Mole has started reading Bill Gates' exciting new book Billness @ The Speed of Thought. If you can concentrate long enough to get through the next 1,000 or so words, you'll find out why he failed to reach the end.
The problems start early on when Gates acknowledges his collaborator Collins Hemingway, whom he thanks for his help "in synthesising and developing the material". Already Gates - or Hemingway - has started writing in the trademark Gates evasions. What His Billness really means is "Thanks for writing this book for me." So the first thing we learn about the world's richest man is that he needs help stringing a sentence together.
From here on it's a downhill journey from one platitude to the next.
"If the 1980s were about quality and the 1990s were about re-engineering, then the 2000s will be about velocity," opines Gates, through his former PR man. This will be reassuring to racing drivers and National Hunt jockeys but probably not of much use to anyone in business.
Here's another example: "Business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50." This cliche is left to support itself, and the intelligent reader is bound to respond: "No, it won't."
Well, that's enough of the book. If you are foolish enough to part with #18.99 for the work of a man who thinks your fingertips rather than your eyes and ears are the key receptors of information you will probably find it a jolly good read. But if you suspect that buried deep within the 470 turgid pages are nuggets of the wit and wisdom of Bill Gates, take Mole's word for it: there aren't any.
The only good reason for reading Blandness @ The Speed of Thought is that any profits will go to a children's charity. This is an area in which Microsoft has been particularly active lately. You may have noticed that the company logo appears prominently on the NSPCC's harrowing television advertisements against child abuse. It is difficult to criticise a company for supporting such a worthy cause, which is exactly why Microsoft is doing it. The truly charitable prefer to keep a low profile rather than indulge in self-promoting vulgarity, but this is not the Microsoft way.
Charity work is part of a wider campaign by a company desperate to ingratiate itself with what it sees as a hostile public. At press conferences Microsoft has taken to handing out forms to solicit opinions about the company, which invite three possible responses to the question "what is your current perception of Microsoft?" These are "positive", "neutral" and "less than neutral". Any company that thinks the opposite of positive is less than neutral is not in any fit state to undergo critical self-examination and probably needs to seek professional help.
This is exactly what Bill Gates has done. He is paying an off-shoot of Warner Brothers for a complete image makeover. Warner is the same company that brought us a host of popular, two-dimensional characters: Bugs Bunny, Pepe le Pew, Porky Pig ... and now Bill Gates.
PC Week reporter Andy Favell was flattered to receive an important message from Microsoft group marketing manager Phil Cross, until he realised that it was all the work of Melissa, the prolific lady virus who has spent the past week wreaking havoc on the Internet.
There is a pleasing irony that a Microsoft employee inadvertently brought Melissa to our attention as she could not exist without the ineptitude of Microsoft programmers, who managed to create in Word the only known program capable of spreading viruses by Email. How reassuring that Bill Gates, the man busy advising captains of industry how to build a "digital nervous system", presides over a company that hasn't yet worked out how to build a digital immune system to protect itself from digital infection.
Naturally, PC Week asked Microsoft why it was allowing Melissa to send unsolicited messages. Microsoft's PR firm kindly sent us a statement explaining that as soon as Melissa made herself known Microsoft took "a decision mid-Friday to limit outgoing mail until we could assess the impact on the Microsoft corporate network and remove the virus from our system".
Microsoft's IT group must have done a fine job, because the message from Mr Cross arrived on Monday, two and a half days after Microsoft's IT professionals got to work with the Dettol.
A rather less well publicised dodgy message was posted by someone who shares with Mr Gates the attributes of warmth, sincerity and "vision": our own dear Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair. A letter from Mr Blair was posted on the Internet last week on the subject of modernising government, and enthused about the role of IT in overhauling the machinery of state.
If it is not too late to make a modest proposal, Mole would like to suggest that the government start by introducing spelling checkers. Then it would not have to suffer the embarrassment of sending out "personal letters" from the PM riddled with such basic errors as "reponsive" and "sivil service".
As a weary Mole snoozed his way home on the train last week somebody relieved him of his computer case, which was stowed behind his seat. Mole would love to see the expression on the thief's face when he discovers that he has made off not with thousands of pounds' worth of state-of-the-art hardware, but with a pristine copy of Business @ The Speed of Thought.
Police are looking for man with a glazed look in his eyes spouting visionary nonsense. Thoroughly disinfected messages on any IT-related subject can be sent to Mole at the usual address. And if the thief is reading this: no, Mole doesn't want the book back.
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