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Gates, William Henry III

GATES, WILLIAM HENRY III


William "Bill" Henry Gates III (1955) started his first company at age 14; he later dropped out of college to launch Microsoft Corporation, which was to become the largest computer software company in the world. Labeled the richest man in the America in 1997, Gates' estimated net worth was more than $37 billion.

The second child of William Henry Gates Jr. and Mary Maxwell, Gates was born on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. Though he would later be known as Bill, his family called him Trey after the "III" in his name. His older sister, Kristi, would become his tax accountant. The elder Gates, a prominent Seattle attorney, and Gates' mother, a former school teacher, enrolled their son in the private Lakeside School in an attempt to stimulate and challenge him, as he displayed an uncommon curiosity and intelligence at an early age.

At Lakeside Gates befriended Paul Allen (1953), who would later become his business partner. While in school Gates developed an interest in computers; he eventually worked to debug programs for the Computer Center Corporation's PDP-10. He also helped computerize electric power grids for the Bonneville Power Administrations and, with Allen, founded a company called Traf-O-Data to analyze local traffic patterns. Traf-O-Data earned $20,000 in fees while the boys were still in high school, but their contract was cancelled when the clients learned that Gates was only 14 years old.

Among the more dubious of Gates' early accomplishments was the first computer virus. Gates used Computer Center Corporation's PDP-10 to install a program that copied itself to other computers via the Cybernet national network, ruining data and making computers crash. Gates was caught, reprimanded, and banned from computers through his junior year at Lakeside. During his senior year, however, he was back at the computers with Allen, programming class scheduling for the school. In a typically impish manner Gates used the program to ensure his class schedule included all the right girls.

Gates entered Harvard University in 1973, but left after a year and a half. Meanwhile, Allen had driven to Harvard and shown Gates a January 1975 issue of Popular Mechanics that focused on an inexpensive microcomputer. Gates and Allen wrote a BASIC interpreter for the Altair computer and, in typical fashion, sold it to Altair manufacturer MITS before the program was even finished. Fortunately for Gates, the demonstration worked. Gates then dropped out of Harvard, and he and Allen formed Microsoft Corporation. Their first work was writing programs for the early Apple and Commodore machines and expanding BASIC to run on microcomputers.

The most significant break in Gates' career occurred in 1980, when he approached IBM to offer help on Project Chess, an IBM effort to build a personal computer (PC). Gates developed the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) to be the programming platform upon which the computer would run. But more importantly, he convinced IBM to open the specifications for the computer and its operating system to everyone. This move opened the market for software developers to work on IBM machines; in turn, the proliferation of software development established the IBM PC as the prevailing model in the computer industry. By the early 1990s Microsoft had sold more than 100 million copies of MS-DOS, becoming the all-time leader in software sales.

Gates took Microsoft into multimedia in 1987, promoting the CD-ROMan optical storage medium easily connected to the PC. A boon to the computer industry, CD-ROM technology greatly expanded the capacity to store information on disks, enabling encyclopedias, feature films, and complex interactive games to be brought more easily to the PC.

Gates has always been well known as a fiery competitor who does not like to lose. His drive incorporates a belief that "I can do anything if I put my mind to it," as he has been quoted as saying in James Wallace and Jim Erikson's book, Hard Drive (1993). He has a temper, although he encourages dissent in his company in the quest for the best solution to problems. Allen, who also made a fortune with Microsoft, left the company to enter the world of venture capital. He did, however, maintain a seat on the Microsoft's board of directors.

Microsoft hiring practices encourage brilliant minds and creative thinking. Gates does not mind being told he is wrong by his subordinates, and he thinks nothing of engaging in shouting matches during meetings. His business competitors are critical of his ethics and accuse him of using Microsoft's position as maker of the PC operating systems to an unfair advantage. To many outsiders and detractors, Gates is cold, ruthless, and relentless; to his friends, he is humorous and loyal. Several lawsuits came up against Microsoft in the 1990s, but Gates and his company were largely successful in the results.

Gates married Melinda French, a Microsoft manager, on New Year's Day in 1994. Many say that the tycoon relaxed after his marriage to French and the birth of their first child in April 1996; a second child was born in May 1999. Gates has stated that he will continue to run Microsoft until approximately 2010, when he will retire and turn his efforts to philanthropyan effort he has already begun, giving millions of dollars to educational institutions such as schools and libraries.

See also: Paul Allen, Computer Industry, Microsoft Corporation

FURTHER READING

"Chairman Gates, Up Close and Personal." U.S. News & World Report, October 19, 1998.

Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1991, s.v. "Gates, William Henry."

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999, s.v. "Gates, William Henry."

The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia. Chicago: The World Book Company, 1998, s.v. "Gates, William Henry."

Isaacson, Walter. "In Search of the Real Bill Gates." Time, January 13, 1997.

Samuelson, Robert J. "A Tycoon for Our Times?" Newsweek, November 16, 1998.

Wallace, James and Jim Erickson. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. New York: HarperBusiness, 1993.

i can do anything if i put my mind to it.

bill gates, quoted in hard drive, 1993

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