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I think Bill Gates is an interesting data point here. For a lot of his life he was reviled by many, and yet in the past 15 years he has used his wealth to do great good.



Agree that he's done a ton of good with his charitable giving, but point is that he bettered humanity (probably even more than his charity) even before that with Windows (giving the masses an easier way to interact with computers, allowing individuals and companies to create other valuable things in turn), the whole software not hardware paradigm (led to rapid development in terms of the type of programs and functionality people had access to), and Microsoft Office (Excel and Word == a ton of social value). Obviously he wasn't personally responsible for all that, and also became a multi billionaire in the process (and is giving most of it away, kudos) but even if he kept it all, that's all benefiting humanity and creating social good.


Disagree strongly.

By killing Netscape he set back the computer industry by a decade or more. If Gates hadn't used anti-competitive tactics, and he had just accepted, say, a 60% share for Windows, we would have reached where we are much quicker.

We benefit immensely from the presence today of multiple strong operating systems, Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS, Linux, and Chrome are all great offerings that force the other players to be better.

Windows languished during its monopoly decade, and we were all stuck with it. Why did it even take until iPhone 3G for there to be a widespread online software store? Because Microsoft profited from Office being the biggest, most profitable box on a shelf with a bunch of other boxes, and having that boxed software be the only place you could direct your attention on a PC. Steve Jobs could start an online software store because Apple was barely selling any software. They had nothing to lose. Gates had the world to lose.

Look at where peoples' attention goes today. That's what Netscape was promising. Now imagine if Gates had let that happen in 1995.

And Word and Excel were clones of existing software. Microsoft had about as much positive impact on the tech industry as Baidu is having now. Baidu probably has more users than Gates ever had.


1. Even a monopoly provides social value, though not as much as competitive market. See: http://www.csun.edu/~hceco008/c11d.htm

2. I'm sure Microsoft's competitive tactics had something to do with it, but it also sounds like Netscape had it's own problems: https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Netscape-lose-ground-to-IE


Almost every comment you're leaving here seems based on a Just World Fallacy, which is very close to survivor bias. It's easy but misleading to look back at the good aspects of the past and derive a teleological theory that ignores opportunity costs.


I think 'bettering humanity with Windows' is open for debate. Some would argue that Windows, and the security problems it brought to the Internet, was the enabler for the single largest source of income for criminal enterprise outside of the drug trade.

Now it is much more nuanced than that, network based criminal activity has existed since the invention of the telegraph, but I would be willing to wager even on a per capita basis of Windows, Mac, UNIX, and 'other' users of the network, it stands out.

That said, those days are largely behind us (caveat Wannacry and poor update policies) and I consider properly patched operating systems from all of the major vendors to be credibly defended from exploitation. I reason to that point of view by using the price offered for 'zero days' as an indicator of the challenge of finding them.


Windows contributed to global productively enormously.


It didn't do that by being Windows. It did that by being nearly ubiquitous so that software could be written to a known thing. That could have turned out to be OS/2, but Microsoft played unfairly there. It could have been one of the Unix platforms, but AT&T, Microsoft, and others played unfairly there.

It's really the IBM PC platform, IBM's willingness to sign a non-exclusive contract for the OS, and the success of the early clones (Compaq, AST, etc) making DOS so common that raised productivity so much. Whatever OS had shipped on them would have grabbed the market share DOS and Windows did.


Windows was also much more usable than what was common before it, ubiquity aside. The Office productivity suite was also very good for the time, and represented a major advancement in the state of the art. It's easy to take what Microsoft provided the PC world for granted and assume another company would have provided it if it never existed, but I don't think it's fair.


| poor update policies

which ones? forcing them or not forcing them?


Neither.

1. Bundling them -- it should be trivial to turn off all non-security updates while still getting all security updates.

Counterpoint: There might be no unambiguous distinction between security update or non-security update.

2. Not having them. WannaCry was so bad because Microsoft stopped providing security updates for a system that's still widely used.

Counterpoint: It seems odd to insist Microsoft continue to provide updates to a fifteen-year-old system they end-of-lifed three years ago. Should we be able to force them to keep providing updates indefinitely by steadfastly refusing to upgrade?


In the wannacry event the policy of not applying updates was contributory to its spread. So 'not forcing them' being the less good choice.


The way it was explained to me was that Microsoft low-balled the market on Office and pushed out the innovators who built the individual pieces and were able to do it because they had a fat bank to lean on. I buy the argument that Excel and Word provide exceptional value to society, but I'm not convinced that Microsoft was entirely necessary for that to happen. Then again, windows, task manager, recycle bin, start menu, etc. etc.




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