William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian. He is best known as the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, while also being the largest individual shareholder until May 2014.
In 1975, Gates and Paul Allen launched Microsoft, which became the world’s largest PC software company.[a] Gates led the company as chief executive officer until stepping down in January 2000, but he remained as chairman and created the position of chief software architect for himself. In June 2006, Gates announced that he would be transitioning from full-time work at Microsoft to part-time work and full-time work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was established in 2000. He gradually transferred his duties to Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie. He stepped down as chairman of Microsoft in February 2014 and assumed a new post as technology adviser to support the newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella.
Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. He has been criticized for his business tactics, which have been considered anti-competitive. This opinion has been upheld by numerous court rulings.
Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people, an index of the wealthiest documented individuals, excluding and ranking against those with wealth that is not able to be completely ascertained. From 1995 to 2017, he held the Forbes title of the richest person in the world all but four of those years, and held it consistently from March 2014 to July 2017, with an estimated net worth of US$89.9 billion as of October 2017. However, on July 27, 2017, and since October 27, 2017, he has been surpassed by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who had an estimated net worth of US$90.6 billion at the time. As of August 6, 2018, Gates had a net worth of $95.4 billion, making him the second-richest person in the world, behind Bezos.
Later in his career and since leaving Microsoft, Gates pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors. He donated large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2009, Gates and Warren Buffett founded The Giving Pledge, whereby they and other billionaires pledge to give at least half of their wealth to philanthropy. The foundation works to save lives and improve global health, and is working with Rotary International to eliminate polio.
Gates was born in Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1955. He is the son of William H. Gates Sr.[b] (b. 1925) and Mary Maxwell Gates (1929–1994). His ancestry includes English, German, Irish, and Scots-Irish. His father was a prominent lawyer, and his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and the United Way. Gates’ maternal grandfather was J.W. Maxwell, a national bank president. Gates has one older sister, Kristi (Kristianne), and a younger sister, Libby. He is the fourth of his name in his family, but is known as William Gates III or “Trey” because his father had the “II” suffix. The family lived in the Sand Point area of Seattle in a home that was once damaged by a rare tornado when Gates was nine years old. Early on in his life, Gates observed that his parents wanted him to pursue a law career. When Gates was young, his family regularly attended a church of the Congregational Christian Churches, a Protestant Reformed denomination. The family encouraged competition; one visitor reported that “it didn’t matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock … there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing”.
At 13, he enrolled in the Lakeside School, a private preparatory school and wrote his first software program. When Gates was in the eighth grade, the Mothers’ Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School’s rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school’s students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. When he reflected back on that moment, he said, “There was just something neat about the machine.” After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students – Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans – for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.
At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC’s software in exchange for extra computer time. Rather than use the system via Teletype[clarification needed], Gates went to CCC’s offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business. The following year, Information Sciences, Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in COBOL, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school’s student information system software to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with “a disproportionate number of interesting girls.” He later stated that “it was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.” At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In 1972, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gates was a National Merit Scholar when he graduated from Lakeside School in 1973. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973. He chose a pre-law major but took mathematics and graduate level computer science courses. While at Harvard, he met fellow student Steve Ballmer. Gates left Harvard after two years while Ballmer would stay and graduate magna cum laude. Years later, Ballmer succeeded Gates as Microsoft’s CEO. He maintained that position from 2000 until his resignation from the company in 2014.
In his second year, Gates devised an algorithm for pancake sorting as a solution to one of a series of unsolved problems presented in a combinatorics class by Harry Lewis, one of his professors. Gates’ solution held the record as the fastest version for over thirty years; its successor is faster by only one percent. His solution was later formalized in a published paper in collaboration with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou.
Gates did not have a definite study plan while he was a student at Harvard, and he spent a lot of time using the school’s computers. Gates remained in contact with Paul Allen, and he joined him at Honeywell during the summer of 1974. The MITS Altair 8800 was released the following year. The new computer was based on the Intel 8080 CPU, and Gates and Allen saw this as the opportunity to start their own computer software company. Gates dropped out of Harvard at this time. He had talked over this decision with his parents, who were supportive of him after seeing how much their son wanted to start his own company. Gates explained his decision to leave Harvard, saying “… if things [Microsoft] hadn’t worked out, I could always go back to school. I was officially on [a] leave [of absence].
After Gates read the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, which demonstrated the Altair 8800, he contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), 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 was hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS in Albuquerque in November 1975. They named their partnership “Micro-Soft” and had their first office located in Albuquerque. Within a year, the hyphen was dropped, and on November 26, 1976, the trade name “Microsoft” was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico. Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.
Microsoft’s Altair 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 in which he asserted that more than 90 percent of the users of Microsoft Altair BASIC had not paid Microsoft for it and by doing so the Altair “hobby market” was in danger of eliminating the incentive for any professional developers to produce, distribute, and maintain high-quality software. 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. The company moved from Albuquerque to its new home in Bellevue, Washington, on January 1, 1979.
During Microsoft’s early years, all employees had broad responsibility for the company’s business. Gates oversaw the business details, but continued to write code as well. In the first five years, according to Bill Gates’ own claims, he personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, and often rewrote parts of it as he saw fit.[unreliable source?]
IBM approached Microsoft in July 1980 in reference to an operating system for its upcoming personal computer, the IBM PC. IBM first proposed that Microsoft write the BASIC interpreter. 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 that Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products (SCP) 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. After adapting the operating system for the PC, Microsoft delivered it to IBM as PC DOS in exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000.
Gates did not offer to transfer the copyright on the operating system, because he believed that other hardware vendors would clone IBM’s system. They did, and the sales of MS-DOS made Microsoft a major player in the industry. Despite IBM’s name on the operating system, the press quickly identified Microsoft as being very influential on the new computer. PC Magazine asked if Gates were “the man behind the machine?”, and InfoWorld quoted an expert as stating “it’s Gates’ computer”. Gates oversaw Microsoft’s company restructuring on June 25, 1981, which re-incorporated the company in Washington state and made Gates the president of Microsoft and its board chairman.
Microsoft launched its first retail version of Microsoft Windows on November 20, 1985. In August of the following year, the company struck a deal with IBM to develop a separate operating system called OS/2. Although the two companies successfully developed the first version of the new system, the partnership deteriorated due to mounting creative differences.
Gates delivers a speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, January 2008.
From Microsoft’s founding in 1975 until 2006, Gates had primary responsibility for the company’s product strategy. He gained a reputation for being distant from others; as early as 1981 an industry executive complained in public that “Gates is notorious for not being reachable by phone and for not returning phone calls.” Another executive recalled that he showed Gates a game and defeated him 35 of 37 times. When they met again a month later, Gates “won or tied every game. He had studied the game until he solved it. That is a competitor.”
Gates was an executive who met regularly with Microsoft’s senior managers and program managers. In firsthand accounts of these meetings, the managers described him being verbally combative. He also berated managers for perceived holes in their business strategies or proposals that placed the company’s long-term interests at risk. He interrupted presentations with such comments as “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” and “Why don’t you just give up your options and join the Peace Corps?” The target of his outburst then had to defend the proposal in detail until, hopefully, Gates was fully convinced. When subordinates appeared to be procrastinating, he was known to remark sarcastically, “I’ll do it over the weekend.”
During Microsoft’s early history, Gates was an active software developer, particularly in the company’s programming language products, but his basic role in most of the company’s history was primarily as a manager and executive. Gates has not officially been on a development team since working on the TRS-80 Model 100, but as late as 1989 he wrote code that shipped with the company’s products. He remained interested in technical details; in 1985, Jerry Pournelle wrote that when he watched Gates announce Microsoft Excel, “Something else impressed me. Bill Gates likes the program, not because it’s going to make him a lot of money (although I’m sure it will do that), but because it’s a neat hack.”
On June 15, 2006, Gates announced that over the next two years he would transition out of his day-to-day role to dedicate more time to philanthropy. He divided his responsibilities between two successors when he placed Ray Ozzie in charge of day-to-day management and Craig Mundie in charge of long-term product strange.
Many decisions that led to antitrust litigation over Microsoft’s business practices have had Gates’ approval. In the 1998 United States v. Microsoft case, Gates gave deposition testimony that several journalists characterized as evasive. He argued with examiner David Boies over the contextual meaning of words such as, “compete”, “concerned”, and “we”. The judge and other observers in the court room were seen laughing at various points during the deposition. BusinessWeek reported:
Early rounds of his deposition show him offering obfuscatory answers and saying ‘I don’t recall,’ so many times that even the presiding judge had to chuckle. Worse, many of the technology chief’s denials and pleas of ignorance were directly refuted by prosecutors with snippets of e-mail that Gates both sent and received.
Gates later said he had simply resisted attempts by Boies to mischaracterize his words and actions. As to his demeanor during the deposition, he said, “Did I fence with Boies? … I plead guilty. Whatever that penalty is should be levied against me: rudeness to Boies in the first degree.” Despite Gates’ denials, the judge ruled that Microsoft had committed monopolization and tying, and blocking competition, both in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
In 2008, Gates appeared in a series of ads to promote Microsoft. The first commercial, co-starring Jerry Seinfeld, is a 90-second talk between strangers as Seinfeld walks up on a discount shoe store (Shoe Circus) in a mall and notices Gates buying shoes inside. The salesman is trying to sell Mr. Gates shoes that are a size too big. As Gates is buying the shoes, he holds up his discount card, which uses a slightly altered version of his own mugshot of his arrest in New Mexico in 1977, for a traffic violation. As they are walking out of the mall, Seinfeld asks Gates if he has melded his mind to other developers. After getting a “Yes”, he then asks if they are working on a way to make computers edible, again getting a “Yes”. Some say that this is an homage to Seinfeld’s own show about “nothing” (Seinfeld). In a second commercial in the series, Gates and Seinfeld are at the home of an average family trying to fit in with normal people.
Gates meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, February 2017. Since leaving day-to-day operations at Microsoft, Gates has continued his philanthropy and works on other projects. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Gates was the world’s highest-earning billionaire in 2013, as his net worth increased by US$15.8 billion to US$78.5 billion.
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