What was Bill Gates smoking?

Bill Gates is smart (and — since he matured, married and had kids — a good global citizen) so this claim by him the other day is weird:

“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system and so instead of using Android today you would be using Windows Mobile,” claimed Gates. “If it hadn’t been for the antitrust case… we were so close, I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction.”

Ben Evans does a lovely demolition job on this in his newsletter.

I struggle to see how this is plausible.

  1. Microsoft, Nokia, Palm and Blackberry all arrived in 2007 with mobile platforms conceived in the late 90s and early 2000s that could not compete with the iPhone, needed to make something entirely new, and none managed to make the jump (even Nokia’s Maemo didn’t ship until 2010) – the others didn’t have anti-trust issues
  2. The Windows Phone that Microsoft did deliver in 2010 was fundamentally a modern-looking skin (‘Metro’) on top of a pre-iPhone architecture, without a solid developer path
  3. Android was open-source, and so unlike Microsoft didn’t appear to threaten control by one company (ironic, in hindsight), and free, which matters far more for a $200 phone than a $1000 PC.
  4. You can argue that Microsoft could have executed better, but imagine going to Bill in 2008 and saying ‘we need to make a free, open-source OS with no Windows compatibility’
  5. It may be easier to blame anti-trust (post hoc ergo propter hoc) than say that Microsoft had the wrong product and wrong strategy, and was a classic victim of disruption.

Spot on. Nailed it.

LATER Cory Doctorow has an interesting post arguing that, in a way, the ‘distraction’ was useful, even if the antitrust suit did not result in the eventually breakup of Microsoft.

Which reminds me of the remarkable video of Gates being interviewed during the case. Scary stuff, which among other things illustrates how far he has come from his early days.

The governance of emojis

I’ve never knowingly used an emoji, not because I’m an old fogey (though in other respects I am) but because I see them in the same way as I’ve always viewed Facebook ‘Likes’ — as a way of enabling people to mime responsiveness with no cognitive effort. (What annoyed me about ‘Likes’ from the beginning was the absence of a ‘Dislikes’ button, which was effectively an attempt to squeeze all human response through the narrow aperture of approval.)

In today’s Financial Times (behind a paywall), John Thornhill has a column that has made me think about emojis, though. It turns out that the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organisation run by the big tech companies, maintains an “exclusive grip” on what constitutes an Emoji. There are, it seems, good reasons for doing so because Unicode is the means by which different scripts work universally across the Net.

But now — according to John — the adoption and use of emojis is the focus of intense corporate lobbying’ civic campaigning and geopolitical bullying. The Russian government, for example, has tried to stop operators using emojis of gay behaviour or approval. And the exponentially-growing use of emojis effectively means that they have become a new de-facto global language — a kind of visual Esperanto.

In which case, asks Keith Winstein, a Stanford CS professor, is it right that its evolution should be overseen by “a bunch of predominately white, predominately male, predominately American techies and coding engineers in California”?

Good question.


  • Malfunctioning Sex Robot Wonderful, long, long essay by Patricia Lockwood on the experience of reading her way through the entire oeuvre of John Updike. As good as David Foster Wallace, and that’s saying something.
  • The Museum of Neoliberalism Truly wonderful. I only wish its subject was a thing of the past.
  • Facebook Claims We’re ‘Clickbait.’ And It Won’t Explain Why. Seems that Facebook sometimes accuses fact-checking sites with producing clickbait. But when they ask for an explanation… well, you can guess the rest. This is what unaccountable power looks like.
  • With no laws to stop them, defense firms are on track to make killer robots a reality As far as anyone knows, militaries have not yet deployed killer robots on the battlefield. But the Dutch NGO Pax has identified at least 30 arms manufacturers that don’t have policies against developing these kinds of weapons systems, and are reportedly doing so at a rate that is outpacing regulation. The problem is — as one of my graduate students has shown — that getting an international arms-control treaty to control the technology looks difficult in the current climate.


Why WhatsApp might be suing NSO

Screenshot of the message from WhatsApp to Nihalsing Rathod, a lawyer representing some of the activists accused of fomenting a protest last year in Bhima Koregaon, in India, and plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017. The message is alerting him to the fact that WhatsApp suspect that his smartphone has been infected with NSO spyware.