William Henry Gates, III

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William Henry Gates, III

1955-

American Computer Scientist and Businessman

An internationally renowned computer programming pioneer and businessman, Bill Gates has won fame and fortune as a brilliant software developer and entrepreneur. Gates cofounded Microsoft Corporation with Paul Allen (1953- ) in 1974, and subsequently developed the widely popular MS-DOS operating system and Windows graphical interface. As chairman and CEO of Microsoft, Gates is one of the most influential and wealthy leaders of the computer industry. In recent years he has also won recognition as a noted philanthropist.

William Henry Gates, III, was born on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. He was raised with his two sisters in an affluent family. His father, William H. Gates, II, was a prominent attorney, and his mother, Mary, a schoolteacher. His parents nicknamed the younger William "Trey," referring to the III after his full name.

Gates struggled in public elementary school, so his parents enrolled him at private Lakeside School. There, he was first introduced to computers, and at the early age of 13 wrote a program to play tic-tac-toe.

In 1973 Gates moved across the country to attend Harvard University. While at Harvard, he developed the programming language BASIC for the world's first personal computer (PC), the MITS Altair. Two years later, at age 19, he launched the Microsoft Corporation with childhood friend Paul Allen, motivated by the belief that every business and household should have a computer. In his junior year, Gates dropped out of Harvard to devote his energies to his new company. Little did he know it would become one of the most successful companies in the world.

In the early 1980s Gates led Microsoft's evolution from a programming developer to a diversified software company producing operating systems and applications software. In 1981, under Gates' direction, Microsoft introduced MSDOS, the operating system for the new personal computer produced by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). MS-DOS became the standard operating system for the majority of personal computers throughout the world.

On March 13, 1986, Microsoft went public on the Stock Exchange. The initial offering for a share of Microsoft stock was $21. At age 31, Gates instantly became the richest man in the United States. His personal stock holdings exceeded $2.8 billion. In 1999 he was reported to be the richest private individual in the world, with a net worth of over $50 billion.

In the mid-1990s Gates dramatically changed the direction of his entire company and began focusing on the rapidly evolving Internet. While some of his early efforts fizzled, the company hit a milestone with its popular Internet Explorer web browser, giving the existing Netscape browser some heated competition. By June 1998 Microsoft had revenues of $14.4 billion for the fiscal year and employed more than 27,000 people in 60 countries.

Microsoft has since become the subject of federal anti-trust litigation that threatens to split Gates's corporation into several smaller companies. The suit, brought by the United States Department of Justice, accuses Microsoft of inhibiting competition from rival software companies, such as Netscape, by linking its own Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, used by some 80 percent of desktop computers worldwide.

In addition to his passion for computers, Gates holds an avid interest in biotechnology. He is a shareholder in Darwin Molecular, a subsidiary of British-based Chiroscience, and sits on the board of the Icos Corporation. Gates also founded the Corbis Corporation, which is developing one of the largest resources of visual information in the world.

Gates is also a published author, having written several books about his vision for the future of information technology and society. His book, The Road Ahead, published in 1995, topped the New York Times bestseller list for seven weeks. Gates donated proceeds from the book to a non-profit fund that puts computers in classrooms.

Since Microsoft has gone public, Gates has donated more than $270 million to charities, focusing on education, population issues, and access to technology. His $6 billion donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in August 1999 was the largest bequest ever by a living individual. The donation was earmarked to speed the development and reduce costs of vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS.

Gates was married on January 1, 1994, to Melinda French Gates, a former Microsoft executive. They have two children, Jennifer Katharine Gates, born in 1996, and a son, Rory John Gates, born in 1999.

KELLI A. MILLER

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