Prologue – an open letter to Bill Gates

Dear Bill! You probably haven’t been told, but I turned 65 in August of this year (2012). I’m pretty sure that Corporate HR didn’t bother their corporate arses to let you know, even though I’ve been one of your longest serving employees.  But maybe you’ll remember me as one of the folk who bought into Windows 3.1. Does that jog your memory? It doesn’t?  Oh dear. That’s quite hurtful you know.

   You see, ever since 3.1 I’ve been sending in regular bug reports as one of your loyal worldwide staff of Beta testers.  And I didn’t really mind not getting any replies, as I knew that you were off doing important, billionary things like trying to improve the world, and running like fuck to avoid being caught in a room with Bono. But couldn’t you have got one of your minions at least to send the occasional ‘thank you’? Even once every five years or so? But then, you are so insulated from us poor toilers, and your lieutenants have made sure that they don’t talk to us, so how could you connect with us any more? It’s like Microsoft has got us all hooked now and doesn’t need to listen any more.

   And you’re no longer at the helm, so I suppose that I really can’t blame you for losing touch with me and the others. But surely you could give Steve wotshisface a smack in the ‘nads and tell him to be a little more attentive to the little guys? I mean it’s not like I was expecting a gold watch, or a round of drinks at the local. But it would have been nice if you’d even sent a wee email. Maybe like the Queen when she sends out a 100th birthday card, you could have got a pro-forma ‘congratulations on your retirement, thanks for your loyal service’ type email sent by one of your minions. Would that really have been too much trouble?

   You see, the point that I’m trying to make is that you’ve moved up to Mount Olympus having changed the world forever. And you and your mates like Jeff Bezoz and Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the much-beatified Steve Jobs (I’m sure you see him up there on a regular basis) don’t see the need to see faces, just numbers and increasing zeros on the balance sheets. So you don’t acknowledge the unpaid work that millions of us do to debug the software, your software, that underpins so much of business and online activity.

   In fact, you and the others are so remote from the rest of us that you don’t seem to care that we’re a bit pissed off – I can only talk about the UK here – that you pay so little tax. I don’t know if you bother to follow US politics anymore, but if you do, you might remember the row about Mitt Romney’s tax payments. So weren’t you even a little surprised to learn that in 2011, the company that you founded paid £19 million in tax to the UK treasury from revenue generated here of £663 million? That’s 2.8% – even Mitt Romney hadn’t the brass neck to stiff the IRS like that.

   I mean it’s not that you’re being dishonest or anything.  But your company is doing it for same reason that a dog licks its own bollocks – because you can. And like a dog sitting around indulging in a touch of self-fellation, it’s not an edifying sight.  Mind you, Bill, you’re not alone. I mean the lads at ‘don’t be evil Google’, paid £7.25 million out of around £395 million, like 1.8%. And talk about tearing the arse out of it, I mean wee Jeff Bezos and his merry persons cleaned the UK clock for around £207 million in 2011 and seem to have paid bugger all corporation tax, Starbucks did even better (or worse, depending on your point of view), apparently paying bugger all corporation tax on revenues of £398 million.

   Now I know that you and the others will try to say that you employ lots of people who pay tax and national insurance and that if you had to pay tax at the same level as people without armies of expensive accountants and tax lawyers, your margins would be too slim to make it worthwhile. But you and I both know, Bill, that that’s a crock of crap. The little businesses who can’t afford your accountants and lawyers have to pay the full whack. And what about the likes of Geoff Dyson the vacuum cleaner man, and J.K. Rowling, the author, who seem to buck the trend by believing that if they make shedloads of money here, they should play fair and not ship all of their profits off side where the Revenue can’t get hold of it? Are they being patriotic, or just plain dumb?

   You see, you’re responsible for linking up the world in a way that’s never been done before. So a crooked dealer in London or New York can shift piles of loot to Mumbai or Frankfurt in microseconds, and much of this is down to you.  Oh and to me too, in my small way. I mean I’ve helped find some of those bugs that might otherwise have screwed the system. But now that Microsoft has globalised so much of the world’s activity, you don’t seem to care anymore for the little folk, except when you want them to buy and debug the latest software.

   Anyway, I just thought I’d drop you this letter, even though I know it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever read it. But I’m sure that you’d be happy to know, if you did, that I had a really nice birthday. Plenty of cards, and my wife organised a fun party with neighbours and friends and family.  We didn’t send you an invite because we knew that it would never waft that high on the winds to Microheaven – but we were thinking of you and Melissa.

   I suppose that I’ll still keep working for Microsoft – in a sort of part-time capacity, although I’m not so keen on the more recent products. And, frankly, now as a pensioner, I haven’t got the money that these young, connected folk seem to find for every new gadget and game and program.  But I’ll do the odd bit. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

   Oh and keep up the really good philanthropic work that you’re doing. It does give all of us drones a little glow to know that in some small way we’ve contributed to making the planet a better place for billionaires.

Best wishes

Brian

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