Saving the World: One Line at a Time
There's a heart underneath Microsoft's muscle.
Capitalism is all about exploitation -- making workers produce for owners more
than they take home in wages. That's how Carnegie, Rockefeller and now Gates
got so rich. Gordon Gecko worships this approach, while Karl Marx was less impressed.
In the old days, robber barons donated some of their proceeds to relieve a
little guilt, and because charity cocktail parties rule! There wasn't a lot
of oversight of their money, they gave it, scarfed champagne and a few truffles,
and went straight back to making more.
The new generation has the potential to be so much different. Sure, they make
their money the old fashioned way -- by bringing in more than they pay out.
But when they give away these collected earnings, they apply the same discipline
of capitalistic efficiency. The best example is the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, which watches its money closer than an accountant on a fixed income.
Microsoft Corp. is doing just as much, and probably way more good -- and profits
remain a motive (am I starting to sound like an Ayn Rand rehash?). As you can
see by our story "Can
Microsoft Save the World?" Redmond researchers are working with scientists
to craft new tools to fuel scientific breakthroughs. These folks are in the
trenches, crafting vaccines, cures for cancer, ways to fight global warming
-- even trying to find the origins of Life (which apparently pre-dates even
Altair BASIC and MS-DOS!). This is a fundamentally new model of capitalism as
much as it is a new model of software. For a public company to purposely
devote resources (Microsoft Research is $6 billion to $7 billion and counting)
to projects that may never make them a dime, or return dollars to them decades
in the future, is pretty much unheard of.
Not everyone has the extra fundage for pure research the way Microsoft does. Even
so, there may be ways others can apply the Redmond model. Food, drug, auto and
energy companies could all make a difference by working with independent scientists
on technologies that can save lives and the environment -- instead of buying up
all the good patents. Maybe someday they could even make a buck or two by selling
products that replace the need for oil, gas, surgery, refrigerators or even Windows
And how do I hope to change the world? All my cash goes to buying Madonna CDs,
K-Fed concert tickets (someone has to buy 'em!) and saving the mansions in Newport,
Do you think Microsoft can really do some good and, if so, how? Tell me at
Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.