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Book Review: Idea Man by Paul Allen, Co-founder of Microsoft

Book Review: Idea Man by Paul Allen, Co-founder of Microsoft

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats. ~ Howard Aiken

That seems an appropriate quote for microcomputer’s early days and the challenges that faced Paul Allen. I received Paul Allen’s book, “Idea Man” four days ago and finished it yesterday afternoon. Maureen Cole at the Penguin Group had been kind enough to send me a copy for review (Thank you Maureen!).

As many of us in business and technology already know, Paul Allen, the 17th wealthiest American, with a net worth of $13
billion, co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975. Those that are avid sports fans may be more familiar with Mr. Allen’s role as the owner of the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and Portland Trail Blazers (NBA).

So I wondered how it came to be that I was contacted to do this book review. I found it odd that I had been asked. After all, I’m an IBM alumnus, and spent most of my career not only trying to avoid Microsoft products, but compete with them whenever I could. The last position I held at IBM involved building an ecosystem of Linux partnerships in IPTV to undermine Microsoft’s Mediaroom efforts (my view, not IBM’s), and most recently I’d written a post on Microsoft’s Cloud Trajectory which did not view their Cloud computing efforts favorably. In addition, I’m the founder and editor of Amazon, Apple, and Salesforce Journals.

Clearly, I’m no Microsoft fan boy.

Nevertheless, after my laughter at the irony of the situation subsided, I agreed to read the book and write this review.

I had already heard the history of Microsoft and its founders more than once, not only in my undergraduate and graduate technology classes, but throughout my career. I had also written in Innovation and Risk in the Clouds II that one of my favorite docudramas is the story of Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Xerox as told in the Pirates of Silicon Valley.

So I was more than familiar with Microsoft’s history. However, this book not about Microsoft. It is about one of the men behind Microsoft, and while inextricably linked to the company’s history, there is more to Paul Allen than the company he co-founded.

So here is another irony for you. I actually enjoyed the book.

Some parts of the book are before my time as Paul Allen is more than 10 years my senior, but other (technology) parts were a trip down memory lane for me.  Having been a programmer myself (though never on a PDP-10), I can appreciate some of the technological challenges Paul describes in his book.

And imagine my surprise when I read, “Idea Man”, only to find similar views of Microsoft’s current challenges (pgs 184-190) from none other than one of its co-founders!

Those of you that enjoy sports and music will appreciate the chapters on Blazermania and Jimi Hendrix. I was more intrigued and fascinated by the early chapters and those in the rest of the book – from Paul’s Microsoft era to the X-Prize, Wired World, Fat Pipe, and Mapping The Brain.

Coincidentally, just last semester I took a Human Anatomy course having long been intrigued by the potential of technology applications to help solve the puzzle of the human brain (and its capacity for innovation and creativity). I’m also a member of a regional community college Computational Thinking project funded by the National Science Foundation. So it is with great interest that I most enjoyed reading about the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Allen Brain Atlas project. I have previously written in a recent post on The Rise of the Cloud Enabled Autonomous Robots, that a single human brain has a greater switching capacity than all the computer switches on earth as discovered by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Additionally, having grown up with Star Trek, I was also very interested in the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a partnership between the University of California, Berkeley and the SETI Institute (I ran SETI@home for years on my computers before switching to IBM’s World Community Grid to do my small part in the fight against cancer and Human Proteome folding research).

If you enjoy imagining how technology will change the future of the world, contemplating innovations in business and technology, or the journey of ideas from their origins in the human mind to their realization in the marketplace, then you’ll appreciate this book and its rare insight into the mind of one of the great pioneers of our time.

P.S.  Full disclosure:  I received a free copy of the book in order to review it.

By Ray DePena

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