Bill Gates’ new year’s resolution

I’m not a new year’s resolution kind of guy — never have been, never thought I would be.

I resolved years ago not to view the start of a new year as a chance to metamorphose. The captain of the good ship Microsoft, however, has changed that. If new year’s resolutions are good enough for

the richest man in the world they’re good enough for a guy one missed paycheque away from living with his parents.

On Jan. 15 Bill Gates sent a memo to Microsoft employees and its subsidiaries (and later to the media). The subject was trustworthy computing and how it should be the company’s focus. Now, did I just fall off the turnip cart or should this have not been the priority from day one?

What does it say about a company — the industry leader no less — when the head honcho releases a memo to the press that security and privacy are now the number one priority? Do its employees need to be reminded of this? Will Ford send one next week saying it’s putting its extra shiny paint R&D on hold to see what’s wrong with the breaks and seatbelts?

In case you missed it, here are some highlights:

On privacy: “” Users should be in control of how their data is used. Policies for information use should be clear to the user.””

On security: “”So now, when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security. . . If there is any way we can protect important data and minimize downtime, we should focus on this.”” Gates even recommends a book, “”Writing Secure Code,”” though it is published by Microsoft.

What’s more disturbing than the memo is the lack of outrage to it, cementing crazy-uncle status on Microsoft. It’s the high-tech version of your mother’s brother who shows up at family functions, does something that would make Dennis Rodman roll his eyes, and everyone just shrugs their shoulders with a what-can-you-do look on their faces.

The only encouraging part is Gates doesn’t seem completely deluded about how the public views his company. “”There are many changes Microsoft needs to make as a company to ensure and keep our customers’ trust at every level — from the way we develop software, to our support efforts, to our operational and business practices.””

It seems a little too convenient that Gates has figured out only now that much of his software has more holes than a doughnut shop, but Giga Information Group PC analyst Rob Enderle tells me this is on the level. He says Gates had simply reached the end of his rope.

“”This is in line with the effort that they had when Bill woke up one day and said, ‘Son of a gun, the Internet is real,'”” says Enderle. “”I’m aware of several products that have already been impacted by this, but I can’t tell you which ones.””

Enderle’s assurances aside, I’m taking a wait and see attitude. I’ve heard too many horror stories about buggy software and, as a market leader, almost every virus writer has Microsoft in their sights.

But in the spirit of turning over a new leaf, here’s my resolution: telling my uncle to sit down and stop asking me to pull his finger.

Geoffrey Downey is a staff writer for Shane Schick returns Monday.

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