- 6 Jan 08, 19:09 GMT
I've just emerged from the Microsoft machine, shaken but unscathed. I've interviewed Bill Gates three or four times over a 12 year period, and each time I come out impressed by the sheer professionalism of the Microsoft PR operation but wondering whether we've been successfully spun.
This time we tried a new tactic - getting BBC viewers, listeners and readers to ask the questions. We had thousands, covering every aspect of Bill Gates and Microsoft - past, present and future. Over two hundred were seeking jobs, one gentleman was proposing himself as the next CEO of Microsoft, and another wondered whether the secrets of Windows software had been recovered from a crashed UFO.
We did not ask that one, but managed to get through around fifteen questions during our allotted fifteen minutes. As ever, Mr Gates appeared very well briefed. Yes, Vista was a success, despite the frustrations expressed by Barry from London. Sure, he understood the anger felt by people like Daniel from Aberdeen about the reliability of the Xbox 360, but it was being sorted. Yes, Microsoft had missed some trends - the importance of search - and perhaps over-estimated others -the tablet computer, for instance. And no, Mr McInerney from Southampton, there isn't a single Mac to be found in the Gates household.
Throughout the interview the Microsoft chairman reached over to a handily placed table covered in mobile phones, all of them running Windows Mobile. Surely, I chipped in, this was one area where the likes of Google (with its new Android operating system) and Nokia, would prevent Microsoft from dominating? Windows is on 20 million phones, Google is on zero, though Nokia is pretty big, was the response. (I had arrived in the Microsoft tent bearing a blackberry, a Nokia phone and an iPhone, not quite realising how provocative that might be.)
The formal part of the interview over - and timed to the exact second by the Microsoft PR people - we went to have a look at Microsoft's surface computer. Bill Gates demonstrated it for me, afterwards admitting that this was just his second rehearsal of the demo he'll perform in his keynote tonight. And finally he stuck his neck out, predicting that this kind of computer will be in tens of millions of homes within a few years. Such predictions have sometimes gone awry - remember the wristwatch computer?
But Bill Gates, who is stepping aside from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to concentrate on his charity later this year, was in a relaxed mood. Whatever you think of the man or of Microsoft, he has undoubtedly been the leading figure in the world's most important industry over the last two decades.
Have a look at the interview, which will appear in various forms on this site and on television in the next 24 hours. And let us know what you think of the answers - and the questions.
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