One more for the Gates legacy book: “There are work-arounds, use those.”

Spurred by the outpouring of Bill Gates retrospection on the eve of his departure from Microsoft (see “How many times have you wanted to send a memo like this to Bill Gates?“), faithful reader Bill Terrill was kind enough to share this story from back in the day:

“Ah, how I wish I had known — I could have recorded my ‘discussions’ with Bill Gates back in 1979/80. I was with Zilog at the time as a development manager. I had a couple of groups working for me at the time — compiler development (Programming Language Zilog — PL/Z) and Operating System Support. Our operating system was a variant of CPM (call RIO) and we had gotten a big contract from the U.S. military (over $5,000,000!) for our Z80 systems with a Fortran compiler. Since we didn’t have a Fortran compiler of our own, someone decided to purchase one from an outside firm. That firm was Microsoft.

“One of the contract requirements was that the compiler meet all specifications for these compilers. This was included by the military AND in our contract with Microsoft. Well, we shipped everything off only to be told by the government folks that the compiler didn’t meet the specs. A few tests internally and, sure enough, some of the standard procedures didn’t work.

“I was given the job (as support and compiler manager) to get this fixed. So began the weekly calls to Microsoft, which lasted for about 3 months. I had a listing of the compiler, which was written by one Bill Gates. So I called and asked to speak to him. Since there were only a handful of folks there at the time, Bill picked up the phone as often as not.

“I explained the problem and why this was an issue — $5,000,000 that Zilog was not being paid. Bill’s response was (and this is literally true!), “There are work-arounds, use those.” I explained that the military didn’t want work-arounds and that our contract with Microsoft was very explicit in that the compiler was required to meet the formal specs and pass the standard tests. Bill again said that we should send along the work-arounds to the customer (which I had already done to no avail) and that he would look into it.

“After a couple of weeks of calling and getting the same message from Gates, I finally pulled out the listing and went through it. It was terrible code. Sloppy, poorly documented and generally not something that I would have allowed my developers to send out the door. But that was all I had, so I spent a few days going through it and finding the errors that appeared to be causing the troubles with the tests. I then called Bill again and explained what I had done and where would he like me to send a copy of the corrections.

“He didn’t want them, as he could fix it himself! I went ahead and told him the areas that needed to be modified, but he became more and more belligerent as I went through the changes. He said, again, that he’d look into it. I seem to have hit a nerve there as I believe that I mentioned, more than once, what a crappy piece of code this was.

“After that whenever I would call, Bill and I ended up shouting at one another over these modifications. After a total of about 3 months of calling at least once a week I finally gave up and went to our company lawyer. His solution was quite simple — Call Mr. Gates one last time and present him with the name and phone number of our lawyer and tell Gates that the lawyer would be calling him the next week. I did this (quite calmly as Bill began our conversation shouting at me) and told him that I wouldn’t be calling him again.

“We had the patched and working code before the lawyer ever got around to calling him the next week. Seems I was an early recipient of the Microsoft Business Model.”


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  • eggnostriva

    please.I am not an apologist for bill gates. but sometimes someone has to push the envolope, and drag the creative along in an opportunistic wave. Microsoft created a market that most considered impossible. and many have ridden the coat tails of gates et al. deal with it.

  • tristan

    I wonder where Bill Gates got the Fortran complier? The way I heard it, Mr. Gates sold PC-DOS to IBM (on a non-exclusive basis, of course), and then bought the code from a couple of developers who had already developed a working prototype … but who didn’t know what to do with it. Gates et. al. capitilalized on an opportunity, and made a ton of money. Creative marketeers and salesmen? Yes they are. But creative (or even competent) software developers? I don’t think so!

  • Griffin56

    I was assigned to be seated at a table with Mr. Gates at an IBM sponsored dinner during the announcement process for the IBM PC with a hard drive. Never in my life have I been shown more disrespect by another human being. Gates is the singularly most arrogant human being in the entire computer industry, and I have been there far longer than he or his company.

  • Max

    I worked for a CD-Rom company when the only available Windows-side authoring tool was MS viewer. (The tool used to write the help files for Win 3.1)

    To give you an idea how bizarre this was – you wrote the code in RTF embedded in a word doc, then ran a compile to get the finished title. For a standard-size CD, this took about 6 HOURS (on a 486 66 – wow.). If one character was out of place – back to another 6-hour compile. (Man, was I thankful when Director came around.)

    Well, we finally came to a point where we had a picture-perfect RTF that would simply not compile – crashed every time. To their credit, MS had our programmer bring a drive to Redmond, to solve the problem. Well, the MS viewer code he saw had comments like “I don’t knbow why the f**k this is here, but it’s working, so I’m not touching it.” etc.

    Thanks for the memories!


  • EdSF

    Hmmm…so there are a lot of people better than BG eh? A few of them are here, right? So:

    1) What is the name of your billion dollar company? Ok, let’s make it easier, million $ company? No?

    2) What is/are the names of the products you have released and successfully adopted by the market?

    Should I hold my breath?

    Wow, evil? Maybe you’ve never heard of the philantrophic activites of BG, or the BG & MG Foundation? The, um, entity BG is leaving MS for?

    You see, oftentimes, its not that some other person is “arrogant”, it’s usually the person who demands attention…and doesn’t get it who is…


  • Perhaps Bill Terrill would like to have a hack at Vista?

  • Rick

    The premiere computing society, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), has a code of ethics which it expects its members to adhere to. (Not that I’ve heard of any expulsions.) But I wonder how the business and software practices of Microsoft would fare against it. To be sure, other companies will probably come up as questionable and in varying degrees. But from my observation of these companies, Microsoft has a special place.

  • Lou Mazzucchelli
  • zz ziled

    Great post!

    As the corporate media drones and swoons on and on over the Gates’ and his industry legacy, the MS vision and Gates’ and MS’s technical prowess…

    I am reminded that your post is not just nostalgia:

    Massachusetts to MSFT: switch to open formats or you’re fired

    Posted by Cory Doctorow, September 3, 2005 11:27 AM | permalink

    The State of Massachusetts is vowing to require all of its software vendors to supply tools that save government data in open formats that are standards-defined, which will give them the flexibility to change tools without having to rewrite their millions and millions of documents. Microsoft’s Office suite doesn’t currently comply, and they say that they won’t comply later, either:

    If Massachusetts follows through, it will be the first US state to require that all documents be created in an open format. Such a move would boost the credibility of open file formats and encourage fresh competition against Microsoft Office, which holds over 90 percent of the world market in office productivity software…

    Microsoft and other companies could keep doing business with the state government by adding OpenDocument as a standard file format. The upcoming version of Microsoft Office, due next year, will use a file format based on the open XML document standard, which is similar to OpenDocument.

    But Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft’s information worker business strategy unit, indicated in an e-mailed statement that the company isn’t interested in adopting the full OpenDocument standard.

    Link (Thanks, Matt!)
    [Source: BoingBoing []


    “In 1993 Courtney was one of many starry-eyed college grads who migrated to Seattle just as the tech boom was moving to warp speed. He found one of those Great Jobs at Microsoft in technical support–only his job turned out to be not so great. He was one of roughly 6,000 employees known as “permatemps,” a classification that allows a company to pay a temp-agency middleman for full-time, indefinite labor. The designation, which covers roughly a quarter of Microsoft workers in the Seattle area, means employers don’t have to pay regular benefits.

    “Around the middle of 1997,” Courtney tells me, “me and my office mate were talking about how we weren’t getting real raises or cost-of-living increases, and I was like, This permatemp stuff is kinda bullshit. The contract agencies are ripping us off. I was like, God, I wonder if there’s an organization to help us.” So he started phoning state agencies and labor councils. “Everyone was totally f-cking clueless,” he says. “All anyone knew about the new economy was that people make millions. No one had any idea that here in Seattle a huge percentage of the employment is contracted out.”

    So Courtney and two others began building an e-mail list of permatemps and other high-tech workers who were interested in getting more politically active.

    In December 1997 their efforts were bolstered when the Seattle Times published a front-page story about how Microsoft used its connections in state government to secure a regulatory change exempting high-tech companies from having to pay temps time-and-a-half for overtime.

    It was a screwing of bipartisan proportions: the rule change was approved by Democratic Governor Gary Locke, and it was designed to bring the state’s labor regulations into conformity with federal law, which was changed by the then-Republican Congress.

    The Times also noted that the local labor movement had hung the permatemps out to dry: two unions supported the rule change after it was revised to make sure their own members were
    [Full read @ Source:


    As I’ve posted many times, BG was not even a entry level programmer. What he did was to have a father–a distingushed Seattle lawyer –who advised him how to form a monopoly. And gave him $ fot the IBM deal.

    And, of course, he gained his billions by suckering worker bees to develop the aps. He kept the grotesque profit from their efforts and ingenuity.

    To me, the most galling aspect is the fawning press coverage of the foundation. If nothing else, why not give 30+ billion to poor folks in his primary market, the USA, instead of a white guilt effort to convince tribal people to stop having ‘unprotected sex.’

    But, aids in in. Africa is in.