Bill Gates

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William Henry Gates III

Bill Gates at IT Forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, November 16, 2004, photo by Kees de Vos
Born: October 28, 1955 (age 51)
United StatesSeattle, Washington, USA
Occupation: Chairman, Microsoft
Salary: US$966,667
Net worth: 7.5% to US$53.0 billion (2006)
Spouse: Melinda Gates
Children: 3
Website: Gates Foundation

William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955 in Seattle, Washington) is an American entreprenuer and the co-founder, chairman, former chief software architect, and former CEO of Microsoft. Forbes magazine's The World's Billionaires list has ranked him as the richest person on earth for the last thirteen consecutive years. According to the Forbes 2006 magazine, Bill Gates's current net worth is approximately $53 billion. When family wealth is considered, his family ranks second behind the Walton family.

Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. He is widely respected for his foresight and ambition. He is also frequently criticized as having built Microsoft through unfair or unlawful business practices. Since amassing his fortune, Gates has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded in 2000.

Early life

William Henry Gates III was born in Seattle, Washington to William H. Gates, Jr. (now Sr.) and Mary Maxwell Gates. His family was wealthy; his father was a prominent lawyer, his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate Bank and The United Way, and her father, J. W. Maxwell, was a national bank president. Gates has one older sister, Kristi (Kristianne), and one younger sister, Libby. He was the fourth of his name in his family, but was known as William Gates III or " Trey" because his father had dropped his own "III" suffix. According to the 1993 biography Hard Drive, Maxwell set up a million-dollar trust fund for Gates the year he was born. Gates vehemently denied this in a 1994 interview with Playboy, and the 1993 biography Gates calls the trust fund claim one of the "fictions" surrounding Gates' fortune.

Gates excelled in elementary school, particularly in mathematics and the sciences. At thirteen he enrolled in the Lakeside School, Seattle's most exclusive preparatory school where tuition in 1967 was $5,000 (Harvard tuition that year was $1,760). When he was in the eighth grade, Lakeside obtained an ASR-33 teletype terminal and a donation of computer time on a General Electric computer from a "Mothers Club" rummage sale. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted he and other students sought time on other systems, including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Centre Corporation, which banned the Lakeside students 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 Lakeside students (Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans) offered to fix the bugs in CCC's software in exchange for free computer time. Rather than use the system via teletype, Gates went to CCC's offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, not only in BASIC but FORTRAN, LISP, and machine language as well. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when it went out of business. The following year Information Sciences Inc. hired the Lakeside students to write a payroll program in COBOL, providing them not only computer time but royalties as well. Gates also formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor.

According to a press inquiry, Bill Gates stated that he scored 1590 on his SATs. He enrolled at Harvard University in the fall of 1973 without a definite study plan. While at Harvard he met his future business partner, Steve Ballmer.


After reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics that demonstrated the Altair 8800, 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. Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS, and they dubbed their partnership Micro-Soft.

Anti-piracy efforts

In February 1976, Gates published his often-quoted " Open Letter to Hobbyists". In the letter, Gates claimed that most users were using "stolen" pirated copies of Altair BASIC and that no hobbyist could afford to produce, distribute, and maintain high-quality software without payment. This letter was unpopular with many amateur programmers, not just those few using copies of the software.

Gates with Steve Jurvetson of DFJ, Stratton Sclavos of Verisign and Greg Papadopoulos of Sun Microsystems, October 1, 2004.
Gates with Steve Jurvetson of DFJ, Stratton Sclavos of Verisign and Greg Papadopoulos of Sun Microsystems, October 1, 2004.

Microsoft and IBM

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, Bill Gates referred them to Digital Research, makers of the widely used CP/M operating system. Despite at least two rounds of negotiation, IBM and DRI did not reach a licensing agreement. IBM representative Jack Sams mentioned the licensing difficulties during a subsequent meeting with Gates, and Gates told him about 86-DOS (QDOS), an operating system similar to CP/M that Seattle Computer Products had made for hardware similar to the PC. Gates asked Sams whether he wanted to talk to SCP or let Gates arrange the deal, and Sams left the negotiations to Gates. Microsoft made a deal with SCP to become the exclusive licensing agent for 86-DOS, but did not mention that IBM was a potential customer. After adapting the operating system for the PC, Microsoft delivered it to IBM as PC-DOS in exchange for a one-time fee. 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 DR employees would deny.

Later, after Compaq successfully cloned the IBM BIOS, the market saw a flood of IBM PC 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, 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 the early 1980s Microsoft introduced its own version of the graphical user interface (GUI), based on ideas pioneered by the Xerox corporation, and further pioneered and developed by Apple. Microsoft released "Windows" as an addition and alternative to their DOS command line, and to compete with other systems on the market that employed a GUI. By the early 1990s, Windows had pushed other DOS-based GUIs like GEM and GEOS out of the market. The release of Windows 3.0 in 1990 was a tremendous success, selling around 10 million copies in the first two years and cementing Microsoft's dominance in operating systems sales.

By continuing to ensure, by various means, that most computers came with Microsoft software pre-installed, the Microsoft corporation eventually became the largest software company in the world, earning Gates enough money that Forbes Magazine named him the wealthiest person in the world for several years. Gates served as the CEO of the company until 2000, when Steve Ballmer took the position, and continues to serve as chairman of the board as of November 2006. Microsoft has thousands of patents, and Gates has nine patents to his name.

Bill Gates' role

Bill Gates giving his deposition at Microsoft on August 27, 1998
Bill Gates giving his deposition at Microsoft on August 27, 1998

Since Microsoft's founding in 1975 and as of 2006, Gates has had primary responsibility for Microsoft's product strategy. He has aggressively broadened the company's range of products, and wherever Microsoft has achieved a dominant position he has vigorously defended it. Many decisions that have 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 over the definitions of words such as: compete, concerned, ask, and we. 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 Gates both sent and received.

Despite denials by Bill Gates, the judge ruled that Microsoft had committed monopolization and tying, blocking competition, in violation of the Sherman Act.

Gates meets regularly with Microsoft's senior managers and program managers. By all accounts he can be extremely confrontational during these meetings, particularly when he believes that managers have not thought out their business strategy or have placed the company's future at risk. He has been described shouting at length at employees before letting them continue, with such remarks 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?" However, he often backs down when the targets of his outbursts respond frankly and directly. When he is not impressed with the technical hurdles managers claim to be facing, he sometimes quips, "Do you want me to do it over the weekend?"

Gates' role at Microsoft for most of its history has been primarily a management and executive role. However, he was an active software developer in the early years, particularly on the company's programming language products. He has not officially been on a development team since working on the TRS-80 Model 100 line, but he wrote code as late as 1989 that shipped in the company's products. On June 15, 2006, Gates announced that he would transition out of his day-to-day role over the next two years to dedicate more time to philanthropy. He appointed Ray Ozzie as the new Chief Software Architect and planned to remain as chairman, advising the company on key projects. One of his last initiatives before announcing his departure was the creation of a robotics software group at Microsoft.

Personal life

Bill Gates and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Davos. January 26, 2003
Bill Gates and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Davos. January 26, 2003

Bill Gates married Melinda French of Dallas, Texas on January 1, 1994. They have three children: Jennifer Katharine Gates (1996), Rory John Gates (1999) and Phoebe Adele Gates (2002). Bill Gates' house is one of the most expensive houses in the world, and is a modern 21st century earth-sheltered home in the side of a hill overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, Washington. According to King County public records, as of 2006, the total assessed value of the property (land and house) is $125 million, and the annual property tax is just under $1 million. Also among Gates' private acquisitions are the Codex Leicester and a collection of writings by Leonardo da Vinci which Gates bought for USD $30.8 million at an auction in 1994.

Gates's e-mail address has been widely publicized and he received as many as 4,000,000 e-mails per day in 2004, most of which were spam. He has almost an entire department devoted to filtering out junk emails. Gates says that most of this junk mail "offers to help [him] get out of debt or get rich quick," which "would be funny if it weren't so irritating."

Wealth and investments

Gates in Poland, 2006
Gates in Poland, 2006

Gates has been number one on the " Forbes 400" list from 1993 through to 2006 and number one on Forbes list of " The World's Richest People" from 1995-2006 with 50 billion US dollars. In 1999, Gates' wealth briefly surpassed $100 billion making him the world's first centibillionaire (as measured in U.S. dollars). Since 2000 the nominal value of his Microsoft holdings has declined due to a fall in Microsoft's stock price after the dot-com bubble and the multi-billion dollar donations he has made to his charitable foundations. In May 2006, Gates said in an interview that he wished that he were not the richest man in the world, stating that he disliked the attention it brought.

Gates has several investments outside Microsoft. He founded Corbis, a digital imaging company, in 1989. In 2004 he became a director of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company headed by longtime friend Warren Buffett. He is a client of Cascade Investment Group, a wealth management firm with diverse holdings.


In 2000, Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organization, with his wife. The foundation's grants have provided funds for college scholarships for under-represented minorities, AIDS prevention, diseases prevalent in third world countries, and other causes. In 2000, the Gates Foundation endowed the University of Cambridge with $210 million for the Gates Cambridge Scholarships. The Foundation has also pledged over $7 billion to its various causes, including $1 billion to the United Negro College Fund. According to a 2004 Forbes magazine article, Gates gave away over $29 billion to charities from 2000 onwards. These donations are usually cited as sparking a substantial change in attitudes towards philanthropy among the very rich, with philanthropy becoming the norm.

On June 16, 2006, Bill Gates announced that he would move to a part-time role with Microsoft (leaving day-to-day operations management) in 2008 to begin a full-time career in philanthropy, but would remain as chairman. Days later Warren Buffett announced that he would begin matching Gates's contributions to the Foundation.


Awards and recognition

Time Magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005 and again in 2006. Gates and Oprah Winfrey are the only two people in the world to make all four lists. Time also collectively named Gates, his wife Melinda and U2's lead singer Bono as the 2005 Persons of the Year for their humanitarian efforts. That same year he was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2006, Gates Foundation was awarded the Premio Príncipe de Asturias en Cooperación Internacional. In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted eighth in the list of "Heroes of our time". Gates was listed in the Sunday Times power list in 1999, named CEO of the year by Chief Executive Officers magazine in 1994, ranked number one in the "Top 50 Cyber Elite" by Time in 1998, ranked number two in the Upside Elite 100 in 1999 and was included in The Guardian as one of the "Top 100 influential people in media" in 2001.

Gates has received three honorary doctorates, from the Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Breukelen, The Netherlands in 2000, the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden in 2002 and Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan in 2005. Gates was also given an honorary KBE ( Knighthood) from Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 2005, in addition to having entomologists name the Bill Gates flower fly, Eristalis gatesi, in his honour.

Bill and Melinda received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation on May 4, 2006, in recognition of their world impact through charity giving. In November 2006, he and his wife were awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle for their philanthropic work around the world in the areas of health and education, particularly in Mexico, and specifically in the program "Un país de lectores".

Popular portrayals

Gates is often characterized as the quintessential example of a super-intelligent " nerd" with immense power and wealth. This has in turn led to pop culture stereotypes of Gates as a tyrant or evil genius, often resorting to ruthless business techniques. As such he has been the subject of numerous parodies in film, television, and video games.


Bill Gates at Consumer Electronics Show, January 4, 2006
Bill Gates at Consumer Electronics Show, January 4, 2006

Gates has published several essays throughout the years based on his theories, predictions and visions of the computing industry. In these publications he often expresses his personal views on current topics, and discusses Microsoft's plans. His writings have been published by BusinessWeek, Newsweek, USA Today, The Economist and Time. Some of his publications since 1997 include:

  • Person of the Year, Time, December 2, 2005
  • The New World of Work, Executive E-mail, May 19, 2005
  • The PC Era Is Just Beginning, Business Week, March 22, 2005
  • Building Software That Is Interoperable by Design, Executive E-Mail, February 3, 2005
  • The Enduring Magic of Software, InformationWeek, October 18, 2004
  • Preserving and Enhancing the Benefits of E-mail: A Progress Report, Executive E-mail, June 28, 2004
  • Microsoft Progress Report: Security, Executive E-mail, March 31, 2004
  • Losing Ground in the Innovation Race?, CNET, February 25, 2004
  • A Spam-Free Future, The Washington Post, November 24, 2003
  • Why I Hate Spam, The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2003
  • Building Trust in Technology, Global Agenda 2003 (World Economic Forum), January 23, 2003
  • Security in a Connected World, Executive E-Mail, January 23, 2003
  • The Disappearing Computer, The World in 2003 (The Economist), December 2002
  • Slowing the Spread of AIDS in India, The New York Times, November 9, 2002
  • Trustworthy Computing, Executive E-Mail, July 18, 2002
  • Computing You Can Count on, April 2002
  • Tech in a Time of Trouble, The World in 2002 (The Economist), December 2001
  • Moving into the Digital Decade, October 29, 2001
  • The PC: 20 Years Young, August 12, 2001
  • Why We’re Building .NET Technology, June 18, 2001
  • Shaping the Internet Age, Internet Policy Institute, December 2000
  • Now for an Intelligent Internet, The World in 2001 (The Economist), November 2000
  • Will Frankenfood Feed the World?, Time, June 19, 2000
  • Yes, More Trade with China, Washington Post, May 23, 2000
  • The Case for Microsoft, Time, May 7, 2000
  • Enter "Generation i", Instructor, March 2000
  • Product Distribution Goes Digital, IEEE Internet Computing, January 2000
  • Beyond Gutenberg, The World in 2000 (The Economist), November 1999
  • Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, Forbes ASAP, October 4, 1999
  • The Second Wave, IEEE Internet Computing Magazine, August 18, 1999
  • Microprocessors Upgraded the Way We Live, USA Today, June 22, 1999
  • Why the PC Will Not Die, Newsweek, May 31, 1999
  • The Wright Brothers: The 100 Most Important People of the Century, Time, March 29, 1999
  • Compete, Don't Delete, The Economist, June 13, 1998
  • Who Decides What Innovations Go into Your PC?, 1997
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