|Featuring: Bill Gates
|by Bob Talmadge
Bill Gates wasn't really into the BBS community as an online operator, but his presence was certainly felt by everyone who was there in those early years. This is why we decided to include Bill Gates here.
Gates was and is one of the most influential people in the world. He was cofounder of one of the most recognized brands in the computer network industry. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world and has held that number one position for years.
Gates grew up in Seattle, Washington. His father, William H. Gates II was a Seattle attorney and his mother, Mary Maxwell Gates was a school teacher and chairperson of the United Way charity. Gates and his two sisters had a comfortable upbringing, with Gates being able to attend the exclusive secondary "Lakeside School".
After reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics which demonstrated the Altair 8800, Bill Gates contacted MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems), the creators of the new microcomputer, to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform. In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS's interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demo, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter. The demonstration, held at MITS's offices in Albuquerque, was a success and resulted in a deal with MITS to distribute the interpreter as Altair BASIC. Paul Allen hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS, dubbing their partnership "Micro-soft" in November 1975. Within a year, the hyphen was dropped, and on November 26, 1976, the tradename "Microsoft" was registered with the USPTO.
Microsoft's BASIC was popular with computer hobbyists, but Gates discovered that a pre-market copy had leaked into the community and was being widely copied and distributed. In February 1976, Gates wrote an Open Letter to Hobbyists in the MITS newsletter saying that MITS could not continue to produce, distribute, and maintain high-quality software without payment. This letter was unpopular with many computer hobbyists, but Gates persisted in his belief that software developers should be able to demand payment. Microsoft became independent of MITS in late 1976, and it continued to develop programming language software for various systems.
According to Gates, people at Microsoft often did more than one job during the early years; whoever answered the phone when an order came in was responsible for packing and mailing it. Gates oversaw the business details, but continued to write code as well. In the first five years, he personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, and often rewrote parts of it as he saw fit.
In 1980 IBM approached Microsoft to make the BASIC interpreter for its upcoming personal computer, the IBM PC. When IBM's representatives mentioned that they needed an operating system, Gates referred them to Digital Research (DRI), makers of the widely used CP/M operating system. IBM's discussions with Digital Research went poorly, and they did not reach a licensing agreement. IBM representative Jack Sams mentioned the licensing difficulties during a subsequent meeting with Gates and told him to get an acceptable operating system. A few weeks later Gates proposed using 86-DOS (QDOS), an operating system similar to CP/M and which Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products had made for hardware similar to the PC. Microsoft made a deal with SCP to become the exclusive licensing agent, and later the full owner, of 86-DOS, but did not mention that IBM was a potential customer. Gates never understood why DRI had walked away from the deal, and in later years he claimed that DRI founder Gary Kildall capriciously "went flying" during an IBM appointment, a characterization that Kildall and other DRI employees would deny. After adapting the operating system for the PC, Microsoft delivered it to IBM as PC-DOS in exchange for a one-time fee, without transferring to IBM the ownership of the source code of the PC's operating system. There never has been an authoritative explanation why IBM, which in effect paid for its development, did not insist on gaining the ownership of the source code.
As several companies reverse-engineered the IBM architecture and developed clones Microsoft was quick to license DOS to other manufacturers, calling it MS-DOS (for Microsoft Disk Operating System). By marketing MS-DOS aggressively to manufacturers of IBM-PC clones and by virtue of its undivided ownership of the operating system's source code, Microsoft went from a small player to one of the major software vendors in the home computer industry. Microsoft continued to develop operating systems as well as software applications.
In 1975 the company Micro-soft was formed, which was an abbreviation of microcomputer software. It soon became simply "Microsoft"® and went on to completely change the way people use computers.
Microsoft helped to make the computer easier to use with its developed and purchased software, and made it a commercial success. The success of Microsoft began with the MS-DOS computer operating system that Gates licensed to IBM. Gates also set about protecting the royalties that he could acquire from computer software by aggressively fighting against all forms of software piracy, effectively creating the retail software market that now exists today. This move was quite controversial at the time as it was the freedom of sharing that produced much innovation and advances in the newly forming software industry. But it was this stand against software piracy, that was to be central in the great commercial success that Microsoft went on to achieve.
With his great success in the computer software industry also came many criticisms. With his ambitious and aggressive business philosophy, Gates or his Microsoft lawyers have been in and out of courtrooms fighting legal battles almost since Microsoft began.
The Microsoft monopoly sets about completely dominating every market it enters through either acquisition, aggressive business tactics or a combination of them. Many of the largest technology companies have fought legally against the actions of Microsoft, including Apple Computer, Netscape, Opera, WordPerfect, and sun Microsystems.
With an estimated wealth of $53 billion in 2006, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world and he should be starting to get used to the number spot as he has been there from the mid-ninties up until now. The famous investor Warren Buffett is gaining on Gates though with an estimated $46 billion in 2006.
Microsoft hasn't just made Bill Gates very wealthy though. According to the Forbes business magazine in 2004 Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder was the 5th richest man in the world with an estimated $21 billion. While Bill Gates' long time friend and Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer was the 19th richest man in the world at $12.4 billion.
Being the richest man in the world has also enabled Gates to create one of the world's largest charitable foundations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of more than $28 billion, with donations totaling more than $1 billion every year. The foundation was formed in 2000 after merging the "Gates Learning Foundation" and "William H. Gates Foundation". Their aim is to "bring innovations in health and learning to the global community".
Bill Gates continues to play a very active role in the workings of the Microsoft Company, but has handed the position of CEO over to Steve Ballmer. Gates now holds the positions of "Chairman" and "Chief Software Architect". He has started that he plans to take on fewer responsibilities at Microsoft and will eventually devote all his time to the Foundation.
In 2006, the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffett pledged to give much of his vast fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.