xbox , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 18, 2012 4:29 PM

Ballmer on Microsoft's "lost decade"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's run of huge news over the last two weeks - including the Windows 8 launch details, the new Office beta and the split - snuffed the initial buzz around Vanity Fair's story on the company's "downfall" and "lost decade" after it surfaced on July 3.

But the story - appearing in the August issue - didn't go away.

Chief Executive Steve Ballmer - who ran the company during the decade in question - gave his response to Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard during an interview after Ballmer's speech in Toronto last week.

This exchange was posted today at and will appear in its August issue.

Karlgaard: A recent Vanity Fair article said that Microsoft's last ten years have been a "lost decade."

Ballmer: Ultimately progress is measured through the eyes of our users. We have 1.3 billion people using PCs today. There was a time in the 1990s when we were sure there'd never be 100 million PCs sold a year. This year alone there will be 375 million sold. So, is it a lost decade?

The interview was just after Microsoft took a $6.2 billion writedown for its aQuantive investment. Ballmer wasn't asked about this but still mentioned Microsoft's commitment to the search business, saying:

"We made a big bet on Bing, and I'm glad we did. Bing hasn't delivered full financial return, but man, we have a product that delivers more relevant results than Google and is more differentiated for social networks and for our Facebook partnership than anything else out there."

Asked about the Surface tablets, Ballmer reiterated the current messaging, that Microsoft's making tablet computers to showcase the platform and not compete with partners:

"With Surface we wanted to make sure that no stone is left unturned, in terms of really showing Windows 8 in its most innovative form. With Windows 8 you can get a tablet and a PC in a single package, and I think Surface probably proves that as well as anything. Our goal is not to compete with hardware partners. The bulk of our Windows volume is going to come from our hardware partners."

Karlgaard also asked Ballmer if he missed Bill Gates. The response:

"Well, yes, I miss him! Bill comes in a day or two a month, just to brainstorm with groups, talk about their plans and ideas for Office and so on. He's on e-mail pretty regularly regarding Microsoft matters. And he's on the board. We don't have a dependency, though. The leadership team runs the business every day."

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Bing , Microsoft , Steve Ballmer |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 16, 2012 9:48 AM

Microsoft, NBC finally split, becomes

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was a good marriage, one of the best among their circle.

But 16 years later, with the children grown and on their separate paths, Microsoft and NBC are ready to try new things and perhaps join with different partners.

On Friday, the companies formally dissolved their joint venture in Redmond-based, ending a grand experiment in online news conceived early in the dot-com era.

Both companies are eager to refresh and broaden their online offerings amid broad shifts in where and how people consume online news. They insist it's an amicable parting.

"I think we've had a great run," said Charlie Tillinghast, president, who is mulling whether to move to New York along with his news operation.

NBC is buying out Microsoft's half and re-branding the online news site -- the nation's fourth largest -- as

Terms weren't disclosed. When the partnership was announced in 1996, the companies said it was a $600 million venture.

NBC is also moving the news team to its New York headquarters, ending Redmond's stretch as the home of a major national news organization.

It's not all going away, though. The venture's technology and online production team will remain in the Seattle area at a new "NBC News Innovation Center." It will handle technical operations of and develop new technologies for NBC's news and entertainment groups.

The innovation center will also help NBC build an entirely new online site for the MSNBC cable-TV network, which NBC took over in 2007. Its new, distinct website will debut in 2013.

NBC's Seattle team will also work on local news sites in markets where NBC owns and operates TV stations. The local news operation could be extended nationally, but NBC executives declined to discuss future plans.

No layoffs are planned, but some employees who work with content may need to relocate to keep their jobs. has about 300 employees, including about 180 in Redmond. Executives said at least 100 will work at the innovation center. That leaves about 80 jobs in flux as the companies try to figure out how many positions will move to New York.

Steve Capus, president of NBC News, expects most content creation to be done in New York, where NBC already has most of its vast broadcast-news operation.

"It only makes sense to link up these editorial operations and do it in one place," he said.

Capus said it's been "a very successful partnership" but that the online brands need to be clarified and both companies want more flexibility.

"NBC and Microsoft were in a relationship where it was only going to be the two of us, and that precluded Microsoft from doing some stuff with different news organizations, and it precluded us from doing things with other technology and online companies," he said. "We're excited about being able to go out and do business with other partners."

Microsoft may partly fill any local void created by the split. It has already begun revamping and expanding the news product offered through Windows devices and its MSN portal, which draws more than 120 million people a month.

The centerpiece of that effort is a new, independent news operation in Bellevue to debut this fall. In addition to feeding MSN, it will contribute to the "News" app in Windows 8.

"While we think they've been a quality provider for many years, we believe that there's a lot of room for new innovation," said MSN General Manager Bob Visse, "and we also believe that the online consumer really hungers for a news product that provides multiple perspectives and multiple sources. We really weren't able to do that as well as we would have liked to in an arrangement where we had one exclusive partner."

Visse said the changes will "give MSN a new spark and a new life and a new reason for people to come and show up to our home page every day."

A breakup has been expected, especially since the sister cable-network MSNBC steered toward commentary, complicating's efforts to remain a neutral, unbiased news source. News of the split surfaced several times over the last two months as it was finalized.

"The big gain here is we get brand clarity, brand alignment, and it's easy for consumers to understand which brand does what," Tillinghast said. "That conversation went on for years."

The split might have come sooner if the companies weren't busy with larger deals, including Microsoft's attempts to buy Yahoo in 2008 and General Electric's sale of NBC to Comcast in 2009.

Despite the breakup, it was clearly a good decision for the companies to join forces back in 1996.

Anticipating that the Internet and technology would transform the way news is delivered and consumed, they combined NBC's news expertise with Microsoft's technical abilities.

"We're looking forward to our shared vision of taking news and software and integrating them together," Bill Gates said at the time.

It was among several Web ventures Microsoft started in the mid-1990s, including the Sidewalk entertainment-listings business and shopping sites for travel, cars and real estate.

As rose to become the leading online news site in the late 1990s, other media companies partnered with tech companies to stay abreast.

Disney hooked up with Bellevue's Starwave to build the online presence of ABC and ESPN, then bought Starwave outright in 1998. Disney's Internet group continues to run websites and develop technology platforms in Seattle, similar to what NBC plans to do with its Innovation Center.

This coupling of old and new media reached a crescendo in 2000 when Microsoft's online rival AOL spent $350 billion in a disastrous merger with Time Warner.

Then came the dot-com crash and bruising antitrust battles that sobered Microsoft's leaders and reined in its experimentation. saw layoffs and a reorganization in 2001 and 2002.

The rise of search engines later reduced the influence of mega-portals such as MSN, AOL and Yahoo, and Xbox became the major focus of Microsoft's consumer business.

Yet remained in Microsoft's portfolio. Remnants of Sidewalk were sold off in 1999 and the car site became a feature on MSN.

The travel business, Expedia, was successfully spun off into an independent company.

Expedia veterans later revived the online real-estate concept as

Meanwhile, NBC took a larger share of the MSNBC cable network, taking it over fully in 2007. It also tinkered with the formula and moved toward commentary.

Although Microsoft's now out of the picture, the cable network will continue to be called MSNBC.

"Part of the purchase from Microsoft is we are purchasing that name, that trademark," Capus said. "The reason we're doing it is because there's a tremendous amount of brand equity that's been built up over these 16 years."

NBC is acquiring all of the assets, including the Newsvine and EveryBlock news startups acquired in recent years.

It will continue using Microsoft offices until a new location for the innovation center is chosen.

NBC will also continue its presence on MSN for a while. Under the arrangement, will provide news content to MSN for two years. That will give NBC time to wean itself from Microsoft's portal traffic.

"The goal is to use the next two years to get people to come to us directly," said Vivian Schiller, NBC News chief digital officer, who will oversee the innovation center.

The joint venture hasn't kept NBC from developing relationships with other tech companies, Schiller said.

"The fact is we talk to everybody all the time," she said. "We do work with Apple and Google; we've not been held back from that. But with this transaction we're free to talk with whomever we like and so is Microsoft."

Changes will come soon to The Redmond team has been working on site upgrades that will appear in coming months, including systems for publishing across all platforms and an interface that's optimized for mobile devices, as well as desktops, Tillinghast said.

Although Microsoft no longer is the celebrated tech wunderkind it was back in 1996 when it courted the blue-blood network, NBC executives said that's not why they're splitting.

"They have been, honestly, terrific to work with," Schiller said. "Everybody wants the baby that we birthed together to grow up and thrive. It's been nothing but a good experience."

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July 5, 2012 5:44 PM

Summer reading ideas from Bill Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates plans to do a lot of summer reading - perhaps more than he's done since he was a teen.

He's also sharing his reading list and reviews, and inviting people to recommend other books at his personal web site, The Gates Notes.
On the site, he talks about how he's always used summer to catch up on his reading and used to max out his library card when he was a kid. Now he may get through a book a day on vacations, on which he takes "what is probably a ridiculous number of books along."

An excerpt:

Between family trips and some other travel I'll be doing this summer, I probably have more reading time planned than I think I've had for a very long time, maybe ever since I started work. Still, I'm probably being too optimistic about what I'll be getting to, because I'm taking a ton of books with me.

I wonder if he's testing the Surface tablet with the Barnes & Noble app.

Here are some of the books that Gates recommends:

-"The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker
- "The Quest" by Daniel Yergin
- "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" by Ezra Vogel
- "The Cost of Hope" by Amanda Bennett
- "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo
- "Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update" by Donella Meadows
- "Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think" by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Education , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , e-readers |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 30, 2012 5:28 PM

D10: Steve Jobs videos released on iTunes

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. _ As a memorial to Steve Jobs, the All Things D conference is giving away full-length videos of six interviews he gave at the annual tech event.

They include the moving, joint interview with Bill Gates that was the highlight of the 2007 conference.

All Things D has released excerpts of the interviews before but hadn't freely shared the entire sessions.

Co-host Walt Mossberg announced the videos were being given away on iTunes, before a session in which Pixar's Ed Catmull and Oracle's Larry Ellison shared lessons they learned from the late Apple co-founder.

Here's a link to iTunes where the interviews are available in high-def video or as audio podcasts.

Here's a video of the session with Mossberg, Catmull and Ellison, including Ellison's anecdote about an issue with Jobs' peacock:

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March 2, 2012 9:59 AM

Video: Bill Gates on America's innovation and "fearful mood"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Donning his global statesman hat, Bill Gates spent time discussing America's concerns about its future with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

Gates talked about paradoxes - such as polls showing that Americans see a bleaker future despite the huge amount of innovation in their country that will lead to advances in medicine, energy and other fields.

"There's more innovation taking place in this country still than the whole rest of the world put together," Gates said in a video of the chat. "Now over time that will shift and they'll carry their more fair share of the burden, but in all these fields, the most interesting work is still largely in the United States."

Gates also touched on concerns about the effect of polarization on U.S. government, a topic he raised during an October speech at the University of Washington that also highlighted opportunities being created by innovation.

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December 8, 2011 12:46 PM

Gates back to Microsoft? Biz mag floats idea (updated)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fortune magazine is causing a little stir today by dropping a hint that Bill Gates may return to an active role leading Microsoft.

The story's based on a third-hand, anonymous source, but it taps into the vein of investor discontent with Microsoft's leadership that's always good for a burst of Web traffic and lively online comments.

Here's the relevant bit in the Fortune story:

One prominent chief executive told Fortune he'd heard from someone close to Gates that he might be considering such a move.

Gates directly and unequivocally denied this in a June interview with England's Daily Mail. He told the paper, "My full-time work for the rest of my life is this foundation."

The paper continued:

Will he ever return to helm Microsoft?

"No. I'm part-time involved. But this is my job now," he said, referring to the foundation.

He could change his mind so you never know. But it sounds like a long shot.

UPDATE: Impossibly long shot, according to a Gates spokesman, who said via email that there is no truth to the story.

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October 27, 2011 4:31 PM

Bill Gates on being the top 1 percent, Fox News and taxes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates really cut loose during the question and answer portion of his lecture at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen Center.

Asked about economic disparity, how money is influencing politics and the challenge voters face making informed decisions, Gates said "the world at large is less inequitable today than at any time in history."

The number of people around the world in abject poverty has gone down, as has the mortality rate for young children, he said.

But there is clearly concentration of wealth, said the man who was the world's richest for many years.

"You're absolutely right. There's some big fortunes and society can't - it's not good to have a society where you don't have mobility in between different income levels. That is, if you're born in the bottom quartile, education ought to be good enough that you have a reasonable chance of getting into the first or second quartile."

Education is the key, he said.

"So if you really look at where we're letting people down in terms of the American dream, I wouldn't say - you can take this as self-serving - I wouldn't say it's because of a few people are very rich. I'd say it's because we haven't been doing a good job on education to give them an opportunity to move up into the top few percent."

As for the ultrarich, Gates noted that he and Warren Buffett have encouraged other billionaires to share more of their wealth.

"The rich should give away more of their wealth than they currently do, and we've certainly been willing to speak out about that. Warren's the only person who's ever had a tax named after him -- the Buffett tax."

Gates said he was just in Washington, D.C., trying to explain to members of Congress that it won't help the country to cut spending on science projects.

"You can be very frustrated with the political system -- I certainly am."

Gates said he doesn't know why politics are so fractured today.

"Maybe the system will realize the problems that it has there, but I don't think that just by getting rid of the wealthiest in the country that will solve all these problems," he said.

Then he reiterated that better education is key - and education costs should come down - to make society more equitable.

Gates said that "money politics" and political districts that enable extreme politicians to hold their seats are factors.

The media's also partly to blame, he said.

"Certainly, the media -- people do wonder if this polarization comes from the Fox News phenomenon, that you're just listening to the people who agree with you," he said. "I don't really know."

Another challenge is the complexity of topics such as taxes and healthcare reform.

"The U.S. tax code is so complex that you don't know where to be outraged and you don't have time to read it," he said.

Another student told Gates that growing up, she wanted to be the richest person in the world, and she wanted advice.

Gates gave a long and thoughtful response.

"I didn't start out with a dream of being superrich," he said, noting that after the Intel founders became billionaires, "I thought, wow, that must be strange ... It is.'

Here's his advice:

"Most people who have done well have just found something they're nuts about doing. Then they figure out a system to hire their friends to do it with them. If it's an area of great impact then sometimes you get financial independence."

Gates said crazy money isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

"Wealth above a certain level ... really it's a responsibility," he said, explaining that you're either going to have to leave it to your children or "be smart about giving it away."

"I can understand about having millions of dollars," he said. "There's meaningful freedom that comes with that, but once you get much beyond that I have to tell you, it's the same hamburger. Dick's has not raised their prices enough."

"But being ambitious is good. You just have to pick what you enjoy doing."

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July 12, 2011 12:03 PM

Venture backed by Bill Gates sues chip giants, PC industry

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about biting the hand that fed you.

Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures -- the patent licensing company led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold and backed by Bill Gates -- is suing two of the largest memory chip makers and most of the world's major PC companies.

Intellectual Ventures is seeking royalties from chipmakers Hynix and Elpida, plus computer retailers Best Buy and Wal-Mart. It's also going after PC and device makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer, Asustek, A-Data Technology, Kingston Technology, Pantech and Logitech.

Apparently licensing negotiations between the parties fell through.

The filing noted that Intellectual Ventures has bought more than 30,000 patents and collected nearly $2 billion in fees, but Hynix and Elpida "failed and refused to license Intellectual Ventures' patents on reasonable terms and continues to use those inventions without permission."

The spat is over whether the manufacturers should pay Intellectual Ventures a royalty on DDR2, DDR3 and GDDR4 memory products.

It said Intellectual Ventures first asked Hynix to obtain a patent license in 2008. Discussions continued through 2009 and 2010, with IV alleging that Hynix was using its inventions in its DRAM and Flash products, the suit said.

Similarly, IV contacted Elpida in 2009 and during 2010 attempted to negotiate a license.

"Despite repeated requests from Intellectual Ventures for a meeting, Elpida repeatedly delayed," the firm said in its complaint, filed in federal court in Seattle.

Patents at issue include one for "memory devices with selectable access type and methods using the same" that was issued in 1997, three years before Intellectual Ventures began. Another is for "embedded enhanced DRAM, and associated method" that was issued in 1999.

Intellectual Ventures is seeking treble damages and legal fees, plus the royalties. The suit was reported earlier today by Bloomberg.

Here's the filing from the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington:


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May 17, 2011 11:30 AM

Bill and Melinda Gates in National Portrait Gallery

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery today is unveiling its latest acquisition, a portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates painted by Jon Friedman.

There's no reference to Microsoft in the portrait, which emphasizes their stature as philanthropists. They're seated in front of a video monitor showing African girls and the motto of their charitable foundation, "All Lives Have Equal Value."

The gallery's advisory board chooses subjects "who are making a significant impact on American culture," a release explained. Its collection includes "poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story."

Friedman had only an hour with the Gateses, according to a New York Times editorial that said the artist took digital photos and them assembled the poses on a computer but captured the Gateses "as if he had worked with them for months. The result is quietly inspiring and suprisingly affecting."

The view in the background of the painting suggests Friedman met with the couple at the Kirkland offices that Bill Gates set up in 2008 after he retired from Microsoft. Beyond the monitor and the wall of windows are what appears to be Lake Washington, green ridges of Seattle and the Olympics.

The gallery, in Washington, D.C., began displaying the painting today and hosted a presentation by Friedman. It's an oil and collage on canvas measuring 50 1/8 by 46 1/8 inches and was paid for by the musuem's Marc Pachter Commissioning Fund.

"I am thrilled to accept this commissioned painting of Bill and Melinda Gates into our collection," Martin Sullivan, director of the museum, said in its announcement. "Jon Friedman created a compelling portrait that tells the story of their foundation's work."

Bill and Melinda Gates provided a statement, saying "It is an honor to have our portrait joining those of so many outstanding Americans in the National Portrait Gallery. Our thanks go to Jon Friedman for creating the portrait in so thoughtful a manner, and for calling out the work of our foundation so evocatively."

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May 2, 2011 10:55 AM

Review of Paul Allen's revealing "Idea Man"

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's something for almost everyone in Paul Allen's new memoir, "Idea Man."

There are chapters on the Seahawks, the Trail Blazers, space travel, billionaire vacations, brain research and Jimi Hendrix.

Woven throughout are anecdotes and sometimes catty asides about the amazing parade of people Allen met as he worked his way up and partly back down the list of the world's richest people.

This makes it the most revealing book yet about lifestyles of the software tycoons living along the east shore of Lake Washington.

But "Idea Man" provides only a partial view of the rise of Microsoft and the modern tech industry. Allen played an important role in the early days and clearly feels his contributions are underappreciated. That's fine, but the book's insistent portrayal of Allen as a visionary compromises its documentary value and pushes it toward the category of public relations.

The first third of the book describes how a geeky Wedgwood kid discovered computers, fell in with Bill Gates and eventually suggested they start a company making software for the first microcomputers.

Allen drops names left and right -- teachers at Lakeside, woolly programmers from the early days and celebrities he schmoozed with after joining the billionaire club.

As in a movie, some of the best lines were revealed in the previews. Excerpts published in March included most of the juicy bits, where Allen describes Gates' abrasive style and how Allen overheard Gates and Steve Ballmer "scheming to rip me off" by diluting Allen's Microsoft stake.

It turns out the book is less a vendetta than an effort to shape and polish the legacy of an unusual man whose technical skills and vision launched Microsoft at the dawn of personal computing. I'd put it on the same shelf as the $625, 2,400-page cookbook that former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold published last year and the authorized Steve Jobs biography that's being released in early 2012.

Allen's biggest business lately seems to be real-estate development. But he's put renewed effort into defining himself as a tech visionary after brushes with death in 2009, when he received a pacemaker and fought a recurrence of the cancer that precipitated his resignation from Microsoft in 1983.

While writing the book, Allen simultaneously sued Apple, Google, Facebook and other major tech companies. He alleged they were infringing on patents from a research lab he funded before the dot-com crash. The suits describe the lab as "one of the preeminent technology firms" and Allen as "one of the earliest pioneers of personal computer software."

Allen never says so directly, but the book leaves the impression he's resentful or jealous of Gates' fame, accolades and reputation. Several "told you so" passages drive this home.

When antitrust investigations of Microsoft were peaking in 1997, "I advised Bill to temper his stance," but Gates insisted he could bundle a browser or other features to his products, Allen wrote.

He also claims to have foreseen the importance of Google: "Years before Google became the goliath it is today, I repeatedly asked Bill how Microsoft was going to catch up in search, or whether the company might consider buying Google instead. Bill was unimpressed by his then much smaller rival. 'In six months we'll catch them,' he kept saying."

Allen also takes a few jabs at Jobs. He recalls being appalled by Jobs' berating an employee in a meeting, and another incident where Jobs rejected Allen's suggestion that a computer mouse would be better with two buttons, rather than the single mouse button Jobs planned for the Macintosh.

"In time I'd be vindicated," Allen wrote, noting Windows became the dominant PC platform, the second button helps millions of users and Apple began offering its multi-button Mighty Mouse in 2005.

Tech leaders aren't the only ones skewered. Allen gets in several digs at his former investment manager, executives at the cable company where Allen lost $8 billion, and Bob Whitsitt, the former Sonics manager Allen hired to lead the Blazers and the Seahawks.

The gentlest rebuke is given to his beloved mother, for selling Allen's childhood collection of science-fiction books 25 years after he had moved out of the family house. She proudly told him a man paid $75 for the lot.

"It was hard to forgive her for that, but an old photograph saved the day," Allen wrote. "After enlarging the picture, I was able to make out the titles on my old collection's spines. I had copies tracked down and retrieved almost all of them."

"Idea Man" is the recollection of one person and not a transcript of history, of course. It's not journalism, and some controversies are skipped over.

Prurient readers will be disappointed the book isn't as candid as promised on its front flap. There are no juicy stories from the $10 million parties the guitar-playing bachelor hosted on yachts and in exotic locales for friends and celebrities.

There's no mention of Allen's relationship in the late 1990s with tennis champion Monica Seles, who is half his age. Allen talks about his ill-fated investment in the DreamWorks movie studio, but he doesn't mention an earlier production company he bankrolled until the co-founder accused him of sexual harassment.

Also missing are details of Allen's reincarnation as a real-estate mogul.

It's still fun and enlightening to peek behind the curtain that Seattle's most colorful billionaire has pulled around his life. Even if you're only seeing a stage carefully filled with Allen's favorite things.

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May 2, 2011 10:25 AM

Bill Gates: Tax the rich, and Yahoo deal wasn't bad

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates shared a few thoughts on Microsoft's deal with Yahoo during a Fox Business Network interview keyed to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.

Gates was interviewed by Liz Claman along with Buffett and Susan Decker, former Yahoo president.

Gates and Decker both said the Yahoo merger was sensible, although other Microsoft shareholders were relieved that Yahoo rejected Microsoft's $44.6 billion offer before the economy dove in 2008.

Here are a few excerpts provided by the network.

Decker on whether Yahoo should have teamed up with Microsoft:

"Yes absolutely. I think it was a mistake that the merger was not effected for Yahoo shareholders."

Gates on the strategic partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft:

"The companies are doing a lot together. Google is a tough competitor, so combining some of the strengths of Yahoo and Microsoft clearly made sense; whether that was done through a merger or a key business deal where it ended up that gives that partnership a chance of competing with Google and making sure they don't get too lazy."

Gates on whether he advises Buffett to buy technology companies:

"I think he is very wise in sticking to businesses that have a more predictable future."

Gates, Buffeet and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger all said the rich should pay more taxes -- and the Bush tax cuts shouldn't have been extended -- to help lower the deficit. The exchange:

Munger: "No. I would argue that we could stand a little higher taxes on people like me."

Buffett: "And me."

Munger: "And you, too."

Claman: "Bill?"

Gates: "Absolutely."

Claman: "Bill's a little quiet there."

Gates: "I'll pay if you pay."


Gates: "No, I pay more taxes than anyone so I'm -- and I'm glad to pay more."

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March 31, 2011 9:35 AM

Paul Allen's book: Shaping legacy with a chainsaw?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Paul Allen's trying awfully hard to be sure he's remembered as a technology visionary and not just a quirky billionaire.

But perhaps Allen's trying too hard to shape his legacy.

Building edifices such as the Experimental Music Project was just the start -- though it's now looking like an apt symbol of Allen's melting relationship with Bill Gates, whose new foundation headquarters has risen across the street.

Allen's aggressive new approach began last year, after he fought back a recurrence of cancer. In July he publicly pledged to give most of his fortune to charity. Then in August he sued Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies, arguing that they copied ideas hatched long ago by his research ventures.

Now Allen's releasing an autobiography -- "Idea Man" -- to tell his remarkable story.

But the reception to excerpts of the tell-all suggests his re-branding effort may backfire.

The excerpts reiterate that Allen made key contributions to Microsoft's genesis and ended up with a smaller share of the company than Gates, a story that's been told before.

What's newly revealed is the depth of Allen's resentment over his dealings with Gates.

It's so catty, Allen risks going down in history as the world's richest disgruntled employee -- the guy who stomped out of the building with $20 billion, thinking he deserved $25 billion.

I've followed Allen for more than a decade and talked to him a number of times. He's always been polite, except for the time his security guard shoved me aside, the night Washington voters agreed to fund a stadium for his Seahawks.

Whenever I asked about Gates, Allen talked up their friendship. Here's what he told me in June 2008:

"We have dinners regularly. We love to see movies together. The thing I always tell people about Bill that they may not know is, he's really a lot of fun to hang out with."

Allen continued:

"We used to go to movies a lot together. We would predict what's going to happen in the movie. If something funny happened, then we would just crack up. We still to this day have a lot of fun just hanging out and talking and brainstorming about future things."

Something must have changed. Maybe he was frustrated at being overshadowed by Gates all these years, or just had to get things off his chest. Still, nobody expected Allen to vent so publicly.

Gates was a brutal boss and a crafty negotiator. He's a ruthless businessman who once aspired to be a lawyer like his wealthy father, who helped set things up. Allen's an eclectic, music-loving son of a University of Washington librarian. Given these backgrounds, it's impressive that Allen ended up with 36 percent of their startup.

Another sore point is the cut Gates gave to Steve Ballmer, to convince his Harvard pal to join the company in 1980.

Allen, who attended Washington State University, writes that he and Gates decided to give Ballmer 5 percent of Microsoft. But when he left on a business trip, Gates gave Ballmer 8.75 percent, "considerably more than what I'd agreed to."

Allen wasn't the only one miffed by Ballmer's hiring package. It caused a "personnel disaster," according to "Gates," a 1993 biography by Paul Andrews and Stephen Manes. They didn't say much about Allen's feelings at the time, but said there was widespread resentment after Ballmer's offer was tacked onto the office bulletin board.

The ones to feel sorry for are Microsoft's early clerical workers, with whom "Gates had been tightfisted beyond the bounds of the law," Andrews and Manes wrote.

While Allen was grousing about dilution, the clerks had to file a complaint with the state to extract back pay for overtime that Gates owed them.

We'll have to see what the rest of Allen's book says, and whether people are as interested in his life before and after Microsoft. There's some irony in the book getting its initial burst of attention because of its candid view of Gates.

Hopefully "Idea Man" is more than a vendetta. That would be a shame because Allen's otherwise providing fascinating new details from his front-row perspective on the birth of the PC industry and a company that dramatically changed the Seattle area and the world.

For better or worse, Microsoft is like a natural element. Much of the world runs on its software, and it may be the most profitable business ever created anywhere.

Allen left Microsoft when it was really just getting started, more than a decade before Windows 95.

Early employees who thought they knew the man don't know what to make of his book.

"I'm taken aback," said Jon Shirley, who became Microsoft's president the year Allen left and served with him on its board.

Shirley said he's been getting calls from very early employees, talking about the excerpts.

"I think everybody's sort of in the same situation I am -- it's very hard to understand," he said.

Shirley said the book probably won't alter the general perception of Microsoft, which was more affected by antitrust cases.

"Microsoft is no longer Bill and Paul," he noted.

Gates and Allen have also changed, presumably.

"How the world wants to view the interchange of these two very young men -- when they were young men -- I don't know," he said. "You'll have to decide whether you accept this story or not. It's shocking to me -- it doesn't sound like Paul."

Or maybe there's a lot more to Allen than everybody realized.

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November 22, 2010 10:58 AM

Take Microsoft private: It's been considered

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Here's today's column, about why Microsoft should go private. I may have buried the news, that people in Microsoft's treasury group have run the numbers ...)

With interest rates at historic lows, maybe it's time for Microsoft to refinance.

Seriously, the company is unable to convince investors that its business is doing well. So why not say to hell with Wall Street and take the company private?

Microsoft has management challenges and seems less nimble and adventurous, but it's steadily grown the business through the downturn.

The company is now so big that its stock will never perform the way it did in the 1990s.

It's also getting harder to explain all the different things it's building, especially when analysts and the media are more interested in the gadget du jour. Executives seem tired of telling their story over and over, only to be asked about the iPad and mocked for the Kin.

With the stock stuck under $30, investors no longer have the patience to wait the decade or so it takes Microsoft to build humongous new businesses, as it did with servers and is doing with Xbox.

Breaking the company apart or raising the dividend further may give investors a quick hit, but they'd soon be begging for more.

They've already forgotten that last month Microsoft reported 51 percent profit growth, and that it gave shareholders more than $1 billion a month over the past year through dividends and stock buybacks.

Instead of throwing free cash into that black hole, Microsoft could use it to cover refinancing costs and share the rest with employees. It would be a better incentive than middling stock awards and could even start churning out Microsoft millionaires again.

Going private isn't that far-fetched. Dell's been thinking about this and will reportedly discuss it again during a board meeting next month.

Public offerings get all the attention, but 1,199 companies went private over the past decade, including 92 with a combined value of $60 billion so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters.
Thumbnail image for going private.jpg
As of Friday, Microsoft's market cap was $219.8 billion.

To get your mind around this, pretend that's a mortgage (it's easier if you lop off six zeros).

First, deduct the $24 billion in equity still held by Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Make it a cash-out refi - take out 15 percent to sweeten the deal for shareholders. Use the cash on hand if they need more.

You're looking to borrow about $225.5 billion.

If Microsoft refinances at 5 percent - roughly what it sold 30-year bonds for last year - its monthly payment would be about $1.21 billion. Last year the company had profit of about $2 billion a month before taxes.

It looks even better if Microsoft figures out a way to get the principal down. Perhaps a few big shareholders would be interested in a limited partnership that owned Microsoft outright.

Gates and Ballmer together own about 11 percent of the shares. About two-thirds of the rest is held by about 1,700 institutional investors and mutual funds.

To go private, Microsoft would have to reduce the number of shareholders below 300.

Maybe one could be the Gates Foundation. Imagine what it would do for the company's reputation and morale if people buying Windows knew a portion of the profits would directly benefit the world's poor?

Everyone would love that, except Apple and that person at last week's shareholders meeting who asked Gates to give more to investors and less to sick and impoverished children.

I'm not the only one thinking about taking Microsoft private.

The notion has crossed the minds of a few people in Microsoft's internal treasury department, according to Bill Koefoed, the company's general manager of investor relations.

"Sure, in the back of people's minds. We've thought about it," he said.

But it's apparently not something the chairman of the board is interested in pursuing.

For the deal to work, it would need the two largest shareholders - Chairman Gates and CEO Ballmer - to hang on to their stakes and go for it, and lately they've been selling millions of shares.

It won't be too many years before both billionaires move on, and who wants to refinance when they can taste retirement?

I wonder, though, if Microsoft's next generation of leaders will be as immune to Wall Street sirens.

Going private seems like an opportunity for Gates to develop another vaccine, to keep Microsoft's long-term vision clear and to protect it from infectious greed.

If he takes a little cash out from the refi, he could probably get one of those big TVs, as well.

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September 14, 2010 2:25 PM

Video: Bill Gates as a Boy Scout, Seattle history

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a tribute video prepared for the Boy Scouts of America, which presented Bill Gates with its Silver Buffalo award today during a luncheon at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle.

It's a nice bit of Gates and Seattle history, with images of Gates during his time in Troop 186 in the Sand Point neighborhood.

Gates was accompanied to the event by his father -- Bill Gates, an Eagle Scout -- and stepmother, Mimi Gardner Gates.

Among the audience were former scoutmasters who led Bill back in the day, William Christoffersen and Don Van Wierengen.

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September 13, 2010 11:44 AM

Bill Gates getting Silver Buffalo

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates will collect his latest honor at an event in Seattle on Tuesday.

The Boy Scouts of America is presenting Gates with its Silver Buffalo honor for "his deep commitment to improving the lives of the world's most disadvantaged people," according to a release today.

Gates -- who became a Life Scout -- is receiving the award from the Chief Seattle Council during a Tuesday luncheon.

Silver Buffalo awards have been given since 1925 to civic-minded people for their contributions and service to youth. Gates is among 12 recipients this year; others include ExxonMobile Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, the release said.

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April 20, 2010 12:11 PM

Next on American Idol: Bill and Melinda Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill and Melinda Gates are making an appearance on American Idol tomorrow night as part of the show's "Idol Gives Back" feature.

The international philanthropic idols will be interviewed by Ryan Seacrest during an episode featuring celebrities such as Elton John and Alicia Keys.

In a preview interview with the Associated Press, show producer Simon Fuller said the Gates "have done something very special, quite incredible, this year."

A Gates Foundation spokesperson said they made a donation to support Idol Gives Back.

Their appearance is also an opportunity to introduce global health issues and thank viewers for their support of the charitable effort, Melissa Milburn said.

"Bill and Melinda want to thank them for their generosity and also just to use the program to focus attention on global health and poverty," she said.

The foundation also contributed to the show's first charitable campaign in 2007.

But the big question is, will Bill and Melinda Gates sing on the show?

"No, they will not sing," Milburn said. "They're singing the praises of the generosity of the American people."

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February 11, 2010 9:40 AM

Bill Gates: Apple iPad not as great as iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple's iPad is "nice" but it's nowhere near as great as the iPhone, Microsoft chairman and former chief tablet enthusiast Bill Gates told Bnet's Brent Schlender.

Part of his quote:

"So, it's not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, 'Oh my God, Microsoft didn't aim high enough.' It's a nice reader, but there's nothing on the iPad I look at and say, 'Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.'"

Gates was more enthused about a demonstration of the Hayden Planetarium's Virtual Universe that he saw this week at the TED conference, calling it "very cool" in a Twitter post yesterday. Maybe if Apple could get the vritual universe on a pad ...

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November 19, 2009 9:47 AM

Microsoft alum grants to Ashesi, TAF & Room to Read

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Microsoft Alumni Foundation awarded its first "Integral Fellows" awards to three nonprofits started by company alumni.

Each receives a $25,000 grant "as well as access to the talents and skills of alumni to help support their ongoing efforts."

Winners include Patrick Awuah, founder of Ashesi University in Ghana; Trish Millines Dziko, founder of the Technology Access Foundation in Seattle and John Wood, founder of San Francisco-based Room to Read.

Bill and Melinda Gates recognized them and other nominees during the alumni group's Founders' Gala last night.

"It's really about helping Microsoft alumni maximize and leverage resources. The Foundation provides the framework to bring people, ideas and organizations together to help address our world's challenges," Jeff Raikes, chair of the Microsoft Alumni Foundation Board, said in the release. "These three award winners, along with all of our nominees, exemplify what it means to give back. Their work is deeply rooted in service and making a difference in people's lives."

Microsoft alumns have started more than 150 nonprofits, generating over $100 million dollars a year in more than 100 countries, the release said.

"The Integral Fellows, and all of the sixty-six nominees, remind us that the Gates Foundation is just one of the hundreds of nonprofits that grew out of the Microsoft experience. We are moved and humbled to be a part of this community," said Melinda French Gates said in the release.

High-profile judges included former President Jimmy Carter, Ashoka Chief Executive Bill Drayton, Bill Gates Sr., eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Bridgespan Group co-foudner Thomas J. Tierney.

I wonder if all that exposure to Gates Foundation bosses and other notable philanthropists will lead to additional grants for the winning nonprofits.

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November 18, 2009 3:45 PM

Ka-ching! Microsoft execs cash options after stock hits $30

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently $30 was a magic number for some Microsoft stock holders, including a few longtime executives who cashed in stock options that are finally in the money.

Senior Vice President Bob Muglia flipped 922,422 shares that have been exercisable since February 2006.

Muglia bought them for $25.14 and sold them today and Tuesday for $30, according to an SEC filing this afternoon.

Muglia's not fully divesting -- he and his wife and family foundation still have about 600,000 shares -- but an extra $4.48 million is nice for the holidays.

Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie also pounced this week. He acquired 367,000 shares exercisable since February 2006 at $25.14 and sold them Tuesday for $30, clearing $1.78 million.

If they'd waited until Wednesday's close they could have netted another 11 cents per share.

But they timed it better than Bill Gates, whose regularly scheduled stock-sale plan unloaded 20 million shares in recent weeks in the $28 range.

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September 4, 2009 5:39 PM

Find the billionaire: A new guide to local mansions

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ever wonder which billionaire lives in which mansion, as you cruise around Lake Washington?

Mercer Islander David Dykstra wondered so much he published a book last month mapping more than 100 lakefront mansions, describing their owners and presenting photos of the homes taken from the water.

Many of the places featured in "Lake Washington: 130 Homes" are owned by tech veterans, including, of course, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Charles Simonyi.

I asked Dykstra if he'd had any blowback from the property owners.

"So far the blowback has been those who did not make the cut and were not in it!" he replied via e-mail.

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July 24, 2009 11:07 AM

Bill Gates chimes in on Gizmodo's '79 celebration

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates apparently has time to cruise the gadget blogs, now that he's largely retired from Microsoft.

Including Gizmodo, where Gates provided a long response to the site's smirky retrospective of circa 1979 technology, "a weeklong celebration of gadgets and geekdom 30 years ago, as the analog age gave way to the digital, and most of our favorite toys were just being born."

It struck a chord with Gates, whose little software company was just getting rolling, moving from Albuquerque, N.M., to Bellevue that year. An excerpt:

By the middle of 1979, BASIC was running on more than 200,000 Z-80 and 8080 machines and we were just releasing a new version for the 8086 16-bit microprocessor. As the numbers grew, we were starting to think beyond programming languages, too, and about the possibility of creating applications that would have real mass appeal to consumers. That led to the creation of the Consumer Products Division in 1979. One of our first consumer products was called Microsoft Adventure, which was a home version of the first mainframe adventure game. It didn't have all the bells and whistles of, say, Halo, but it was pretty interesting for its time.

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July 15, 2009 12:03 PM

Bill Gates on Natal, research and Chrome OS

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates surfaced to give an interview with CNET, where he shrugged at Google's nebulous operating system project, talked up the Richard Feynman lectures he's sharing online through Microsoft Research, and chatted about his new role.

Gates also reiterated Microsoft's intentions to bring the Project Natal technology to the PC, as Xbox executives disclosed last month at the E3 conference.

Some tidbits, including Gates on the Feynman lectures:

Well, I didn't get to see these until I was about 30, and so I would love it if lots of young people saw them, and got a sense of the fun, and how science works, and what's complicated, and what's not. I hope some people who teach science are inspired by the way that Feynman managed to make it interesting without giving up the depth of how it works.

With super-high-quality material like this up there for free, I hope people see the potential, and that they'd benefit from this one in particular, and then it starts to push forward the idea if someone is great lecturer, then their work should be out there and available.

On Chrome OS:

Well ... there's many, many forms of Linux operating systems out there, and packaged in different ways, and booted in different ways. So I don't know anything in particular about what Google is doing. But, in some ways I'm surprised people are acting like there's something new. I mean, you've got Android running on Netbooks; it's got a browser in it. In any case, you should make them be concrete about what they're doing. It is kind of a typical thing. When Google is doing anything it gets this -- the more vague they are, the more interesting it is.

On his new role:

Well, the foundation work is very rewarding, and there's a lot of interesting complexity that comes with it. I'm pretty much doing what I expected to be doing, which is very different than what I was doing before my job changed. I do have about 20 percent involvement with Microsoft, where topics like their future of Office, of search, or various things that Steve [Ballmer] asked me to look into and help out with come along. So that's developed pretty much like I would expect.

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April 30, 2009 5:17 PM

Billionaire buddies: Bill Gates on Jeff Bezos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Writing for Time magazine, Bill Gates penned a glowing profile of the guy who lives a few mansions down in Medina, Jeff Bezos.

Gates wrote the piece for Time's listing of the 100 most influential people. (I found the link via Silicon Alley Insider).

Apparently Gates is pretty impressed with the Kindle. I hate to spoil the ending, but Gates said the device and its effect on books could put Bezos "in the same ranks as Johannes Gutenberg."

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March 2, 2009 3:18 PM

Gates family puts kibosh on tantalizing iPhone, iPods

Posted by Brier Dudley

A revelation by Melinda Gates that Apple gadgets are banned from the Medina mansion is getting some attention online today.

Gates made the comment to Vogue, which is running a profile of the most famous female Microsoft alum in its March issue.

An excerpt from the excerpt that Vogue's running online:

Continue reading this post ...

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February 5, 2009 11:25 AM

What will Bill "Skeeter" Gates do next?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates' mosquito-release stunt at TED yesterday was amazing.

After decades of mellow, academic keynotes, could he get radical in his quest to raise awareness of social and health issues?

What will he do next?

A few ideas:

- Throw pies at Big Pharma executives who aren't doing enough for global health.

- Have Nordstrom outfit a few people lined up at the unemployment office, then add them to the mix of suits at the Microsoft CEO Summit in May.

- Hire The Stranger's Dan "the Doorknob" Savage as an outreach consultant/congressional liaison.

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January 16, 2009 10:21 AM

Bill Gates surfacing Jan. 26 to outline new role, priorities

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates will be back in the news on Jan. 26, when he's scheduled to present his "first Annual Letter" in his new role as co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The letter's going to explain his new role at the foundation and prioirities for 2009 and beyond, a foundation announcement said:

"In his Annual Letter, he will talk about his expanded role at the foundation and its efforts and priorities for the future. In the face of the global financial crisis, Gates will also explain why he remains optimistic about the ability of government, business, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to help reduce child mortality, address hunger and poverty, and improve education in the U.S."

It sounds a little bit like the periodic call-to-arms/priority-setting memos that Gates used to send periodically at Microsoft, although this one doesn't make any pretense of being an internal communication: He's presenting the letter during a press conference on the 26th.

The letter is also available to the public. Anyone can sign up to receive it electronically on the 26th - the foundation has created a special sign up page here.

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November 24, 2008 11:46 AM

Charles Simonyi pals Billg, Mick and Ulf attend Swedish wedding

Posted by Brier Dudley

If Medina seemed a little empty this weekend, it was because a few of the billionaires were in Sweden for the wedding of Charles Simonyi and Lisa Persdotter, a 28-year-old socialite and investment manager.

Bill Gates created a stir when he flew in Friday to usher
the wedding of Hungarian-born computing genius and "the father of Microsoft Word," according to a juicy report in The Local, a Swedish newspaper, that was called out by The Huffington Post.

Other guests included Mick Jagger and Ulf Ekberg of Ace of Bass.

The events began Friday with a reception at Gothenburg's art museum, according to the story, which mentioned that "Gates was accompanied by a bevy of beefy Danish bodyguards as he passed through Copenhagen's Kastrup airport en route to the glitzy wedding to be held at the German church in Sweden's second city."

Also disclosed were more details of the bride Simonyi fell for last fall, after a longtime relationship with Martha Stewart.

Apparently he fell for the girl next door: Persdotter's parents have a place next to his vacation home in St. Tropez.

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December 17, 2007 2:16 PM

LA Times rips Gates Foundation

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's good that watchdogs are keeping their eye on the Gates Foundation and that thoughtful experts are monitoring the overall benefits of global health philanthropies, but Sunday's LA Times story on the Gates Foundation was awfully sensational.

It basically says money the foundation is spending battling AIDS in Africa is distorting the continent's already poor healthcare system, drawing resources and luring desparately needed healthcare workers to better-paying jobs funded by grants. It also questions priorities, noting that people are still dying of hunger -- some are so hungry they throw up the AIDS medicine the foundation is funding.

These are interesting questions and there is great on-the-ground reporting, but the story uses a terrible anecdote of an infant's death to make its point.

Here's an excerpt from the story, headlined "Unintended victims of Gates Foundation generosity":

There was no oxygen tube for Mankuebe. She asphyxiated for lack of a second valve. It would have cost $35.

The hospital, with no staff to move Mankuebe's remains to the morgue, placed her body on a shelf near the delivery room while her father arranged for burial. The tiny corpse was swaddled in a baby blanket. A handwritten death notice was stuck to the blanket with a used hypodermic needle.

The Gates Foundation, endowed by the personal fortunes of the Microsoft Corp. chairman, his wife and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren E. Buffett, has given $650 million to the Global Fund. But the oxygen valve fell outside the priorities of the fund's grants to Lesotho.

Every day, nurses say, one or two babies at the hospital die as Mankuebe did -- bypassed in a place where AIDS overshadows other concerns.

That's a low blow, because it implies the foundation is responsible because it didn't spend $35 for a valve.

The lack of a valve in a chronically underfunded African hospital isn't a smoking gun. Maybe I missed something in the story, but it didn't say the valve would have been there if not for the priority placed on AIDS work because of the Gates money. So how does that make Mankuebe an "unintended victim"?

The story actually says the foundation gave the child a chance to come into the world, because it had earlier saved the child's mother, not to mention all the children saved by its work on malaria and other critical problems.

It does a good job showing that the AIDS work is stressing Africa's healthcare system, and it's a reminder that the foundation is still young and has issues to sort out, such as the side effects of its giant footprint.

It's also good for the public to know about the foundation's challenges and outcomes, intended and unintended. With all the money being spent, there's going to be some dirt.

I'm glad there are newspapers with the resources to do this kind of reporting, but I wish the story had more context.

Also, if the goal is to pressure the foundation to spend more on basic healthcare delivery in places like Africa, I'm not sure the best route is to suggest Mankuebe died because of bad decisions made in Seattle.

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December 14, 2007 11:37 AM

Bill Gates on "skills you need to succeed"

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a guest column provided to the BBC, the Microsoft chairman shared tips on how to succeed now that technology has turned most everyone into an "information worker."

Math and science are important, but so are communication skills. Gates also said he also values "a passion for ongoing learning."

An excerpt:

A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code.

This isn't true at all.

Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.

I also place a high value on having a passion for ongoing learning. When I was pretty young, I picked up the habit of reading lots of books.

It's great to read widely about a broad range of subjects. Of course today, it's far easier to go online and find information about any topic that interests you.

The timing's interesting -- the feel-good piece appears the day after Norwegian browser-maker Opera asked the European Commission to open a new front in its antitrust case against Microsoft -- but so far the piece is drawing lots of praise in the comment section.

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July 26, 2007 8:52 AM

Microsoft analyst meeting: Gates on tech, iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates is opening Microsoft's financial analyst meeting this morning in Redmond with a tech talk. He's describing what to expect during the next 10 years -- an updated version of his "digital decade" speech.

-- Processor clock speed won't keep advancing the way it has over the past 20 years. The big gains will instead come from multiple cores enabling parallel execution.

"We may get up into the 10 gigahertz range but not much higher than that five or six years out,'' he said.

-- Broadband "lets us think about the computing paradigm in a new way." Now you have a "balance of computation" between the computer near the user and computing in the datacenters powering online services. Gates of course said that computation near the users is "superior in terms of responsiveness" and doesn't have the latency issue of network services.

-- Bill apparently likes the iPhone. He mentioned it twice in the first 15 minutes of his speech, first as an example of how software is improving mobile devices and second when describing exciting "natural" interfaces such as touch and voice. He also mentioned Nintendo's Wii and explained how Microsoft has been investing in touch, voice and other natural interfaces for a long time. That was a lead-up to his demonstration of the Surface computing table, which failed to start. Ouch.

"It's more exciting when it actually does something, which right now it's not,'' he said, before moving on to the next part of his presentation.

-- Ten minutes after it froze, the Surface table is awake and Bill's doing the demo.

-- On gadgets, Gates said video will be streamed directly from cameras over improved wireless networks and uploaded to the home. Phones will be multifunction computing devices. "Think of the phone being a remote control, think of it as a device you can do gaming on,'' he said.

But unlike Apple, Microsoft's going to continue to focus mostly on software and work with phone manufacturers.

"Just like with the personal computer itself, the benefit we get from having a lot of hardware partners who can do great things is very helpful to us,'' he said.

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July 25, 2007 3:21 PM

Ahead of MSFT analyst day, Gates sells $62 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

The timing is probably coincidental, but it was a little odd to see Bill Gates report today that he sold nearly 2 million shares of Microsoft stock this week.

Tomorrow is Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting, an event that usually puts a positive spin on the stock.

Gates has steadily whittled down his Microsoft stake through big sales like Monday's, when he sold 1,999,800 shares at prices ranging from $31.15 to $31.45. He's still the biggest stockholder with about 11 percent of MSFT shares.

I wonder if he moved the money across town, into or Boeing. Maybe he just wanted to decorate his house like this.

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July 11, 2007 5:02 PM

An intern's view of Bill Gates' house

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates annually hosts a dinner for Microsoft interns, some of whom end up describing his Medina mansion in blogs.

Here's an excerpt from the blog of Robert Smith, an intern in the Windows Embedded team, whose writing was called out by Gearlog:

Going down Bill's driveway is like arriving at Jurassic Park. The driveway is long, windy, goes steeply down, and is just covered in plant life. We passed a 15-20 car garage on the way down. I'm not sure if it was Bill's private one or not as I didn't see any really cool cars in it. At the end of the driveway stands the entrance to Bill's house.

We got off the bus, grabbed our nametags, and headed in. We headed down this 5-ish story staircase to the main reception area outside. While walking down, we all took in as much of the house as we could. It's really just crazy. The whole house is built out of this beautiful orangey wood. We passed his movie theater (complete with Now Showing posters) and a room that looked to be completely filled with couches and pillows. It's all really nice.

We finally made it outside, and took in his back yard. The landscaping is just insane. There's grass that looks like someone went at it with scissors and there are tons of plants arranged and taken care of perfectly. We were pretty much given free roam of the place, so we checked out his dock, his beach (with sand imported from Hawaii), hot tub, and boat. He's also got this area of his house where a stream runs down from under the house into Lake Washington. One of the employees said it's probably man-made, but it's really cool. We also saw the indoor / outdoor pool that has an underwater grate that allows you to swim between the two sections.

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July 2, 2007 12:49 PM

Gates enters gay and lesbian publishing business

Posted by Brier Dudley

The flap over Microsoft and gay civil rights seems like ancient history.

Today, Bill Gates is part of a group investing in PlanetOut, a San Francisco company that publishes magazines and runs Web sites such as and, the "leading gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender online community."

PlanetOut just notified the SEC that it's selling $26.2 million worth of stock to five investment groups, including Cascade Investment, Bill Gates' personal investment company in Kirkland. Other investors entering the "definitive purchase agreement in connection with a private placement of common stock" are Special Situations Funds, SF Capital Partners, PAR Investment Partners LP and Allen & Company LLC.

Bill came across as a voice of reason during the 2005 brouhaha.

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June 12, 2007 5:08 PM

The Bill Gates Podiumpalooza

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's chief statesman spoke at Harvard on Thursday, then St. George's School in Spokane on Friday.

Now Bill Gates is spreading his inspirational message to the Indian tech industry, in an opinion piece published today in CXO Today, a Mumbai-based business magazine. An excerpt:

"It seems to me that the India miracle, if you will, demonstrates the wisdom of sustained investment in the primary asset of any modern economy: people."

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April 2, 2007 10:59 AM

Zillow founder's Bill Gates story

Posted by Brier Dudley

I didn't have room in today's column on Zillow's outlook to include an Old Seattle/Bill Gates anecdote shared by Lloyd Frink, Zillow's co-founder and president.

Frink, like Gates, fell for programming as a kid and went to Lakeside.

Their mothers also happened to be friends, so Frink ended up meeting Gates at one of Lakeside's annual auction fundraisers. Gates was impressed enough to hire the 13-year-old as an intern in 1979.

"So I took the bus from Madison Park to downtown Seattle, (then) all the way over to Bellevue a couple of times a week,'' Frink recalled

He also worked there during his summer vacations for 10 years, each time coming back to find Microsoft had grown "twice as big as the year before."

After graduating from Stanford, Frink joined Microsoft in 1988 and then in 1994 joined the initial team that built Expedia, along with Rich Barton, the other founder of Zillow and the company's chairman and chief executive.

P.S. For the sake of transparency, I should add that Zillow briefed me on upcoming features. I alluded to those in the column without being specific.

The company showed the new stuff to me and separately to other reporters on condition we hold it until the formal announcement is made. This is routine practice. Companies say it's intended to give everyone a chance for individual briefings and the ability to publish their stories at the same time. (Yet these schedules are often set to create a news pop or accommodate a particular publication, pundit or event ...).

I was upfront with them and said I was planning to write about the company today regardless of the embargo, so we split the interview between a general discussion and a review of the new stuff. Stay tuned for the rest.

P.S.: Zillow spokesman Amy Bohutinsky noted that the 4 million visitors in February data point came from the company's internal tracking, and the Hitwise data gave relative market share.

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March 8, 2007 3:34 PM

Gates for president campaign dropped

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was fun while it lasted, but Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams and others in the ragtag Bill Gates for President campaign have given up.

The campaign started last November, when Adams mused about the possiblity on his blog and a group separately created the Web site. They announced their decision yesterday via an e-mail that was posted at NetworkWorld and flagged by Slashdot:

We've tried.... We really have! We wanted to evoke political debate and to a certain extend we succeeded to do just that. On the other hand, we failed miserably to draw enough attention our way. Bill Gates probably noticed and read the website and our arguments, but he probably didn't feel the drive needed to go for that presidential candidacy

Bill told me last summer that he wasn't interested in being a politician, but you never know. Here's a Gates for President post from November with all the links.

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March 7, 2007 11:38 AM

Union fires back at Gates on H-1B

Posted by Brier Dudley

Practically before Bill Gates finished his Senate testimony in support of the H1 visa program this morning, Seattle-based WashTech gave its supporters a "click to send" form letter countering his statements.

Gates told a Senate committee it would be "fantastic" if the government would increase the H-1B visa limit from 65,000 a year to, say, 300,000.

According to a Bloomberg report, Gates said:

"Even though it may not be realistic, I do not believe there should be any limit. These employees are vital to U.S. competitiveness, and we should encourage them to become permanent U.S. residents so that they can drive innovation and economic growth alongside America's native-born talent.''

He said the U.S. should simultaneously invest more in research and education and double the output of math and science graduates.

WashTech's form letter didn't mince words. It also made the assumption that tech workers have friends who are highly skilled and unemployed because of the visa program:

As a high-tech worker in this country, I oppose further expansion of the H-1B visa program that is riddled with fraud, abuse and undermines the economic rights of citizens and immigrants alike. Increasing the visa program is actually detrimental for U.S. citizens from seeking out technical professions because they believe that their will be too many workers seeking to few job openings.

I know of my friends that are highly educated and skilled but have faced long periods of unemployment. The only thing tech workers are guaranteed today is economic uncertainty caused by the winds of globalization and relentless corporate downsizing.

If you'd like to draw your own conclusions, here's a link to a video of today's hearing (the committee used RealNetworks' player ...) and Bill Gates' prepared comments. Here's a story about Microsoft making the same pitch last year.

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March 1, 2007 11:26 AM

UW student turns phones into banking tools

Posted by Brier Dudley


Women in South India's Madurai region using Parikh's technology, developed at the UW, to record the day's transactions on a mobile phone.

The University of Washington today called out an interesting project by doctoral student Tapan Parikh, who developed technology to use cellphones as simple, low-cost accounting computers.

He's already started a company in India, called ekgaon, that's providing phones to more than 700 microfinance cooperatives through a contract with CARE India.

Microfinance groups typically use paper ledgers, and it's been difficult to shift their accounting to computers because they typically don't have the space, electricity or expertise to run them, the UW news release said.

Using open-source software, Parikh customized Nokia phones so they can be used for accounting. Here's how the release described the technology:

"The phone's camera first takes a picture of a bookkeeping form to identify the document. Then the phone prompts the user in the local language, Tamil, to enter the relevant numbers. Once the last keystroke is entered the information is sent by text message to a central server in India."

Rural farmers in India began using the phones in January. Parikh said in the release:

"Broadly speaking, what I'm trying to do is look at ways that information technology can have an impact on important social, political and economic issues."

Parikh's research was funded by Microsoft Reseach, Ricoh and Intel, and he was advised by Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Endowed Professor of Computer Science.

The project also highlights the UW's new emphasis on global health and technology for developing countries, influenced by the Gates Foundation and its expanding relationship with the school.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.