Now He Tells Us

Now He Tells Us

So we were reading the Washington Post on Wednesday–online, of course–when we came across a report of a speech by Bill Gates at Cambridge University. We’re always interested in what Bill Gates has to say because–well, obviously. You would be too, would you not? Anyway, this speech was especially interesting to us. According to the Post:

The computer genius sketched out his rosy vision of a future world of technology-loving households [… yeah, yeah …] and schools in which computers enhance the learning process [… sure, buddy …]. … But he conceded that sometimes the old ways are still the best. He prefers magazines the way they come in the mail, he confessed, and he cannot read anything longer on his computer screen than a three-page memo.

Whoa. These words came as quite a shock to those of us who have spent the past year and a half trying to develop, on behalf of the Microsoft Corp., a magazine whose distinguishing characteristic is that it does not come in the mail. Although we disagree with Mr. Gates about the best way to read magazines, we do agree that sometimes the old way is still the best. For example, we generally prefer typewriters to Microsoft Word, and we find that our sturdy abacus crashes less often than Excel.

Lesser online magazines might find it discouraging to learn that their own proprietor prefers magazines that come in the mail. And there were tears, of course, even at Slate–mainly from the software developers, a notoriously sensitive lot. But ultimately we at Slate invoked the true Microsoft spirit and took this as a challenge. A two-pronged challenge, actually. The first challenge was how to prevent Bill Gates from finding out that his company publishes an online magazine. The second challenge was to misrepresent (or “spin,” to use the vernacular) his remarks to the general public.

The second part is easy. The WashingtonPost, as is so often the case with the media, misquoted Mr. Gates’ speech. What he actually said was that he prefers magazines that come in e-mail, and he reads them on his specially designed computer screen that can display a three-page memo. He was referring, of course, to Slate’s free weekly e-mail delivery. (Click here to subscribe.)

Part 1 is tougher. Although Slate is a tiny division of a large company, it is frequently mentioned in the press, and its Microsoft connection is often noted. But we have assigned a junior staff member to lurk near the Gates family mailbox and, when no one is looking, to go through the contents and Magic Marker out all references to the fact that Slate is owned by Microsoft.

That’ll teach him to get his magazines by mail.


If you’ve installed Internet Explorer 4.0, the new version of Microsoft’s browser, you might like to take a peek at our new Table of Contents, designed especially to take advantage of the advances in Internet Explorer 4.0. Among other features, it allows even the smallest standard computer screen to display the entire contents of an issue of Slate without scrolling. Make sure that you’re running Internet Explorer 4.0, then click here to take a look. This is still a “beta,” meaning that we’re still tinkering with it, but we think it’s pretty close. If you run into any problems, e-mail

And if you haven’t yet installed Internet Explorer 4.0, you can get a free download by clicking here. Be forewarned that the download takes quite a while via modem. You can also order a CD. Or you can while away the time reading magazines on paper.

–Michael Kinsley