Bill Gates was inter­viewed by the BBC’s Mon­ey Pro­gramme. As he pre­pares to sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce his direct work for Microsoft Cor­po­ra­tion, Bill reflects upon what got him start­ed in the first place and what kept him ahead of the ‘com­pe­ti­tion’. The video pro­vides a brief glimpse into the char­ac­ter that found­ed and guid­ed Microsoft. Regard­less of whether you love him or hate him, he is indeed a fas­ci­nat­ing character.

Skip ahead to the 40 sec­ond mark, to the seg­ment titled “How the teenage Gates and his friend Paul Allen got access to a com­put­er”. The sto­ry accord­ing to Gates was that he and his friends were allowed to hack on a com­pa­ny’s com­put­er “like mon­keys” at night to find bugs. He spent hours read­ing man­u­als and exper­i­ment­ing to fig­ure out this “fas­ci­nat­ing puz­zle”. How­ev­er, they were stuck at the “tin­ker­ing” stage until they stum­bled across the source code in a rub­bish bin. It was only then could the mon­keys evolve.

I don’t think the pro­duc­ers of the show realised the sig­nif­i­cance of this admis­sion, since they quick­ly cut to anoth­er seg­ment. Read­ing between the lines, Gates is essen­tial­ly con­fess­ing that he would not have pro­gressed had he and Paul Allen not found the source code. With­out this knowl­edge, and with­out this oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­stand and exper­i­ment with how the inter­nals of a com­put­er worked, Gates and Allen would have been severe­ly con­strained in their abil­i­ty to found a soft­ware com­pa­ny and devel­op products

I would go so far as to say that Microsoft owes its very exis­tence to this access to source code.

To any­one with a pass­ing famil­iar­i­ty to how things worked back then, this comes as no sur­prise. Source code was expect­ed to be free, and this in turn nur­tured a gen­er­a­tion of com­put­er hack­ers. But where­as Richard Stall­man saw the amaz­ing poten­tial of this free­dom and want­ed to pre­serve it for all, Bill Gates appears to have per­ceived it as an advan­tage for him­self that he must deny to others.

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