Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Stumpy Moose meets Bill Gates
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 8 December, 2001, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 21 December, 2018.
No matter how jaded I become, it’s always a thrill to get within shooting range of somebody famous, and they don’t get more famous than Bill Gates.
Bill was in Prague on Wednesday so my editor sent me along to see what the fuss was all about.
I’m not a huge Microsoft fan but I’m not one of those people who thinks Bill is the devil. Oddly, I can also claim that Bill Gates changed my life, though not in an interesting way.
I was expecting a press conference, so it was a surprise to turn up at the ungodly hour of 8:30am and find a huge line of people waiting to get into the building.
Disappointingly, the event was an actual Microsoft conference, not a press conference. I’d be sharing Bill with an audience of hundreds rather than dozens – most of them Czech software developers.
Eventually I filtered through to the accreditation area and picked up the obligatory press pack – T-shirt you won’t wear, shoulder bag you won’t use, pamphlets you won’t read.
Intriguingly the organizers were also giving a bunch of free software away but among all the MS disciples it seemed somehow inappropriate to ask if they had anything for the Macintosh.
After queuing to put my coat in the cloakroom and queuing to go through the metal detectors, I reached the main hall, which the creative people at Microsoft had dubbed the “Quality Room”.
I took a seat near the back.
Overhead, giant screens showed psychedelic visuals to a soundtrack of brass-driven cover versions of U2 hits – a jaunty “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was my personal favourite.
“We would like to ask you to limit the use of flashes to the first two minutes of the presentation,” we were reminded every five minutes or so.
For a moment I thought I’d died and gone to geek hell.
Finally, the psychedelia ended and the slogan “Empower people through great software” appeared on the screens, accompanied by the kind of music that Hollywood uses to score a Barbarian invasion.
The head of Microsoft Czech Republic appeared, and finally, at 9:15am, introduced Bill.
After the initial excitement died away, I noticed three things.
First, Bill sounds a lot like Kermit the Frog.
Second, Bill has put a bit of weight on.
And third, Bill wasn’t going to say anything worth reporting.
The speech was all about .NET and XML – interesting if, like me, your entire life revolves around the internet, but not much fun for anyone else. Even I was flagging a bit when we hit the “scalability leadership” presentation.
Things picked up when Bill handed over to two nervous men from Microsoft Czech Republic for a demonstration of the power of XML.
I always enjoy awkward presentations and this was a keeper, with one man donning a hardhat to pretend to be a hypothetical radio engineer while the world’s richest man looked politely on.
Back to Bill, who whipped out a snazzy looking item called the Tablet PC, a laptop with a digital screen that you can take handwritten notes on.
Finally, Bill fielded a few questions posed by Czech Microsoft developers and, for the first time, slipped out of motivational speech mode.
The most revealing moment came when he complained how Microsoft’s new products have to compete with Microsoft’s older products.
After people have paid for the old software, he complained, it’s free for the rest of their lives. He was joking, but only half-joking.
A few minutes later he was gone, to meet political leaders in the corridors of power.
I headed back to the office on public transport.