The next Bill Gates

Who will be the next Billy G, Zuckerberg?

It seems impossible, but in a few short months we will no longer have William H. Gates III to kick around anymore. The God of Windows is stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities in June to become a roadie for U2, or possibly a fluffer personal assistant to George Clooney, or perhaps Hillary Clinton's running mate/money-honey.

So many options when you're worth US$58 billion.

Who will be the next Billy G? I don't mean who's going to run Microsoft, we know that already. (Though Microsoft would be a better, more nimble, more interesting company if Ballmer moved on. But that's a topic for another time.) I mean, who will become the next magnet for criticism in the tech industry? Who can fill Bill's Keds as the premier architect of fear uncertainty and doubt? Who else can provide that perfect mixture of arrogance and incompetence?

The Register's Ashlee Vance has a suggestion, and it's a good one: Mark Zuckerberg.

But now we have Zuckerberg who combines arrogance, robot-like anti-charisma, immense paper wealth, creepy software, youth, intelligence, casual attire, calculating behavior, a spoiled child background, charges that he stole ideas from acquaintances and a general ignorance about why any of this matters to anyone in just the right quantities.

The parallels are striking. Both are ex-Harvard boys who struck it rich by capitalizing on someone else's brainstorm. In Gates' case, it was creating a knockoff of CPM and labeling it MS-DOS (and later building a Mac wannabee called Windows). For Zucky, it was HarvardConnect (now called ConnectU), a budding social network that hired him to do some programming back in 2003 and is now suing him for stealing their ideas.

At one time, Bill Gates was seen as a plucky upstart battling the Big (Bad) Blue Machine, just as Zuckerberg has garnered hero status among the Twitterati for taking on Rupert Murdoch's MySpace.

Both desperately need a stooge to make them look good. In Gates' case, he hires people like Jay Leno to make him seem more human. Zuckerberg gets people like journalist Sarah Lacy, who made herself the scourge of the blogosphere recently for her ditzy interview of Zuckerberg at South by SouthWest.

(Until this point, Lacy's greatest claim to fame has been that she dumped a glass of water on TechCrunch Michael Arrington's head when he wasn't on fire. Now she'll be forever known as Zuckerberg's Bete Noire.)

Both are prone to making grandiose statements unsupported by fact. Zuckerberg said that media changes every 100 years (and that Facebook users essentially don't give a whit about their privacy). And Gates, well, just pick anything he's said about Windows over the last 25 years.

And then there's the hair thing. Is that a perm? The list goes on.

So while Zucky is a good call, I'd like to open the floor to all you out there in Cringeville. I need somebody to kick around. Who do you nominate for the Gates crown?

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Robert X. Cringely

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