Overdrive: Bill Gates
and the Race to Control Cyberspace
Reviewed by Kevin Hunt
Readers looking for an answer to who is winning the race to control cyberspace won't find it in James Wallace's newest look at Bill Gates. In fact, Overdrive is surprisingly sparse when it comes to detailing the race the media have created when it comes to discussing corporate America and cyberspace: Microsoft's attempt to catch up with Netscape in the browser wars. Instead, the book provides rich insight into the tyrannical way that Gates and Microsoft do business, as well as a very detailed historical overview of Microsoft's fights with the Justice Department. For those who don't understand what the Microsoft antitrust fuss is all about, this overview in itself is worth the price of the book.
Wallace does provide an excellent look at Microsoft's amazing efforts at shifting from the development of Windows 95 to their full-fledged efforts to be a major player in the Internet technology market. And while it's amazing to think that it was only two years ago that Gates gave his now famous "sleeping giant" speech, the insight Wallace provides into the culture of Microsoft makes the shift seem inevitable.
While the book reads like a who's who of corporate America in the mid-90s, detailing the wheeling and dealing and oneupmanship of that realm, we're also treated to such mundane narratives as a first-hand account of Bill's wedding to Melinda French, his purchase of the Codex Hammer (an original 72-page notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci), a walkthrough of his palatial techno-bunker on the shores of Lake Washington, and the glorious excess of the Windows 95 launch party in Redmond.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Overdrive lies not just in Wallace's skillful documentation of the life of Bill Gates. With all the talk about the potential for the Internet and computer technology to democratize communication and better society, Wallace's book truly cuts through all of this heady speculation to reveal what it's really all about: money, marketshare, and control. Any thought about the social uses or consequences of technological development are the real losers in the race.
Kevin Hunt is book review editor of CMC Magazine.
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Hunt. All Rights Reserved.