AG00039_.gif (3587 bytes) My Brush with Bill Gates

A long time ago (in a life far, far away!) I owned a software development and consulting company. We developed this really cool product called VIEWz. I had the opportunity to show the prototype to Bill Gates. Here's an article written about the encounter and the software.

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The Seattle Times
June 5, 1990 - Tuesday, Final Edition
Business Section; Page F1



   When Bill Gates' mouth dropped open, Bruce Balan, a computer consultant, knew that he and his associates were on to something.

"Hey, this is really cool," Balan recalls Gates saying last January. "How did you do that?"

Since the chairman and founder of Microsoft was staring at a computer running one of his own products - Microsoft Word for Windows - the question was the supreme compliment.

Balan and his company, California-based Gilbert & Associates, were working with Seattle's largest law firm, Perkins Coie, to develop a customized office-automation network using personal computers to handle the 12,000 new documents the firm creates each month.

Starting with Microsoft's Windows and Word for Windows software, the team of programmers - which included Eugene Chellis, Perkins Coie partner and programmer - melded together a half-dozen off-the-shelf programs from different companies into one seamless super-software system.

"There is really nothing at all like this," said Jon Reingold, Microsoft's product manager for Word for Windows and OS/2, who confirms the Gates anecdote.

As Gates' reaction indicates, the Perkins Coie team succeeded in creating a cutting-edge system. It puts Perkins Coie in the vanguard of companies nationwide that are junking larger, more expensive mini- and mainframe computers in favor of cheaper, easier-to-use personal-computer networks.

The system provides a case study of why there has been so much excitement recently over Microsoft's Windows products - the key element of such systems.

Microsoft is particularly excited that the system is being used in a law firm. Until now, many law firms have favored the best-selling word-processing program WordPerfect, from a Utah corporation of the same name. Although a wave of such office-automation solutions (both PC and minicomputer-based) are expected to hit the market in coming months, the Perkins Coie system offers far more than any one PC product on the market to date, Reingold says.

"It's the fact that the Perkins Coie solution integrates so many different products in such a seamless fashion that makes it so unique," Reingold said.

The system already has received rave reviews from legal publications - including American Lawyer - and from technical publications such as PC Week.

With the sudden hoopla over Microsoft's Windows software, however, Perkins Coie has found itself with a high-profile suite of Windows applications that may prove attractive to all kinds of businesses.

In fact, the system has put Seattle's largest law firm one foot into the software business. It now is being marketed nationwide; Gilbert & Associates is marketing it, and Perkins Coie hopes to recover some development costs through small royalties on each system installed elsewhere.

"Our primary business is law. And our goal was not really to make money but to recoup some of our development costs," said Guy Bennett, executive director of Perkins Coie. "But our timing is better than we thought it was. My dream figure originally was that they sell a couple thousand of these systems. I now think it's possible they may sell a hundred thousand."

What Gilbert and Perkins Coie are really selling is a solution - the know-how to glue together a whole bunch of applications.

Users think that they are running only one program, Word for Windows, and that it is the only program they need to learn.

However, unknown to the user, they are running six programs on many different computers.

Word for Windows automatically runs, among other things, a file-management program called FileShare from Bellevue's Saros Corp.; an electronic-mail program called Da Vinci; an electronic Rolodex program called PackRat; and software to gain access to a nationwide, legal data base called Lexis.

The system is connected through more than a half-dozen souped-up PCs, called servers, running Microsoft's new operating system, OS/2, and connected using Microsoft's OS/2 LAN Manager (local area network) program. The lawyers, secretaries and word processors on the system, however, are running standard DOS-based PCs and DOS-Windows software.

All this was made possible using Windows' ability to "talk" to other programs - called DDE or dynamic data exchange - and a function called "macros," which lets the users write mini-programs within Word to replay often-used commands at the touch of a key.

Users don't need to know this. Without leaving the comfortable Word program, users can:

-- Access thousands of legal files in PCs on different floors of Perkins Coie by simply typing in the subject or client name, even if they do not have a case number.

-- Send a colleague an electronic-mail copy of the letter without leaving a letter-typing session.

-- Plug into the nationwide Lexis legal data base to check legal citations by simply highlighting a citation and pointing to a icon that tells the computer to verify the citation.

On a more basic and enormously helpful level, a secretary can insert automatically the names and addresses of clients into letters by just typing a part of the client's name in pre-formatted letter headings.

"Windows has the (power) to do this," said Chellis, the firm's programming attorney, "but this was no trivial matter to accomplish. You're not going to put a system like this together over the weekend. This represents two to three . . . years of programming effort."

More startling to many in the software industry, including Gates, was that Chellis and Gilbert & Associates developed the system long before Microsoft launched its new Windows 3.0 last month.

"What made Bill Gates' mouth fall open was that it all worked under Windows 2.0, not Windows 3.0," said Microsoft's Reingold. "They really pushed the envelope of what we thought was possible."

Chellis and partners are working on a Windows 3.0 upgrade of their system now, which will be faster than the current system.

Bennett says the system will make the firm more competitive by helping clients get more for their money from attorneys' time. And thanks to the dropping prices of personal-computer equipment and software, it was cheaper to develop and convert the office to the PC network than to continue expanding the firm's existing and less useful minicomputer system.

"We have three Wang minicomputers right now," Bennett said. "It costs us about $ 200,000 per year for maintenance contracts alone. The cost to maintain the existing minicomputers is actually greater over five years than the cost to throw it all away and buy this new equipment."

Bennett estimates that the entire PC system, when fully installed by 1993, will have cost $ 5.6 million.

The new technology also will have social impacts within the firm.

So far, only about 80 PCs are installed at the firm, which has 325 lawyers and a support staff of more than 500. Only about 25 lawyers are on the system, in the litigation department.

But the PCs are changing the way those lawyers work. Before PCs, hassled attorneys - notoriously dependent on secretaries and typists - would stand looking over the shoulder of an irritated and nervous word processor as he or she made the corrections needed in rush-rush legal documents.

"Now if minor changes are needed, I just make them myself," said Tom Boeder, a partner and attorney in the litigation department, who was a member of the office-automation committee overseeing the new system's development. "The relations with word processors and secretaries is generally better."

Although many younger attorneys are clamoring to get on-line with the new system, however, Boeder acknowledges that some still insist on doing things the old-fashioned way, which means shunning keyboards, whether computer or typewriter.

"There are some attorneys who will never use it," Boeder said. "We are not trying to force attorneys to use it. We are saying if you are excited and interested we will put you on the system . . ."

The firm also still uses the Wang minicomputers to handle accounting and billing, since number-crunching on that scale is still beyond most PC systems.

One major problem is left. "The Perkins Coie solution" still doesn't have a final name - it's tentatively being called "Office Solution for Windows." People get "so emotional" over the name, says Chellis, that one hasn't been agreed upon.

Still, Chellis is so excited by the system he helped design that he has taken a temporary leave from his partnership at Perkins Coie to join the California-based Gilbert & Associates in marketing the system.



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