It has been nearly a decade since Bill Gates left his day-to-day role at Microsoft, but he still has a connection to the company, not only as a board member and major shareholder, but also as a part-time technology adviser. So what’s he focusing on in his time there?
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Gates answered that question during a recent interview with GeekWire, indicating he’s diving deep into the world of natural language and virtual assistants. He also talked about the evolution of the flagship Office and Windows businesses, many years after they turned Microsoft into a dominant technology company. And he shared his thoughts on the culture created by company’s current leadership, led by CEO Satya Nadella.
Watch a video of his comments above and continue reading for highlights.
Q: It’s been just about nine years since you ended your day-to-day role at Microsoft, almost a decade ago. What do you think about what’s happened at Microsoft over the past few years? A lot of people look at it as a revival, especially if you look at the stock market. Do you see it that way?
Bill Gates: Microsoft has some assets like Office that have stayed strong, and there’s so much room for innovation in those. That’s probably the most amazing asset that Microsoft has, that globally the way people get productivity with Outlook, Word, they maintain that position and there’s so much more that they are doing, and I get to push a little bit and share ideas in my part-time work.
Something like Windows is still an unbelievable asset but because the world is somewhat phone-centric, it’s an asset that has to be managed very carefully to make sure that it’s extended, and there are very interesting things that are being done with that. It’s fantastic that Microsoft in the cloud space is one of very few companies that’s got the critical mass, the particular emphasis on helping business customers get up to that cloud with all the unique requirements they have. It’s very exciting. I’m very lucky that Satya and the team there creates an atmosphere that going in and pushing them a little bit and sending memos; they make that fun for me and actually, some of those ideas they latch onto.
Q: What areas are you focusing on most in your time at Microsoft, advising them?
Bill Gates: The role of natural language and all these interactions to create an expert capability to help you out. That is very cutting edge and that influences a lot of the Bing investments we made over time, making it not just string search but deep understanding. The ability to keep track of information, not just as text, but understanding your activities and how you prioritize things.
When you go to look at communications you shouldn’t have to just look at an un-timed order fashion, you should trust that it’s understanding of you and the context and priorities are there. But only by reading that text will we do that, so there’s a frontier here that’s very exciting. Rajesh Jha, Harry Shum, a lot of the key people under Satya are grabbing onto that, and some particular opportunities around that are where the resources are being shifted.
Microsoft, by some metrics we’re less of a share; we had a very high share if you go to 1995. We are one of very few companies doing phenomenal things. The basic insight of the company about the importance of software just gets underscored, people recognize that again and again, year after year. We’re not the only software company but we are a great software company doing some unique work. Our leadership has that, we are the best in certain ways, and so we get the best people. That kind of positive dynamic is quite good, so I love what’s going on there, it’s fun.