Bill Gates loses his grip on reality

We Mac users hear a lot about Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field”—the aura of his charisma and its sanguine effect on the Apple faithful. If Steven Levy’s recent Newsweek interview with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is any example, Gates’ reality is pretty distorted too. But I’m not so sure it has as much to do with charisma as it does with self-delusion.

In excerpts of the interview published on the Newsweek Web site, Gates said that the newly released Vista’s selling point to the average consumer is features likes Sidebar and its ability to handle large amounts of photos, HD movies and DVD burning.

Sound familiar? Apple’s been doing digital photos, movies and DVD burning for years with its iLife software suite. As for Sidebar? That’s Vista’s way of running mini-applications called “gadgets.” But you probably know them as Dashboard and widgets—features of Mac OS X ever since Apple released Tiger.

Incredibly, Gates actually gets offended when Levy suggests that Microsoft ripped off some of Mac OS X in Vista’s features, look and feel:

“You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first, if you care about the facts. If you just want to say, ‘Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along,’ that’s fine.”

Then Gates goes on to suggest that Microsoft may have been too forthcoming early in Vista’s development, when it was still called Longhorn. He doesn’t say it directly, but Gates intimates that Microsoft showed off features that Apple ended up copying and shipping in its products before Microsoft could, because Microsoft spent so much time working out Vista’s security features.

That’s not just wrong, that’s astoundingly, jaw-droppingly wrong. Dashboard aside, the basic look and feel of Mac OS X—not to mention its core file structure—has been around since Windows XP was new, and Vista/Longhorn was not so much as even a glimmer in Bill Gates’ eye.

That’s not where Gates’ own version of the Reality Distortion Field ends, though. He also claims that “security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally.”

Now, Gates said this within the context of Vista’s improved security. And Vista is a marked improvement over Windows XP in a multitude of areas—security may very well be a major one.

But for Gates to suggest that “security guys break the Mac every single day” makes me wonder exactly where the hell Gates is getting his information, or at the very least, what he’s smoking.

Because about the most public display of Mac OS X-related bugs I’m familiar with is the recent “Month of Apple Bugs” project, which ended not so much with a bang but rather a whimper. The project’s organizers found one really good bug in there, which was fixed by Apple a few weeks later in a security update. Otherwise it was mainly just a mishmash of problems they discovered in third-party application software that runs on Mac OS X (not to mention Windows, in some cases).

And I’m completely unfamiliar with any “exploits,” as Gates put it, that would allow a malicious user to “take over totally” a Mac running Tiger.

So Bill Gates is, at best, grossly mistaken and really poorly informed about his major competition for the hearts and minds of consumers. And at worst, he’s well aware of just how mistaken his claims are and choosing to make them anyway. “Distorting reality” is one way to describe that; another would be “lying.”

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