Microsoft chairman Bill Gates took to Reddit yesterday for an "Ask Me Anything" session which touched on topics ranging from his attitude towards open-source software to the charitable work done around the globe by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Logging in as "thisisbillgates," the Microsoft co-founder fielded dozens of questions from Reddit users for several hours, often chiming in on follow-up threads to the approval of many participants. Gates co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975, served as the software giant's CEO through 2000, and though he ended his full-time duties at the company in 2008, he still serves as chairman.
The AMA kicked with a bit of nostalgia - Reddit user "boodhabelly" reminiscing about a letter Gates wrote to the commenter in elementary school - but quickly turned to queries about Gates's personal philosophy about technology, future predictions, and more.
Asked by "zexyterrestrial" to name an emerging technology that will "cause another big stir for the average consumer in the same way that the home computer did years ago," Gates named "[r]obots, pervasive screens, [and] speech interaction" as likely to "change the way we look at 'computers.'"
"Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well, you will interact in new ways" with computing devices, he said.
Gates also was asked to name a Microsoft product that wasn't as fully developed under his tenure as CEO as he would have liked. The Microsoft chairman referenced WinFS, or Windows Future Storage - a relational database storage and management system developed in 2003 but never released.
"We had a rich database as the client/cloud store that was part of a Windows release that was before its time. This is an idea that will re-emerge since your cloud store will be rich with schema rather than just a bunch of files and the client will be a partial replica of it with rich schema understanding," he elaborated.
Another hot topic was Gates' attitude towards open-source software and freeware, given his pivotal role in developing the framework for licensed software that made him and his Microsoft colleagues so wealthy. Gates actually framed his response to a general question on the subject as a riff on the "tension" between online identity and anonymity as well as the different merits of free and licensed software.
"There are two things this could reference," he said. "One is the free/pay for software mix. The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting [to] see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often has services people choose to pay for," he said.
"The second thing is the anonymous versus identified tension," Gates continued. "This is another one where both will probably thrive since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space but it will improve."
Discussing his philanthropic efforts, many of which are focused on eradicating disease in developing countries, Gates suggested that polio could be eradicated within six years, followed by malaria and measles. Gates also lamented recent violence against vaccinators in Pakistan and Nigeria, but said he was convinced those countries were "committed to finishing the eradication" of diseases like polio, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS.
"[Polio eradication] is the project I spent most of my time on. We should be able to finish by 2018 although that will require raising funds and some great execution. We have some innovations like the way we use satellite maps to find all the villages and GPS tracking to make sure the teams go to every hut that are helping out. Polio is a harder disease than smallpox was, but it is doable," he said.
When asked about Steve Jobs, meanwhile, Gates said "he and I respected each other. Our biggest joint project was the Mac where Microsoft had more people on the project than Apple did as we wrote a lot of applications. I saw Steve regularly over the years including spending an afternoon with him a few months before he tragically passed away."
Recently, Gates's colleagues from Microsoft conducted an AMA about the Microsoft Surface, in which they talked about storage and battery issues, among other things.