When I told people in Silicon Valley I was writing a novel about
their industry, so many of them asked me, "Is it about Bill Gates?" that for a
while I considered titling this novel, "Not Gates."
I guess if you were going to let some air out of the business, he
would be the biggest doughboy. A lot of people wanted me to bring him down, but I was more
interested in writing about today's entrepreneurs than today's moguls.
There is an important double-entendre to "Not Gates,"
though. The basis of the computer is the silicon transistor, three layers of silicon that
can hold a small electrical charge. Transistors are connected into three types of simple
logic gates: the AND gate, the OR gate, and the NOT gate. The function of a NOT gate is to
turn a 1 into a 0. When electrical power comes into a NOT gate, the charge is cancelled.
While investigating the power dynamics of Silicon Valley on
assignment for Wired magazine, I kept hearing stories that represented, in effect, NOT
gates: entrepreneurs who had been impeded, cheated, or cancelled by the gatekeepers of
power. Unfortunately, their experiences were also NOT stories, certainly not magazine
stories, which are more about the powerful than the powerless, more about those companies
who went public than all those who went belly up. So in order to expose the NOT gates, I
turned to fiction.
Maybe this book is about Bill Gates implicitly. By having
masterminded a near monopoly on desktop computer operating systems, he is the ultimate
gatekeeper of power in Silicon Valley. More than any other person, he decides which gates
are AND, which are OR, and which are NOT. What was going on in Silicon Valley in 1995 was
that thousands of enterprising minds were busily negotiating his gates, attempting to pass
through. By 1996, though, things were different. Quite suddenly, so many of those
entreprising minds were attempting to bypass Gates' gates entirely, inventing a new
paradigm of technology that ignored operating systems. If they couldn't go through, they
would go around. It was an inspiring surge of can-do ingenuity.
As of this writing, those efforts may or may not succeed. This book
is for all those who are making the attemptto all those who remind us that the human
creative spirit is irrepressible.