Bonum Certa Men Certa

A Simple English and Annotated Translation of Open [sic] Letter to Hobbyists

Original full text here

Letter as a hobby



THIS is an annotated full reproduction of the infamous letter from Bill Gates (photograph above).

February 3, 1976

An Open Letter to Hobbyists


I was born to one of the most affluent and powerful families in the US (and the world), to Bill Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates*. I do, however, lecture the "Hobbyists"... (do I speak for them?)

To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself.


What have I contributed towards that? Rhetorical question. But I want more good stuff available... to me.

Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted.


I don't understand it myself. So I need someone that understands programming to do the work for me, like Jobs with Woz. Heck, I cannot even graduate from college... with a law degree.

"Which moron wrote this brainless sh*t?"

--Martin Eller, Microsoft programmer (about Bill Gates' own code)**



Will quality software be written for the hobby market?


For me to steal, as I did several times before as I fished dumpsters for other people's hard work?

Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC.


We don't write code, but we hire people who wrote the code.

Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC.


I supervised a couple of geeks.

Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.


I also broke machines to steal computer time and I got punished for it. This was not my first crime.

The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive.


All of it. All. We do Microsoft-style statistics. Everybody is always happy.

Like I'll tell FOCUS Magazine a couple of decades later:

Gates: No! There are no significant bugs in our released software that any significant number of users want fixed.

FOCUS: Oh, my God. I always get mad at my computer if MS Word swallows the page numbers of a document which I printed a couple of times with page numbers. If I complain to anybody they say "Well, upgrade from version 5.11 to 6.0".

Gates: No! If you really think there's a bug you should report a bug. Maybe you're not using it properly. Have you ever considered that?

FOCUS: Yeah, I did..."

--Bill Gates, FOCUS Magazine, 1995



Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC),


It's all about money to me. Just money. Not code. Money.

and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.


I didn't steal enough computer time. Maybe next time I'll just arrange a loan from mom's banking family.

Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software.


Copy, not steal. Unlike computer time I actually stole, taking it away from other people by sabotaging the computer systems. Because it's all about me.

Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?


Software does not cost anything to copy. But I compare it to stealing, in effect calling software users "thieves" or "pirates".

Maybe a number of decades in the future I'll buy something called "GitHub", in effect stealing billions of lines of code I never wrote.

Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't make money selling software.


MITS also doesn't have a positive opinion of me.

"He [Bill Gates] acted like a spoiled kid, which is what he was."

--Ed Roberts, Gates' employer at MITS in the 1970's (Atlanta Journal-Costitution, 04-27-97)



The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written.


This is precisely what my company will do for half a century to come.

Who can afford to do professional work for nothing?


Someone born to Bill Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates.

What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?


Something Microsoft could not do, with a budget of several billions, for several decades.

The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software.


I pretend nobody but me exists. Or... I claim to speak on behalf of actual hobbyists (of which I'm no part).

We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.


I got a few geeks hired to do work and I want lots of money to impress my rich parents. If you disagree with me, then you are a thief.

What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.


I may be young and privileged, but I am also quite blatantly a bully. If I cannot get my demands met, I will start kicking people (or maybe hire someone like dad's lawyers to do the kicking).

I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108.


Where I was arrested and my well-connected father paid bail (to ensure I end up better off than a certain Epstein).

Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.


I want to hire people who actually write good code, unlike me, and then destroy the software industry by resuming my past crimes, sans the arrests (mom and dad have got my back, mom can get me a deal with IBM).

⁠Bill Gates ⁠General Partner, Micro-Soft


I called my company after my genitals. _____ * There are several aspects to it, but one has to dig deeper. "Her grandfather, James Willard Maxwell (1864–1951), was president of the National City Bank in Seattle from 1911 to 1929 and a director of the Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco." (Source: Sanitised-for reputation-laundering Wikipedia) ** Barbarians Led by Bill Gates, a book composed by the daughter of Microsoft's PR mogul

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