After 30 years of leading Microsoft's software strategy, Gates said Thursday that there is little he would do differently.
"I would not change a thing," Gates said in an interview, shortly after announcing that he will become a part-timer at Microsoft, starting in mid-2008. "Sure, we've made mistakes along the way, but every one of those has been a chance to learn and do things better."
He does have a lot left to accomplish, though. On his list are some new things, like new models for computer programming, as well as some old things like his long-standing dream of a new, unified file-storage system for Windows.
"This is one that people like to give me a hard time about, because it's taken a long time and some of the moves we've made in that direction have shown what a challenge it is," Gates said.
Following the big news, Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer spoke to News.com about the past and future plans for both Gates and the company he founded.
What are the things that you want to keep doing both for the next two years and once you are doing stuff part time? What are the things you think you can uniquely do that can't be filled by Ray Ozzie and some of the other folks?
Gates: Scanning the horizon for things that are small today, but are going to come up and be big, is something I think will always do for the company. Saying hey, video on the Internet or vision capability or...robotics--which isn't near, but we've got an incubation there because we think if five to 10 years out that could be a significant thing.
Ballmer: I'll expect Bill to continue to provide input. But essentially by two years from now, between, not my own personal visionary contribution, but really drawing out our top people, even on this the commitment I made to Bill is we are going to in the position where hopefully we anticipate anything he'd suggest to us. That's part of getting the company to the place where it can have this broad, big agenda and it's got to be driven not only by guys like me but by the next generation of leaders.
You've been involved in the foundation stuff for a long time and you've talked about bringing in experts. You're not the malaria expert. What is it you feel you can achieve by devoting more time to the foundation?
Gates: Bringing the right people together and giving them the right framework, that actually matches a lot of what we do at Microsoft. Something like Xbox or the next version of Exchange, I'm not the expert on those things. But I can ask, "Did you think about this, did you think about that?" The health thing is a lot like that. I read about the technology. I meet the specialists. I'm like a manager who learns as much about the field as he can and that's fun for me. So it's not as dissimilar from what I do here as you might think.
Ballmer: Bill's capacity to absorb, to connect concepts and to contribute is unparalleled. Frankly, I'm glad it's the foundation. I think that's a wonderful thing for Bill to do, but you can name any institution and I'd tell you they'd be lucky to have Bill contribute, even if it was as far afield as you can come up with from technology.
You have a pretty busy travel schedule now speaking publicly, largely on behalf of Microsoft. Do you think you will be doing the same thing around the issues the foundation handles?
Gates: I don't think my travel will go down. I will be in some more obscure locations, because that's where these diseases or needs are found...a lot of slums that I don't get to much right now. I will continue to do public things for Microsoft. We'll pick the things that it's right to do. The health issues and education issues, government is the biggest player there. There will be as much a need to speak out for the time I spend there as there is elsewhere. You always have to pick a few things you want to articulate and get out there. You can't be speaking out on too many things at once, whether it's Microsoft saying, "OK, let's really get this product visibility" or for the foundation picking new things.
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