Techknow: Ask Bill Gates

Techknow: Ask Bill Gates - Q. Do you foresee a time when someone can buy a computer and not have to worry about upgrading it in six months?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q. Do you foresee a time when someone can buy a computer and not have to worry about upgrading it in six months?

A. When you buy a personal computer, you should expect to get a lot of value out of it for at least three years. In fact, some people use the same personal computer for six or eight years, because it does everything they want it to. On the other hand, if you want the hottest machine in the neighbourhood, any computer you buy will seem out of date within a year. If you want to turn heads when you mention your computer, you're really on a treadmill.

That's because personal computers will continue to evolve rapidly. You'll get more for your money year by year - more speed, more memory, more storage.

More capability. But I don't upgrade my computer every year, and you probably don't need to either. After about three years, a typical personal computer user begins to think about installing more memory, adding a new card of some kind, or even buying a new machine.

It makes sense to upgrade hardware after 30 or 36 months, so that you can take advantage of the latest software. Software companies are sometimes criticised for designing software that works best on the newest, most powerful machines. But it almost has to be that way, because advances in computer hardware let software companies make products that are easier to use relative to what they accomplish.

The time to buy a computer is when you are ready to put it to use. If you buy one half a year before you actually start using it, you'll waste money because computers will be cheaper and better in six months. On the other hand, if you delay buying a much-needed computer while waiting for a better deal, you lose the productivity the machine could have given you. You shouldn't expect to get a lot of money out of a four-year-old computer, but you could give it to a non-profit organisation or school.

The computer you give away may no longer meet your particular needs, but it could still be amazing to someone else.

Q. Do you have a secretary? Many junior and middle-level executives are typing their own letters, memos and e-mails these days. They use software to organise themselves, rather than relying on secretaries. Is such self-sufficiency good for senior executives?

A. I don't have a 'secretary' in the conventional sense of the word.

All of my electronic mail comes directly to me, and I answer it myself.

I type all of my own memos and letters. In fact, I type a lot more words than the administrative assistant who sits outside my office. My assistant helps make arrangements, tracks me down when urgent business demands my attention, and attends to various details - especially when I am out of the office. I'm one of the few people at Microsoft who has his or her own assistant. The company's ratio of professional staff to administrative assistants is about 15 to 1. Information tools let managers take care of their own needs.

Ask Bill Gates questions: askbill@microsoft.com.

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