My thoughts on Bill Gates’ “The Road Ahead”

I’m reading this book 20 years after it was written (it was written in early 1995) and though that has its disadvantages, it’s also surprisingly advantageous in some ways. In this book, Bill Gates (the founder of Microsoft, for those of you who don’t know) predicts the technological advancements of the coming years. The advantages that I spoke of are that not only do you get to read about what one of the greatest minds of the 20th century thought the human race might be able to achieve technologically in the next few years, you also get to see how many of his predictions turned out to be correct (hint: most of them).

I love how he relates stories or experiences from his school-days or college-days to certain products and his passion for technology really shines through in these anecdotes. They also shed light on the technology of yester years and it’s a delight to read, especially for someone as enthusiastic about tech as me. It’s funny to think that 14.4 kbps and 28.8 kbps internet speeds were considered blazing fast at that time, but I guess people twenty years from now will be saying something similar about our current speeds. The funny thing is that he too talks about the technology that was present during his childhood and compares it to technology as it exists now (1995). It’s mind-boggling to think just how much technology has evolved in the two decades since this book was written.

Coming to his predictions, he doesn’t just predict a handful of products that might come into existence soon. He instead speaks of something that he calls the “information highway” that will be a sort of virtual ecosystem connecting anything and everything in the world. He even says that the internet is not to be mistaken for the “highway”, but he feels that in time it will evolve into the “highway”. I personally feel that that still hasn’t happened yet but we’re only a few steps away from it. Every prediction that he makes is somehow connected to this “highway”. For example, he predicts that VR (Virtual Reality) will become popular soon and it’ll completely change the way we view videos, play games and it may even lead to virtual sight-seeing. Furthermore, he speaks of credit-card sized computers (mobile phones as we call them) that will become an integral part of our everyday lives and also of “agents”, basically virtual assistants à la Cortana and Siri. Both these predictions turned out to be correct as I do almost everything except gaming and a few other things on my phone (I’m actually writing this post on my phone!) and I often use Cortana’s assistance for a number of tasks. Additionally, his predictions of e-books and video-streaming services were also spot-on.

However, the time of his predictions were a bit off – he predicted that most of these advancements would take place within a decade and though some did, most didn’t. He bases these predictions on Moore’s Law which is a very fascinating thing, but Bill Gates overshot slightly. There are so many useful things that he speaks of that haven’t been invented yet (which is truly staggering) and since I’m aspiring to become an engineer, I intend to start working on these as quickly as I can. He highlights how competitive the IT industry is and how one small wrong step can be devastating. He illustrates this by speaking of IBM’s fall from grace in the PC industry –
IBM made the first true personal computer, the IBM PC as it was called and it was a phenomenal success. Every company tried to copy IBM, but failed and had to settle for making PCs compatible with IBM’s software. However, IBM noticed that as PCs were getting more and more powerful and being able to perform more complex programs, their mainframes (the computers that IBM were really known for) were gradually becoming obsolete. IBM didn’t want two of their own products competing, so they intentionally started making their newer PCs less powerful. Other companies saw this opportunity and usurped IBM’s throne in the PC industry. IBM needed to make a comeback and decided to make the PC-II, something that they hoped would blow it’s competition out of the water. They asked for Microsoft’s help to develop the OS and additional programs for the computer. However, IBM interfere in the making of OS/2 (the OS for PC-II) and didn’t give Microsoft the freedom they required. They actually wanted to make a single OS that would run on both their mainframes as well as their PCs and forced Microsoft to act against its own wishes. Eventually, the product that they released had a clunky software and was a failure. IBM failed to gain back their foothold in the PC industry and have never been able to do that since.

Reading about this from someone who was directly involved in the project gave me a whole new perspective. (It’s like “insider news”.) There are many such stories littered throughout the book and this makes the book much more interesting. The book certainly isn’t completely serious; there’s quite a bit of humour sprinkled throughout it. Eg: He talks about a time when the rumours of Microsoft buying the Catholic Chruch became so popular on bulletin boards on the internet, that he started receiving about twenty e-mails a day about the validity of that news. Microsoft wasn’t yet the conquering behemoth that it is known as, so reading about Bill Gates’ approach for the coming years is exciting because you get to see the motivation, the hunger in him for becoming more successful, making his company even bigger, but most of all trying to achieve those things that he himself has written about in this book.
His concept of the “information highway” is enticing and I personally feel that their idea of a unified interface across all platforms for Windows 10 is one step towards it.

The book certainly isn’t as mundane as my great aunt said it was when I picked it from her extensive collection of books. I’m very glad that I did read this because in the end, this book made me remember why I want to become an engineer and why I love technology as much as I do.


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