Gates influenced media world more than anyone else

As blogger Mel Carson notes elsewhere on this page, the retirement of Bill Gates from Microsoft last Friday marks the end of an era.

Gates influenced media world more than anyone else
Gates influenced media world more than anyone else

Love him or hate him, the legendary co-founder of computer behemoth Microsoft has had a bigger effect on the communications industry than almost any other individual.

On a personal level, his influence can be tracked back 25 years to a time before PCs and easy-to-use software applications. I well remember writing my university dissertation in long hand - quite a tortuous feat when it's a 15,000-word document. Students of today have a PC on every desk - as do most homes, as Gates famously predicted - and the thought of writing anything long hand is anathema.

Suralan Sugar hit the nail on the head in Fiona Bruce's excellent Money Programme documentary about Gates on the BBC recently. Gates backed software, while Sugar bet his Amstrad house on hardware. Sugar still did rather well for himself. But Gates went on to become the richest man in the world by getting his products established as the de facto standard that drove the rise of the PC.

And without the PC, would the internet have become so all-encompassing and ubiquitous in such a short space of time? And the other great technological development of our time - mobile devices - also relies to some extent on Windows-based software as it looks to extend its reach from pure call revenue to content offerings.

The web has accelerated our connected PC world and made the globe a much smaller place. Young people are completely comfortable with computers, the web and mobile, and their media consumption is ruled by this.

Gates will still be seen around Microsoft Towers and I find it hard to believe he won't retain some influence on the firm as it tackles its biggest challenge thus far - the emergence of the 21st-Century's tech behemoth Google. But his focus now is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

No doubt computer technology would still have developed apace, with or without Gates, but I suspect the world - and especially the world of media - would have been a very different place without his drive, vision and influence.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week, steve.barrett@haymarket.com, www.mediaweek.co.uk/stevebarrettblog.

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