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Poor Bill Gates - it's lonely at the top

Fame isn’t easy, whatever you may believe.

Fame isn’t easy, whatever you may believe. Movie stars get stalked around the world by increasingly insensitive paparazzi, musicians are only really as good as their next video or album, and the public has an insatiable appetitive for trashy magazines that seem to take more delight in scandal, or more often rumours of scandal, than portraying celebrities as human beings.

You can argue that actors, actresses and models knowingly seek the attention, that they willingly gave up private life in exchange for fame and fortune. Still, I wonder how many stars knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed the standard "rich and famous" contract.

For musicians it’s a lot trickier these days – every musician wants to be heard, but it’s only in the last generation or so when a successful band or singer had to be seen as well to be successful. I think most of the real musicians are the ones who miss the good old days of FM radio, but the goal of selling albums remains the same.

And then there are all the other famous people in the world – people with the misfortune to be born famous, people who are famous for all the wrong reasons (e.g. Paris Hilton), and the people who are so gifted in their fields or so wealthy that they become famous.

Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world as well as one of the most recognizable icons of the computer age, is one of the latter. Something of a boy genius he helped to start Microsoft with his own coding, and grew the company into one of the world’s largest by being able to anticipate the needs and wants of business and consumers.

The company grew and grew, and Mr. Gates did very well for himself as the face of Microsoft. Just his presence at stockholder meetings and product launches is enough to reassure jittery investors of Microsoft’s viability, capability and vision.

Now he’s been the world’s richest man for almost 10 years running – although to be fair the bulk of his $50 billion is tied up in Microsoft stock and couldn’t safely be cashed without panicking shareholders and reducing his own worth. Less than two weeks ago Microsoft stock declined by 11 per cent after the company announced it would be investing more profits back into the company to battle rivals like Google, which in turn cost Gates about $3 billion "on paper."

In an interview with CNBC the following week Gates said he wished he wasn’t the world’s richest man.

"There’s nothing good that comes of that," he said, adding that he doesn’t like the publicity or the attention. "You get more visibility as a result of it."

He said he sometimes sought the advice of fellow billionaire Warren Buffet, who always stressed the importance of integrity.

When asked if he surrounded himself with other billionaires, Gates made this strangley maudlin comment: "No, I sit alone."

I think Gates could handle the money, but he’d probably trade a lot to live without the accompanying fame. It’s not that difficult to feel sorry for someone with $50 billion after all.

Sony drops a bomb

The long-awaited Playstation 3 release this fall could be the biggest launch ever, or Sony’s biggest mistake.

After owning the last two generations with the Playstation and PS2, the PS3 has some big shoes to fill.

It has to be graphically equal to or superior to the recently released Xbox 360, something that is hard to measure because comparing the two systems is comparing apples to oranges.

The PS3 also needs better games than the competition, which is questionable at this point with the Xbox 360 having a whole year’s jump on the PS3. Microsoft has also done a good job producing its own unique titles, as well as cajoling companies into making Xbox 360-only games.

Lastly, the system has to give consumers added value. At the E3 convention in Los Angeles last week Sony showed exactly what added value consumers can expect – the PS3 will come with a built-in hard drive, Blu-ray disc player, the highest high definition available, a free online gaming service, and a motion-sensitive controller that appears to be modeled after the next generation Nintendo Wii console.

Lots to be excited about, but "added value" is a tough case to make. The cost, also revealed at E3, will be $499 for a basic version, featuring a 20GB hard drive and missing a few features, and $599 for a premium version that comes with a 60GB hard drive and all the promised features (all U.S. dollars).

Comparatively, the Xbox 360 is available for $299 for a basic console and $399 for the premium model. The next generation Nintendo Wii will likely retail for around $249.

Sony is betting consumers will pay a lot more to get a Blu-ray disk player, just as the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats gets underway. If Blu-ray loses out as the next generation high definition movie format then so will PS3 owners.

Sony is also betting that offering customers free online gaming, while Xbox 360 users have to pay for Xbox Live, will also be a draw. They may have a point there – it will be more expensive to buy in, but cheaper over time for serious gamers.

Website of the Week

It’s a silly diversion but I can’t get enough of American Dad Vs Family Guy game. Not that the game itself is that great, but the voices and kill moves make it pretty entertaining. It also gets more challenging as you play, so prepare to be frustrated. Don’t forget to block.