For a time, it seemed, Bill Gates actually understood the importance of public image. Then yesterday Reuters reported that the Microsoft chairman, at a speech in Washington, "mocked a $100 laptop computer for developing countries" that has been the focus of a highly publicized MIT project.
Now there are plenty of reasons that a $100 might not be feasible on the general consumer market, but those issues can be discussed rationally and without sarcasm. Is it possible that the reporters covering this speech mischaracterized Gates' remarks? Of course. But given his reputation for arrogance, one would think that Gates would take pains at least to feign the appearance of diplomacy--especially when the subject is a non-profit program for children of developing nations, undertaken by an academic institution.
Then again, perhaps Gates was responding to another aspect of the "One Laptop per Child" initiative: the fact that it has the support of archrival Google. In that case, his comments might have just been an example of old habits dying hard.
Blog community response:
"Does this not underline how out of touch Gates is with the real world? Yes, Bill, all kids should have $3000 Sony Vaios running
Windows Vista with 2GB of RAM, 400GB hard drives, and broadband Wi-Fi. Because developing counties have the money, resources, connectivity and bandwidth that you so myopically enjoy from your Redmond compound."
"Sometimes you see the real Bill, unvarnished by his well-chosen PR flacks. I don't think Billionaires are the target market for a $100 laptop, so stick a sock in it, jackass."
"OK, I'm not hugely enthusiastic about the MIT's $100 laptop project because I wonder what problem it is supposed to actually solve, but I'm left wondering what was going through Bill's mind as he said this--it certainly comes across as a petty and arrogant comment."
--The PC Doctor
"What has he to gain by making fun of a $100 laptop with built-in wireless mesh networking meant to assist low-income countries and villages into sharing information among themselves and even globally? Remember, many of these people have never seen a computer, much less Windows."
--The Wireless Report