Bill Gates On Communications Hell And The Future - InformationWeek

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10/18/2007
06:02 PM
John Foley
John Foley
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Bill Gates On Communications Hell And The Future

I cringed when reading Bill Gates' manifesto on how "software-powered communications" are going to change the workplace forever. He's right, of course. But was it necessary to go back 20 years to illustrate how bad things used to be? Those skeletons were best left in the closet.

I cringed when reading Bill Gates' manifesto on how "software-powered communications" are going to change the workplace forever. He's right, of course. But was it necessary to go back 20 years to illustrate how bad things used to be? Those skeletons were best left in the closet.It didn't help that Gates started with what felt like a cheap shot at print media. "Back then," he writes, "we read newspapers and magazines and watched network news to stay informed." Back then?! If the implication is that people no longer do those things, I would just point out that InformationWeek has a magazine circulation of 440,000 -- many more than we had 20 years ago -- and a long waiting list of others who want it.

Gates goes on to reflect on fax machines and circa-1980 phones. "A phone call might elicit a busy signal or no one would answer at all," he writes. Gates picked up on that theme again in his on-stage remarks when launching the company's new line of unified communications products in San Francisco. Gates reminisced about the build-it-yourself Altair PC, typewriters, and first-generation mobile phones that were so big a briefcase was needed to lug them around.

I'm surprised he didn't mention those old acoustic couplers there were used to connect laptops to phones in the early days of remote communications. Or rotary dial phones. Not that I would know.

Everyone agrees that there's got to be a better way. Here are just a few examples from the past few days:

VoIP meets social networking

The "context aware" smartphone

A Web applications directory for the iPhone

One phone number for life

A Skype cell phone

Voice mail to e-mail conversion services

Cell service for international travelers

This is the direction things are heading. Heavy black handsets connected by wires are out; smart, sleek, wireless devices packed with integrated apps are in. Got an anecdote to share from the past or favorite new way of communicating? You can reach me by corporate e-mail, Yahoo mail, phone (office, home, or cell), voice mail, IM, fax, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Or just leave a comment on this blog for everyone to see.

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