The Rocky 'Road' Trouble with Bill Gates' CD-Rom
”When the information highway is in operation,” writes Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in his best-selling The Road Ahead, ”the texts of millions of books will be available. A reader will be able to ask questions, print the text, read it on-screen.” After reading the CD-ROM version of The Road Ahead (included with the book), though, you might not want to dismantle your bookshelves just yet.
First, it takes forever — okay, about five minutes — just to start up the disc. ”I’ve never had to wait five minutes to open a book before. I just gave up,” says Clifford Stoll, author of Silicon Snake Oil and gadfly to the cyber-revolution. ”If this is the future of multimedia, count me out.”
Gates promises in the book that the computer will ”raise the educational standards.” Unfortunately, three questions posed to Gates in an on-screen Q&A contain the same misspelled word. One reads: ”How will students be effected by the new technologies?” The unintended answer: Students of the future might have trouble learning the difference between effected and affected.
”We’re terribly embarrassed,” says Jon Lazarus, a Microsoft vice president in charge of the Gates CD-ROM. ”We made a mistake. I got yelled at by Bill.” But, he adds, the company has received few complaints about the CD-ROM.
One touted advantage of CD-ROMs over traditional books is hypertext, highlighted words on which you can click for illumination. But The Road Ahead‘s stiff descriptions could be a bit more illuminating. Don’t know what computer means? Click and learn: ”A computer is any machine that accepts structured input, processes it according to prescribed rules and produces the results as output.” Oh, thanks.
The good news is, when you find a choice passage like that and want to savor it later, you can call up an electronic bookmark. The bad news is, using one involves wading through a set of daunting instructions. ”We’re not saying the computer is going to replace the printed book right away,” says Lazarus. ”Until we can deliver something thin and flat that you take to the beach, people will prefer books.” So while this Road Ahead may be paved with good intentions, you might want to consider taking the alternate route. — Dana Kennedy
The Road Ahead