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The world according to Gates



Bil Gates promises 'enviable jobs,' overlooking the fact that MicroSoft leads the way in filling its positions with long-term temps

Inevitably we may all wind up as pawns in MicroSoft owner Bill Gates' game of virtual-world domination.

MicroSoft Windows 95 software is preloaded on about 90 percent of personal computers. His companies, products and money are deeply involved in or control practically every technology and product expected to play a big part in the evolution of the Information Age. And the anti-trust division of the U.S. Justice Department has alleged that, as a result of the way Microsoft's Internet-browsing software is bundled on computers, Americans are hard-pressed to find their way out of Mr. Gates' digital neighborhood.

Still I was struck by the harrowing implications of a force feeling something like a gravitation pull -- but probably more akin to peer pressure -- that pulled at me to rise to my feet at the closing of the "discussion" with the MicroSoft man last week at Valencia Community College.

I was probably influenced by the mood of the audience, which had exploded in a thunderous standing ovation for Gates, who had been introduced by David Pierce, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, as a "visionary, innovator, business leader, philanthropist -- a great friend of community colleges." Perhaps overwhelmed by the moment, Valencia President Paul Gianini went further as the concluding round of applause reverberated around the auditorium, putting Gates at the "top of the list" of community-college "champions."



Not to be overlooked in searching for answers to this show of unbridled adulation is a $110,000 grant awarded to Valencia's Center for High-Tech Training -- a gift drawn from the $7 million pot of gold set aside for community colleges by MicroSoft's "Working Connections" program, a joint five-year project of Gates' $11.3 billion company and Pierce's association. In addition to money, of course, MicroSoft is donating technical assistance and software.

As Gates explained during his speech, after which he answered a half-dozen questions, community colleges had been identified as a key piece of Microsoft's long-range plan to prepare the American workforce for the company's vision of the future. For those who buy into Gates' logic and study subjects he deems important, Gates says, there would be "jobs I think are enviable jobs" -- notwithstanding the fact that MicroSoft leads the way in filling its positions with long-term temps.

But at what price? If Gates' presentation was any indication, those enviable jobs will be conducted with products and technologies produced by Microsoft.

In discussing the growing reliance on computer products, Gates pointed out that the majority of encyclopedia products sold currently are on CD-ROM rather than paper. Later, in describing the process of finding information in reference books as "kind of jumbled," Gates explained how such research becomes "kind of fun" with products like Encarta, Microsoft's CD-ROM encyclopedia. Asked when he thought computer systems enabling people to live what Gates called "a web lifestyle" would become more affordable, he plugged the "very inexpensive" WebTV -- a product of Microsoft.

At one point, Gates surrendered the floor to a video featuring himself as an average American at odds with the digital age; it ended with a frame entirely black but for the company's World Wide Web address.

Another breezy short film portrayed a psychotic installer who appears to rescue a family transformed into catatonic couch-potatoes by the overwhelming task of getting wired for the future. Yet another, more cerebral video featured Microsoft researchers discussing the company's technological advances. The underlying message of it all seemed to be, "In Microsoft we trust."

By all indications, the audience at Valencia seemed totally sold. The first question from a small-business consultant: "How can we the people, as your greatest fans, get the federal government off your back?"

Maybe the government and a growing legion of other skeptics are misguided, and the Gates way is the only way. All skepticism aside, this story was written with a MicroSoft product.

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