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Keeping the classics alive
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Interview with Bill Gates - 1 April 2008

Shortly after the site's 3rd birthday, I looked into interviewing some of the most requested game developers from the forum. I sent an email to Microsoft with a request that it be passed on to Bill Gates and, to my utter astonishment, he actually replied.

First of all, thank you so much for creating MS-DOS, which has allowed all of these great games to exist!

Well, I didn't exactly write it myself. In those days, CP/M was the dominant operating system, and IBM commissioned us to create a version for the PC. We purchased a CP/M clone called 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products. A fellow named Tim Paterson was behind that. I think he called it QDOS. He actually worked for us for a while in the 80s and 90s. So DOS wasn't technically a Microsoft invention, but the inventor was a Microsoft employee. There are a lot of people to thank for DOS.

Did you have any idea that DOS would do so well?

I always had high hopes for Microsoft. It would be easy for me to say that I always knew that we could dominate the software market, but anything could have happened. There are no crystal balls in the computer industry.

What role do you think games had in the success of DOS?

Games are a huge part of the success of the PC. In the early days of microcomputers, we were all still under the illusion that computers were going to be used for home offices and finances — really boring stuff. PCs weren't the best for games at first, but the hardware developed because people wanted it to be better at games. Graphics cards became more capable very quickly, and games became one of the main reasons to buy a computer. DOS and Windows probably wouldn't have caught on as quickly if people were still trying to sell computers as a tool for doing your taxes.

Settle the debate: is Windows 3.x a full operating system or an MS-DOS shell?

I assume you're talking about the fact that you needed DOS to run Windows? That was a deliberate choice on our part. We could have made an operating system that could run without DOS, but it would still have had to run DOS software, otherwise we would lose all of the software that had already been developed for it. Also, it allowed us to double our sales, since people had to buy two operating systems instead of one. Obviously the bottom line for any business is making money.

But to answer your question, Windows was always a full operating system. It enabled a new kind of software that was more user friendly and powerful than anything that had ever been possible with DOS. The ease of developing software for Windows caused an explosion in software development. Windows could control every aspect of the system, which is what an operating system does. It was a much more complete operating system than DOS in every regard.

Was Windows an attempt to steal some of Apple's business, once they had a graphical operating system?

How long can this answer be? No! The idea that we were trying to copy Apple is ridiculous. Windows was in development for years before it went into production. Windows 1.0 came out in 1985, which is almost the same time as Mac OS. It was always a more mature and capable operating system, and it was totally compatible with MS-DOS. Windows was a success in office and server environments when people were still using Mac OS as a toy! There are at least a thousand reasons why Windows is not a PC version of Mac OS. I can't stress that enough.

Support for DOS and Win16 software was pretty good in the early days of Win32, but it's almost non-existent in Windows Vista. Why was support for 16-bit software dropped?

We supported backwards compatibility for a lot longer than most companies would have. The NTVDM in Windows XP even emulates an SB16, so you can see that we were really committed. Vista is a totally new computing experience, and it handles graphics in a totally different way. It's not NT-based, so forget about using NTVDM. Everything about Windows Vista revolutionizes the PC experience, from the Aero Glass interface to a new driver standard that makes a Windows PC more elegant, more secure, and more natural to use. We believe that these improvements more than make up for any support that may have been lost. Is there really a need to run Windows 3.1 programs at this point?

Besides which, Microsoft Virtual PC is the most advanced virtualization suite ever developed. If you're really that keen to run Windows 3.1, you certainly still can. Vista is capable of running any PC program ever written, if you know how. I'm guessing that most of your visitors know how.

Now that Microsoft isn't supporting MS-DOS any more, is there any chance of a freeware release? It's not like DOS is competing with Windows Vista!

That's true, but it's probably not going to happen. Once you give something away, you can't control what's going to be done with it. MS-DOS isn't a toy. DOS can control any part of the PC at a hardware level, and it's much less secure than modern operating systems like Vista. Imagine if we gave MS-DOS away and suddenly it became the OS of choice for hackers? We could get a lot of negative publicity for letting something as powerful as MS-DOS casually fall into the public domain.

You're clearly the richest guy I've ever spoken to, so I guess I can't pass up the opportunity. I would never ask for a handout, but maybe you'd like to a buy a copy of the Classic DOS Games DVD for, say, a thousand dollars?

Okay, now we're going downhill. You have no idea how many people ask me for money every day. Seriously, it's like people think I walk around with $1000 bills in my wallet, and I'm going to just hand them out to random strangers. Everyone wants a piece of Willy.

Larry Ellison supposedly uses "Can I buy you a car?" as a pick-up line with the ladies.

Well, Larry Ellison isn't doing so well these days. Microsoft SQL Server is beating Oracle in every measurable category. I guess he's still doing okay, but he's no Warren Buffett. I haven't had to buy a woman a car to get her to put out since I married Melinda in 1994. What's his excuse?

Good point. Is there anything else you'd like to say or anything that you'd like to promote?

Please buy Vista! Please, please, please! It's really not as bad as people say.

Thank you very much for your time, and best of luck with Windows 7!

Okay, I made this one up. April Fool's!