Bill Gates @ the D Conference

I’m at the amazing D conference in SoCal this week. It’s an amazing conference… you never know who you’re going to bump into. Last night I was talking to a friend and bumped into someone and we both turned around it was Bill Gates. Sorry Bill! I didn’t try to get any face time with Bill this year (last year we talked twice).

Gates was the opening interview last night and he demoed a very cool version of Office that had a very clean–but still packed–GUI. One thing I noticed while the demo was going on was that Gates was smiling like a kid on Christmas. As the audience oooed and ahhhhed you could see him get more excited and smile more. I thought to myself, “wow, this guys been building the same pieces of software for over 20 years and he is still excited about it–that’s pretty cool.”

Someone speculated to me that since Gates got married and started a family he’s become less aggressive and happier. He does seem very happy and at peace. I think the world looking at him as the personification of Evil for so long has turned around. Microsoft is playing nice in the ecosystem, and when Walt and Kara dogged him about not gaining marketshare vs. iTunes and Google search he sort shruged and said “we’ll get there.” He’s clearly not happy that search has not grown for them, but he said it was a five year race–which is true.

One attendee told me Gates seemed upset by every question Walt and Kara asked him, which was true. It wasn’t that they asked bad questions, but Gates has this habit of shaking his head and rolling his eyes ever time they ask him a question. After he does that he rephrases their question, and admittedly, makes the question better. I guess that’s what life is like when you’re that brilliant.

My big takeaways:

1. He’s defiantly building an iPod killer (sorry, viable co-exister) into the XBOX platform. Gates is very easy to read, unlike Jobs who last year told me to my face “Jason, no one wants to watch video on their iPod” only to annouce the product shortly after. When Gates is asked about a product he smiles and moves on, when Steve Jobs is asked a question he gets a kick out bluffing you. I’d love to play poker with one of them. BTW: are we playing poker tonight or what?!?

2. He sees the closed hardware system model (Apple’s model) as attractive in some places–like XBOX. When Walt told him the XBOX group was more like Apple he responded by saying something to the effect of a “very, very big Apple.” That got a laugh. I could see Microsoft doing more hardware based on what he said. Not a PC, but I could see him doing the iPod thing and maybe some other stuff (they do keyboards and they used to do routers I believe).

3. He dismissed the web-based office concept, which I thought was in-authentic. Clearly for some folks–perhaps most–a web-based solution is better. However, their earnings are based on Office so I can understand his position.
4. This was the big one for me: Microsoft is gonna built free and paid storage in the sky and synch them with their applications/OS.

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