Chief Media Officer Joanne Bradford casually asked Bill about his view of the future, which is an open invitation for Bill to wax poetic about how Microsoft is at the forefront of what's next. But in front of nearly 1,000 advertising, publishing, media and technology leaders from 27 countries, Gates admitted he had Zillowed his own house.
"Oh, yes. Actually, the Zillow guys are great, they use our Web service, which is our Virtual Earth to actually create those maps," Gates said. "Their algorithms for figuring out prices don't scale very well into the very low end, or the very high end, so I can tell you that. But they're great for the parts that count, they're great. But if you bid that number on my house, I won't sell it to you."
According to Seattle-area realtors, Gates purchased his mansion (and a yacht) in 1988 for $2 million. It's has a current net value (land and buildings) of more than $125 million.
Later, Bradford let it out of the bag that Gates loves to search for past and present physics lectures on YouTube (a Google property... gasp!), to which Gates said he was giddy about videos becoming mainstream.
"We can finally get the world's best lectures online and available. And some of those will be free, because some universities have chosen to put them up. I've gone back, there's a few lectures on physics I think are great. I'm in the process of buying those so they can be seen free on the Web. And some you'll pay some money for. But, this idea that if you're a motivated learner, and want to learn about any topic, geology, medicine, computer science, that you can go and find it, it will be described in terms of what you expected to know, and then you can watch it, watch it when you want, you can look up terms, stop it at any time and get involved. I think that takes a huge part of education and makes it available in a much better way."
So now we know. Gates is by no means a slacker, but he occasionally likes to look at the value of his home as well as troll for University lectures using technology from Microsoft's competition.
Ultimately, when the audience pressed Gates about Microsoft's near-term projects, he fell back on his stock answer these days. He's focused on three things: search, Tablet PC and Office.
"And some of these will actually be the projects Steve is likely to pick for me to put my part-time work into, even after mid-2008," Gates said.
That's when Bill hangs up his day to day hat and becomes one of those guys who just hangs around the office making small talk with a coffee cup in hand and a lot of time to surf the Web.