Tech mogul mocks "Web of Wealth'

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The Gate

Wednesday, March 13, 1996 · Page D 1
© 1996 San Francisco Examiner

Tech mogul mocks "Web of Wealth'

Still, he tells S.F. conference, everything Microsoft is doing is tied to the Internet

Tom Abate

Call him a born-again billionaire, but Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates displayed his comic side Wednesday in an hour-long speech in San Francisco during which he alternately mocked and worshipped at the altar of the Internet, this year's Holy Grail of computing.

Speaking to 4,500 software developers at Moscone Center, Gates employed a hilarious multimedia presentation to make fun of what he called the "gold rush mentality" that has caused investors to embrace speculative Internet start-ups while penalizing proven performers like Microsoft, which sells over 60 million copies of its operating systems each year.

The multimedia clip depicted a TV commercial entitled "The Web of Wealth" that invited people to become World Wide Web publishers from the comfort of their living rooms.

"Venture capitalists have to turn ordinary people like you and me into millionaires, or they don't get rich either," an actor said, adding, "Just mention the Internet in your business plan and you're sure to get funded."

Another film clip lampooned the IBM Corp. commercials that show people in all walks of life discussing the Internet. In Gate's version, a young man goes into a confessional to tell the priest he's had impure thoughts about the nun in one of the IBM commercials. For penance, the priest tells him to spend 30 minutes meditating on the Mother Teresa home page.

Kidding aside, however, Gates told his audience, "Everything Microsoft is doing is tied up with the Internet."

His goal was to make sure future versions of Microsoft operating systems, application programs and software tools all made accessing the Internet as simple as accessing a disk drive.

Why has Gates suddenly got the Internet religion? Why has Microsoft, which for years tried to recreate computing in its image and likeness, now paying lip service, at least, to the open standards that are the soul of the Internet?

The answer is quite simply the growing perception that Microsoft's grip on desktop computing is about to be broken by an alliance of firms like Sun Microsystems Inc., Netscape Communications Corp. and Oracle Corp. This Silicon Valley trinity is predominantly responsible for selling the notion that the Internet could be transformed into a super-operating system far more potent than Windows.

Gates, who knows that even the wildest technology dreams can come true if enough of the right, monied people back them, has spent the last few months repositioning Microsoft. He wants his company to be seen as an Internet player instead of getting destroyed by the perception that the 20-year-old company is a has-been.

Whether or not the Internet overtakes Windows as the dominant force in personal computing is a drama that will play out in the months ahead.

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