May 29 2009

I once refused to shake hands with Bill Gates at a secret COMDEX party

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, all of it told in chronological order
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Microsoft employees know I’m an unabashed fan of their company. Like AOL, they make millions of people want to use computers — what’s wrong with that?

But what a lot of people don’t know is that I once refused to meet & shake hands with Bill Gates at a secret Las Vegas COMDEX party. I will now tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, all of it in chronological order.

The story takes place in 1989 at the Las Vegas COMDEX convention. John C. Dvorak is known for hosting two parties at COMDEX — a “public” one for the media and a “secret” one for the industry’s elite. I’ve just written a book on shareware and my publisher happens to be one of the “in” people.

Dvorak’s team makes a last-minute change to throw off the hound dogs. The shindig ends up at Liberace’s mansion. The narcissistic pianist had selected a “mirror” motif for his crib. “I betcha Windex® sends a tanker to this house every month,” I thought. He mirrored the walls from floor to ceiling, from the kitchen to the bathrooms, right down to the matching dog houses.

So I’m gabbing with a friend from CompuServe when my publisher butts in. “Bill Gates from Microsoft has arrived, would you like to shake his hand?” I happen to know Gates is worth $2.2 billion. “No, but thanks,” I reply, and I turn back to my cohort. “Ha ha, that’s pretty funny,” she says. “C’mon, let’s go!” She starts to move off but I’m not following. She looks back.

“No, really,” I say again. “I don’t need to meet Bill Gates.”

My publisher gets this really great look on her face. “Good Lord, why not?” I straighten up and look her right in the eye. “Because he’s a billionaire and I’m a nobody. I’d just be some guy shaking his hand. He won’t remember me, so why waste his time?”

Kahn knew of me, so I was happy to shake his hand…

She’s standing there dumbfounded when I notice Borland Software founder Philippe Kahn on the other side of the room. He is, by all accounts, Gates’ fiercest competitor in the compiler business. “Look, I’ll show you what I mean.” I grab her and we walk over.

“Mr. Kahn, Rob Rosenberger from the Association of Shareware Professionals.” Kahn pumps my hand. “It’s good to finally meet you!” I introduce him to my publisher who’s in shock. “Listen, I just want to thank you for following through on my request to donate $1,000 to the Association for our party here at COMDEX.” Kahn replies, “how could I refuse? You guys are our best examples of people who use Borland products…”

I grab my publisher and we walk away. “You know Philippe Kahn?” The expression on her face is classic. “Yes, and I know him well enough to get him to donate a thousand bucks to a non-profit shareware group.” We’re still walking—

—and I halt her right in front of Bill Machrone, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. He’s arguably the most sought-after man at COMDEX. Large corporations will sacrifice a virgin sales rep for 15 minutes of his time. {Heh heh, “virgin sales rep.” They’re all whores, but I digress.}

Machrone knew me personally, so I was happy to shake his hand…

“Bill!” I say. “Rob!” he says back. We casually shake hands. “Hey, let me introduce you to the publisher of my new book on shareware.” Machrone pumps her hand. “I’m sure he did a great job writing it. Everybody at the magazine is a huge fan of shareware…”


My publisher picks her jaw up from the floor and we move away from Machrone. “There, you see? Bill Gates won’t remember me,” I reiterate. “That’s why I don’t need to shake his hand…”

Bill Machrone will confirm I introduced him to my book publisher at Liberace’s mansion where John C. Dvorak held his secret COMDEX party in 1989. And that, my friends, is the absolutely true story of when I refused to meet & shake hands with Microsoft founder Bill Gates…

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