Off the wire: Dr Freud . . . meet Mr Gates

Bill Gates has been the subject of thousands of articles, many TV shows and a growing array of Web sites.

But despite the endless publicity, does anyone besides the software titan himself know what makes Bill Gates tick?

What motivates the man who stands accused by the US government of mistreating his software rivals? Does he have some deep-seated need to prove something to those folks in Seattle suburbia who may have treated him badly as a child?

Network World posed these and a series of other questions about Gates to three top mental health professionals in the Boston area. The doctors had access to biographical information about the Microsoft mogul and viewed close to two hours of Gates' videotaped deposition currently being aired during court proceedings of the antitrust trial against Microsoft in Washington, DC.

While all three doctors say they are ethically and legally prohibited from drawing absolute conclusions about Gates' psyche without talking extensively with him first, they were able to point to patterns of behaviour that may open a window -- at least a crack -- into his persona.

Diagnosis one: control freak

"It's very clear that Bill Gates is a person who needs to remain in complete control of the situation," said clinical psychologist Ronald Ebert, PhD, director of Psychological Services, in Massachusetts.

Ebert, a noted forensic psychologist who often gets deposed as an expert witness in the Massachusetts courts, was amazed by Gates' manipulative performance opposite Department of Justice hired gun David Boies in the deposition video filmed in August.

Gates answers most of Boies' questions with questions. "He's quite masterful, actually. He must be a heck of a poker player," Ebert says.

Gates' body language -- a despondent shrug when he gives Boies one of many "I don't recall" or "I don't remember" replies, or a sheepish grin as the two banter back and forth about seemingly meaningless issues like the semantics of a four-year-old e-mail message -- clearly gives more insight into the man than any of his testimony, Ebert says.

"He just toyed with the prosecutor. Nonverbally he says, 'Just in case you thought you were in charge, I just want you to know that nobody is in charge of Bill Gates'," Ebert says.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft contends that Gates cooperated fully with the government, undergoing three full days of questioning.

"The government's attorney asked vague and leading questions. Mr Gates simply refused to allow the government to put words into his mouth," she says.

Gates' constant counter-questioning of Boies in the video is also indicative of Gates' basic need to achieve something more than he has already accomplished, Ebert says.

"I think this is a kid who has always been testing himself, testing himself, testing himself. Always trying to be better and better and ultimately be the best he can," Ebert says.

Diagnosis two: sociopath

After viewing the tape and other materials, sociologist Jack Levin immediately concluded that Gates is an all-American genius who's reached the proverbial dream of financial success and world fame due to his software creativity and stellar business acumen.

"But based on that same evidence he might also be seen as an all-American sociopath," says Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and author of 19 books about human behaviour.

"Bill Gates isn't afraid to go outside of [society's] established rules and regulations," Levin says.

While he may have some disregard for social norms, Gates is by no means psychotic, Levin says, and he isn't crazy.

"He's not the least bit confused, doesn't talk to dogs, hallucinate or hear words spoken in an empty room.

"He manipulated his responses in the deposition so that he said absolutely nothing but took hours to do it.

That is very clever actually," Levin says.

"He's more crafty than crazy."

Diagnosis three: mirror to mankind

Harvard Medical School clinical professor Harold J Bursztajn, MD, argues that the best way to understand Bill Gates is to take a closer look at the general public's fascination with him.

Bursztajn, who is co-director of Harvard's Program in Psychiatry and the Law, asked the simple question, "Why are we so interested in Bill Gates?"

"Is it because he mirrors that part of ourselves which idealises intelligence and power? Or [is it] the part that overemphasises winning and losing in human relationships?" Bursztajn asks.

Society had no problem when Bill Gates was a young, geeky software upstart who was taking on the Goliaths of the computer business in the 1980s, Bursztajn says.

"There's this overwhelming idea about people who finish on the top of the heap.

"They must have done something wrong to get there. That's the attitude toward Bill Gates," Bursztajn says.

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