Microsoft’s ‘New Boy’

Here is a point that hasn’t been made in all the press hype surrounding the selection of SGI chairman Richard Belluzzo as Microsoft’s online director.

He’s 45.

That’s a serious number. I’m old enough to remember when Bill Gates wouldn’t hand power to anyone over 35. He would hire some middle-aged executive as front-man, run him through his own little corporate maze for a while (while Wall Street types wrote approvingly that he was getting “adult” supervision), then hand him some stock options to go away. It was a game.

Microsoft was a cult of youth. Microsofties had the energy to work all night and the Cluelessness to think this was real life. Microsoft was the template for every Internet start-up that followed it.

The Internet is filled with these kinds of executives. They’re a clichi. Many of them today are female. Certainty Gates could have chosen to buy some nice little Internet company for stock and installed its 20-something head on top of his “Consumer and Commerce Group.” That is, if he had wanted to.

The fact is he didn’t want to. He chose a 22-year Hewlett-Packard veteran; a seasoned executive who was working to turn around “venerable” Silicon Graphics Inc. Belluzzo was executing his plan based on the straight, narrow path toward industry standards (like Windows NT). He’s a “solid” man, not a wild and crazy kid.

A lot of the instant analysis of this move involves Microsoft going more into transactions and less into media. It involves Microsoft trying to unite all its efforts under a single unified brand.

Most of this instant analysis is bunk.

The fact is that Bill Gates is, like the rest of us, getting older. (I know this because he’s exactly five months younger than I am.) He’s a father of two (he had that son of his so I wouldn’t stay ahead of him) who is worried about his posterity (starting charities worth $11.7 billion) and, sometimes, his posterior. He has, almost despite himself, attained a certain gravity, and gravity has begun doing its number on him.

At our “advanced” age, Bill and I like to be surrounded by men (and women) who remember the same presidents we do, who don’t need history books to remind us of November 22, 1963 (or August 9, 1974). We like to look in someone’s eyes and know they at least remember the thrill of fearing the draft, if not actually being drafted. We like to think that somewhere in the closets of those we trust is an original disco suit, maybe even a bong.

What this move means to me is that in about 10 years ol’ Gigadollar may be hiring jowly 55-year-olds for his executive ranks, and replacing the Coke and Snickers in his snack bars with ginseng drinks and Viagra.

People try to put us down, just because we get around. The things they do look awful cold. Hope I die before I get old. If you don’t recognize those last two sentences, Bill and I don’t trust you, no sir. You’re too young.

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