On the way to LaGuardia to catch a flight to Las Vegas, I got a call from Microsoft's Larry Cohen about a possible sit down with Bill Gates. I didn't quite know what to think of it, but I wasn't going to turn it down. I would ask the hard questions: Does Balmer really eat children? Can I swim in your Money Bin? I didn't quite muster the balls to ask those, though, and instead acted like I had real questions or something. In fact, as you can see in the picture, he was working me like a puppet.
What follows is the very beginning minutes of a conversation we had yesterday about blogging, DRM and copyright, and the future of Windows.
When I get back from CES today I hope to transcribe more—and there's a lot.
Gizmodo: Let's talk about blogs first—if that's something that interests you at all. Do you read many blogs? Is that something that's interesting to you yet or do you just get it as it comes to you?
Gates: Almost everything that's being published on the web now has RSS notification on it, so what would have been a website I would have gone to my favorites list and looked at, now I get the notification. I have the add-on to Outlook that lets me see those things. I still have a tendency to—say I want to go to Slate Magazine or the Wall Street Journal, I just directly navigate.
Gizmodo: Do you use a lot of RSS then?
Gates: I've got the RSS plug-in [for Outlook]. I used it a lot when I started out, and now a lot of the blogs I read are where people have sent me emails and said, hey, I ought to look at this. I'm very big... I want to always go to five or six sites on a regular basis so that I can track over time what's new about them.
I think blogging is super-important and we've got to do a lot more software. The phenomena for us is we've got in beta this MSN Spaces thing, and it lets you leverage everything you do around Messenger—that's your buddy lists and those relationships—to set up blogs, and who has access, and who gets notified. We've got up over a million people [who] set up blog sites.
Now, how many of those people keep those up to stay... but still, it's a very big number.
Gizmodo: How do you guys feel about setting up a blog—there's the whole aspect of personal publishing that's sort of big right now, where people are sort of looking at citizen journalism, and that individuals should start to get some of the same rights of the press that other, bigger organizations should have. Do you guys have any internal policy, or at least general direction for that? Let's say somebody in China sets up a blog that says some dissident things—is that something that you guys don't really care [about], or are you going to have to manage that?
Gates: Well, we're very proud of the role of the PC in allowing lots of voices to exist and make them accessible. Historically, the publishing baron in the city had a very high share of voice, and they didn't even need to employ the best writers, because they had kind of the unique distribution. As more and more reading gets online, the ability to get to lots of different things, and the competition and quality that takes will be pretty amazing.
We ourselves aren't that much of a publisher. We did the Slate Magazine thing to try and prove out what kind of things, what kind of formats could you do in online journalism that were different than the things that had been done.
We're very proud of pioneering that—what was it, ten years [ago] or something—and pass that on to the Washington Post. In the long run, it's a more natural fit there. I'm not some media expert.
Gizmodo: So would it be fair to say your idea with Spaces will be more hands-off? Since you're kind of giving the power of the individual to publish, you don't really care what they say?
Gates: No. There's always a tricky issue when you get into stolen material or pornography. The laws for online publishing the same as for print-based publishing, where if you're hosting certain types of things and somebody notifies you about that...
Gizmodo: So since it's sitting on your servers you want to be more careful of it.
Gates: No, there are rules about... if you get notified that it's stolen materials or pornography or things like that. Our policies are just related to what the laws are. The idea of the open empowerment—that's why we've always loved the PC. And there are many examples over the last several decades where the power of the PC to let people publish and communicate has made a huge difference in terms of people trying to control information flow. And that's why the PC is such a fantastic development.