Bill Gates, the non-executive chairman of Microsoft who has now dedicated his life to charitable causes, has unveiled a radical new plan for his latest philanthropic project, the worldwide eradication of malaria. After spending years funding conventional medical research with little success, Gates revealed a change of direction this week that will see him returning to the practices that helped Windows defeat its competitors through the 1990s.
"People kept asking me why, if I managed to wipe out Netscape in the browser wars, I couldn't kill a tiny thing like the malaria disease," he explained. "The Netscape browser had 90% of the market and we smashed it, yet only about 4% of the world's population get malaria every year, so why is that so hard to beat? Then it hit me, if I just get my old engineers from Microsoft to design our own version of malaria, we'll be able to use our dominant market position to unfairly make sure it defeats the original."
"Now, speaking frankly, it's likely that the version we come up with, even though we'll basically be copying, won't actually work as well as the original. And when our version wins, being less efficient, it will kill fewer people. And we're done."
Critics in the medical community have pointed out that deliberately killing people, even less efficiently, is somewhat counter-intuitive, morally. Similarly, software retailers have expressed concern that even Windows users, with their high tolerance for bugs and viruses, are likely to wary of buying an operating system which actively infects them with a killer disease, even when marketed with the catchy "What do you want to catch today?" slogan.
But these concerns are likely to be minor, compared with the forthcoming investigation by the European Monopolies Commission, which is concerned that smaller, lesser known diseases might not get fair exposure, given Windows' dominance. One possible compromise is the idea of a selection page shown on Windows start-up, where users can choose to contract not only malaria, but a range of threatened open-source competitors, including the already popular herpes and lung disease, as well as a range of less mainstream ailments such as mange, rickets and piles.
"For me, it's all about finally returning something to the community," boasted Gates this morning. "Don't say I never give you anything."