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Panelists: Microsoft not evil, but no hero either

Although the four panelists at the recent Conference on World Affairs session "Bill Gates: Hero or Villain" agreed Gates is no villain, the majority opinion on Gates' company, Microsoft, was not flattering.

"Microsoft is one of the biggest and most profitable corporations on this planet," said panelist Andy Ihnatko, a computer columnist and author. "Their stock keeps going up and up, and they have some of the most brilliant software programers out there. I use Internet Explorer because it's the best software available for that purpose. So how come the rest of their software sucks?"

Ihnatko questioned why it is so difficult for other operating systems to exist on the same network as Windows, why consumers need to buy a special de-installation product when they want to get rid of a Microsoft program and why old software can't be used on current systems.

"This is the best they can do?" he said.

Movie critic and author Roger Ebert, also a panelist, said using Microsoft products is often not easy. Ebert, a self-proclaimed Macintosh user, said he bought a Microsoft laptop several years ago.

"I started using Windows, and I was offended," said Ebert, whose movie reviews are included on Microsoft's 1996 Cinemania CD-ROM. "I felt it would essentially corrupt me as a human being to continue using Windows. It isn't a good tool."

Panelist Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement _ not free in price, but free in how consumers obtain and use software _ said he doesn't think there is anything particularly bad about Microsoft.

But Stallman said a problem with Microsoft and other softwaremakers is that consumers can't make changes to the programs, because the plans are kept secret. Consumers should not buy proprietary software if they do not want to be a "slave" to big corporations such as Microsoft, he said.

The last panelist was Tod Nielsen, general manager of the Microsoft Developer Relations Group and Platform Marketing. Rather than sitting at a table on the stage in Colorado University's Macky Auditorium as the other panelists did, Nielsen stood at a lectern and told the audience of more than 50 people the top 10 lessons he will tell his grandchildren he learned from Bill Gates.

Some of the things he said he has learned from Gates are "a penny saved is a penny earned," "always admit when you are wrong," and "consumers don't care about operating systems."

Nielsen said Microsoft will try to fix the problems that Ihnatko and Ebert talked about. "There are a million things we can do better," Nielsen said. "Is this the best we can do? Absolutely not."

The No. 1 thing Nielsen has learned from Gates, he said, is "once you have it, give it all away." According to Nielsen, Gates plans to give away his billions when he leaves Microsoft someday.