William Henry Gates III, KBE (born October 28, 1955), commonly known
as Bill Gates, is an American businessman and a microcomputer pioneer.
Along with others, he wrote the original Altair BASIC interpreter for
the Altair 8800 (an early microcomputer). With Paul Allen, he co-founded
Microsoft Corporation, and is now its chairman and "Chief Software
According to Forbes magazine, Gates is the wealthiest person in the
world, even including heads of state whose wealth is tied to their
position (although the standard Forbes list does not include heads
of state, Forbes has released separate lists for the estimated wealth
of heads of state; when the lists are combined, Bill Gates still remains
the world's wealthiest person).
Bill Gates was born in Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1955, to
William H. Gates, Sr., a corporate lawyer, and Mary Maxwell Gates,
board member of Berkshire Hathaway, First Interstate Bank, Pacific
Northwest Bell and the national board of United Way. He is William
Henry Gates III, his great-grandfather being the true William Henry
Gates attended Lakeside School, Seattle's most exclusive prep school,
where he was able to develop his programming skills on the school's
minicomputer. In need of more computing power, Gates and his computer
buddy, Paul Allen, sneaked into the University of Washington computer
labs. They were later caught but struck an agreement with lab administrators
by providing free computer help to students. He later went on to study
at Harvard University but dropped out without graduating to pursue
what would become a lifelong career in software development. It was
while he was at Harvard that he met the current CEO of Microsoft, Steve
Ballmer. They were roommates during their freshman year.
While he was a student at Harvard, he co-wrote with Paul Allen the
original Altair BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 (the first commercially
successful personal computer) in the mid 1970s. It was inspired by
BASIC, an easy-to-learn programming language developed at Dartmouth
College for teaching purposes.
Gates married Melinda French on January 1, 1994. They have three children,
Jennifer Katharine Gates (born April 26, 1996), Rory John Gates (born
May 23, 1999) and Phoebe Adele Gates (born September 14, 2002).
In 1994, Gates acquired the Codex Leicester, a collection of writings
by Leonardo da Vinci; as of 2003 it was on display at the Seattle Art
On the cover of Time
Again on the cover of Time promoting the Xbox 360.In 1997, Gates was
the victim of a bizarre extortion plot by Chicago resident Adam Quinn
Pletcher. Gates testified at the subsequent trial. Pletcher was convicted
and sentenced in July 1998 to six years in prison. In February 1998
Gates was attacked by Noël Godin with a cream pie.
According to Forbes, Gates donated money to the 2004 presidential
campaign of George W. Bush. According to the Center for Responsive
Politics, Gates is cited as having donated at least $33,335 to over
50 political campaigns during the 2004 election cycle.
On December 14, 2004, Bill Gates joined Berkshire Hathaway's board,
formalizing the relationship between him and Warren Buffett. Berkshire
Hathaway is a conglomerate that includes Geico (automobile insurance),
Benjamin Moore (paint) and Fruit of the Loom (textiles). Gates also
serves on the board of Icos, a Bothell biotech company.
On March 2, 2005, the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom announced
that Gates would receive the title of Knight of the British Empire
for his contribution to enterprise in the United Kingdom and his efforts
in poverty reduction around the world. Because he is not a Commonwealth
citizen, he cannot use the title of "Sir" but he may put
the letters "KBE" after his name.
The Gates family lives in the exclusive suburb of Medina, Washington,
in a huge earth-sheltered home in the side of a hill overlooking Lake
Washington. The Gates home is a very modern 21st century house in the "Pacific
Lodge" style, with advanced electronic systems everywhere. In
one respect though it is more like an 18th or 19th century mansion:
it has a large private library with a domed reading room. While it
does have a classic flavour, the home has many unique qualities. Visitors
are surveyed and given a microchip upon entrance. This small chip sends
signals throughout the house, and a given room's temperature and other
conditions will change according to preset user preferences. According
to King County public records, as of 2002, the total assessed value
of the property (land and house) is $113 million, and the annual property
tax is just over $1 million.
In 1975, Gates and Allen co-founded Micro-Soft, later Microsoft Corporation,
to market their version of BASIC, called Microsoft BASIC. Microsoft
BASIC became the foundation of a successful software licensing business,
being bundled (usually in ROM) with most home and personal computers
of the 1970s and 1980s.
In February 1976, Bill Gates wrote the Open Letter to Hobbyists, which
annoyed the computer hobbyist community by asserting that a commercial
market existed for computer software. Gates stated in the letter that
software should not be copied without the publisher's permission, which
he equated to piracy. While legally correct, Gates' proposal was unprecedented
in a community that was influenced by its ham radio legacy and hacker
ethic, in which innovations and knowledge were freely shared in the
community. Nevertheless, Gates was right about the market prospects,
and his efforts paid off: Microsoft Corporation became one of the world's
most successful commercial enterprises and a key player in the creation
of a retail software industry.
Microsoft's key moment came when IBM was planning to enter the personal
computer market with its IBM Personal Computer (PC), which was released
in 1981. IBM approached Microsoft for an operating system (they had
already licensed its language products), but Microsoft did not have
one to sell and referred IBM to Digital Research. At Digital Research,
IBM representatives spoke to Gary Kildall's wife Dorothy, but she declined
to sign their standard non-disclosure agreement, which she considered
overly burdensome. IBM then returned to talk to Microsoft. Gates obtained
rights to a cloned design of CP/M, QDOS, from Tim Paterson of Seattle
Computer products for $50,000 and licensed it to IBM for "about
$80,000", according to Gates, and MS-DOS/PC-DOS was born. Later,
IBM discovered that Gates' operating system could have infringement
problems with CP/M, contacted Kildall, and in exchange for a promise
not to sue, made an agreement that CP/M would be sold along with PC-DOS
when the IBM PC was released. The price set by IBM for CP/M was $250,
and for MS-DOS/PC-DOS it was $40. MS-DOS/PC-DOS outsold CP/M many times
over, becoming the standard. Microsoft's licensing deal with IBM was
not particularly lucrative in itself (it did not include royalties),
but critically, Microsoft retained the right to sell MS-DOS to other
computer manufacturers. By marketing MS-DOS aggressively to manufacturers
of IBM-PC clones, Microsoft gained unprecedented visibility in the
microcomputer industry, even rivalling IBM.
In the mid-1980s Gates became excited about the possibilities of compact
disc technology for storage and sponsored the publication of the book
CD-ROM: The New Papyrus that promoted the idea of CD-ROM.
In the late 1980s, Microsoft and IBM partnered in the development
of a more advanced operating system, OS/2. The operating system was
marketed in connection with a new hardware design, the PS/2, that was
proprietary to IBM. As the project progressed, Gates oversaw continuing
friction with IBM over the system's design, hardware support, and user
interface. Ultimately he came to believe that IBM wanted to marginalize
Microsoft from having any input in OS/2's development. On May 16, 1991,
Gates announced to Microsoft employees that the OS/2 partnership was
over and Microsoft would henceforth focus its platform efforts on Windows
and the NT kernel. In the ensuing years OS/2 fell to the side, and
Windows became the favored PC platform.
During the transition from MS-DOS to Windows, Microsoft gained ground
on application software competitors such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.
Nearly a decade later, Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser displaced
Netscape's Navigator, which many attributed to Microsoft's inclusion
of Internet Explorer in Windows at no extra charge. An opposing view
is that the inclusion in Windows was less important in Internet Explorer's
adoption than Microsoft's improvement of the browser's features to
a level comparable with Navigator.
As the architect of Microsoft's product strategy, Gates has aggressively
broadened the company's range of products and, once it has obtained
a leading position in a category, has vigorously defended that position.
His and other Microsoft executives' strategic decisions have more than
once drawn the concern of competition regulators and in some cases
have been ruled illegal.
In 2000, Gates promoted long-time friend and Microsoft executive Steve
Ballmer to the role of Chief Executive Officer and took on the role
of "Chief Software Architect".