THE ROAD AHEAD, by Bill Gates (Viking, 276 pp., $29.95). This book is the Microsoft mogul's view of a technology-rich future, including his home-in-progress, where people will wear electronic pins so that, among other things, their chosen music will follow them from room to room. Although many of Gates's predictions are not new, readers will find the book thought-provoking as well as entertaining: Are you looking forward to personal computers that talk with you, keeping a "wallet PC" in your pocket, and knowing that your conversation with a traffic cop is being recorded on video?
The optimism that led Gates to drop out of college in 1975 to found Microsoft Corp. with his friend Paul Allen comes through, tempered by some concerns, such as about new threats to privacy. Co-authored by company vice president Nathan Myhrvold and journalist Peter Rinearson, the book comes with a CD-ROM that adds background information.
If you read it, bring a measure of skepticism; the book could be viewed as a giant promotion for Microsoft, neatly organized into chapters hyping technology's potential to transform business, education, communications, etc. The billionaire is donating his book earnings to help fund technology in schools.
MICROSOFT SECRETS: HOW THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL SOFTWARE COMPANY CREATES TECHNOLOGY, SHAPES MARKETS, AND MANAGES PEOPLE, by Michael Cusumano and Richard W. Selby (Free Press, 449 pp., $30.00). Here is an outside view of Microsoft. Professors Cusumano (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Selby (University of California, Irvine), highlight seven business practices, many of which you can employ even if you don't work at the world's leading software company: (1) Find "smart" people who know the technology and the business; (2) organize small teams with functional specialists; (3) pioneer and orchestrate evolving mass markets; (4) focus the team's creativity by setting key goals, deadlines, and budgets; (5) have workers do their tasks in parallel, with frequent synchronizations (in software jargon, frequent "builds" of the product under development); (6) improve through continuous self-critiquing, feedback, and sharing; and (7) attack the future.
I SING THE BODY ELECTRONIC: A YEAR WITH MICROSOFT ON THE MULTIMEDIA FRONTIER, by Fred Moody (Viking, 301 pp., $23.95). Moody's book reads like a case study for "Microsoft Secrets" and is more engagingly written. A talented team struggles to finish a project - a CD-ROM encyclopedia for children - on time and on budget. Moody, a Seattle journalist, watches the group over the course of more than a year and doubts they will succeed. But in the end they do, with a last-minute push and numerous trade-offs. They switch from putting the product all on one disc to making it the first in a four-disc set, for example. Though known as thrifty, Bill Gates comes off as more worried about getting products into a budding market than in their short-term profitability. Still, he and other Microsoft managers don't let the CD-ROM team feel too successful, lest they slack off on their next project.
WORLD CLASS: THRIVING LOCALLY IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Simon & Schuster, 379 pp. $25.00). "The American century is over," the Harvard Business School professor says, and what's coming in its place may be not the Asian century but the world century. For "locals" lacking in skills or connections, the new global economy is rough, and Kanter empathizes with them. But in the end, she argues, companies and communities don't need to be on the losing end of globalization. Her advice to institutions and people: Become "cosmopolitan" by building on the "three C's" - good business concepts, competence, and far-flung connections. The book is an anecdote-filled look at an important topic. Yet the material feels a bit stale, since globalization and its impacts have been covered before by Kanter and others.