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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Surprise! Bill Gates Is a Surface Tablet Early Adopter

Gates thinks Windows 8 will transform computing–when he can be torn away from his charitable work long enough to think about it.

  • October 23, 2012

Bill Gates offered some thoughts on Windows 8, in a YouTube video posted by Microsoft’s Steve Clayton. And what, do we learn, is one of the main perks of having built Microsoft, even if you’re no longer involved in day-to-day operations? You get first dibs on emerging gadgetry.

“It was one of the first off the line,” Gates told Clayton (who doesn’t have a Surface of his own yet, despite being a bigwig Softie himself).

Gates is (predictably) pretty gung-ho about the Surface tablet, calling it an “unbelievably great product… it embodies this idea of can you get an even better tablet that also has what you expect in a PC?”

Gates held forth more generally on Windows 8, which he said would “take Windows into the world of touch, low-power devices.” Windows 8, he said, embodied “the best of a tablet-type experience and the PC experience.”

One of the most intriguing parts of Gates’s interview is a moment where he talks about Microsoft “blending all the different forms of input.” I think many of us are feeling a certain amount of frustration and confusion over which devices are suited to which forms of input. Just today, I found myself swiping across my e-ink Kindle, absentmindedly. As I become more used to my new-ish iPad (see “My First Week as an iPad User”), I crave a touchscreen for my MacBook almost as much as I crave a keyboard for my iPad. Were I a regular Kinect user, or a big fan of dictation software, I suspect I’d be craving a way to unite those forms of input, too. A dream device would incorporate all manner of input so seamlessly that we wouldn’t have to think twice about the particular capabilities of the device at hand. But we’re not nearly there yet.

Nonetheless, Gates promised that “people will be pretty amazed,” and urged us to “get to a store, play around with this thing” soon.

Almost the most interesting element of Gates’s interview is that it happened at all. Much as he may love his Surface, the interview actually underscores again how Gates’s involvement with Microsoft is really and ever increasingly part-time thing. Though a rumor surfaced about 10 months ago suggesting Gates might return to Microsoft (where he is officially “Chairman,” but has little to do with day-to-day operations), Gates quickly quashed the rumor, emphasizing that his charitable work would be his full-time gig “for the rest of my life.”

Clayton was lucky enough to nab a few moments to pick the technological side of Gates’s brain only because Gates was around to praise 30 years of charitable giving among Microsoft employees. You have to admire Gates for having set his priorities and stuck to them. These days, he’s more interested in rebooting sanitation–a project that could after all save countless lives around the world–than in peddling software and hardware.

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