Why I Wrote It

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This book began with a facetious line, delivered after a friend asked me how I'd sum up what was going on in Silicon Valley. It was spring 1997, and at that point I was spending all of my time writing about the Valley, for San Francisco magazine and as a contributing writer for Upside. Ironically, though the eyes of the nation were on Silicon Valley, in the Valley all eyes seemed diverted northward toward Redmond; Bill Gates's name was on everyone's lips. "It's all just a plot to get Bill Gates," I said to my friend. "A plot by everyone to prove themselves bigger, better, and smarter than this dislikable, slop-shouldered tyrant from Redmond."

At that point I had been a journalist for more than 15 years. As a staff writer for an alternative weekly, I had covered Chicago's City Hall (resulting in the book, Fire on the Prairie) through most of the 1980s. and I had spent several years as a street reporter on the youth violence beat (resulting in the book Drive-By). But by 1994, when I completed Drive-By, I was ready for a change. And just a short drive from my home was this stretch of land that, with the sudden surge of widespread interest in the Internet, was ground zero.

In the mid '70s, I had spent a great deal of time in my high school's computer room attempting to master BASIC. I had started college as an engineering major—until abandoning the hard sciences because of a new-found interest in politics and writing. But now journalism and my long dormant technical bent have merged. I dove whole hog into high tech, bringing with me an ingrained distrust for hype, a died-in-the-wool dislike of hypocrisy, and a strong love of narrative (i.e., tell it like a story). I cranked out articles for a variety of publications while simultaneously searching out the story line that would serve as the backbone for a book bringing readers into this era-defining business battle.

I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller. And so my aim with this book is to present an entertaining and compelling tale that helps the general interest reader and industry veteran alike gain insights into the nature of competition in computerdom and the larger-than-life personalities who rule this world. In a nutshell, The Plot to Get Bill Gates is a story of obsession: obsession with money, obsession with the Big Strike, but mainly obsession with Bill Gates, the world's richest man and therefore the object of envy, attention, and resentment the world over. To my mind it's a tale of obsession worthy of Melville, where a long line of Captains of Industries have taken turns playing the role of Captain Ahab, ostentatious in their hate for Gates—the Great White Whale. The more he is attacked, the angrier and meaner (and larger!) this whale grows. I hope you enjoy.