Mr. Bill Gates
An American computer programmer, entrepreneur, and humanitarian
Bill Gates, full name William Henry Gates III, is an American computer programmer and billionaire who helped found Microsoft Corporation, the world’s largest personal computer software company.
At the age of 13, Gates wrote his first software application. In high school, he co-founded Traf-O-Data, a company that marketed traffic-counting systems to municipal governments, with a group of programmers. In 1975, while still a sophomore at Harvard, Gates collaborated with his hometown buddy Paul G. Allen and was tasked with developing software for the earliest microcomputers. They started by porting BASIC, a popular programming language for large computers, to microcomputers. As a result of the success of this initiative, Gates left Harvard during his junior year to co-found Microsoft with Allen. When Microsoft licenced an operating system called MS-DOS to International Business Machines Corporation—then the world’s largest computer supplier and industry pacesetter—for use on its first microcomputer, the IBM PC, Gates’ influence over the fledgling microcomputer sector rose dramatically (personal computer). Following the machine’s debut in 1981, IBM soon established the technical standard for the PC industry, and MS-DOS pushed out competing operating systems as well. While Microsoft’s independence strained relations with IBM, Gates skillfully persuaded the larger corporation to be permanently dependent on him for critical software. Makers of IBM-compatible PCs, or clones, also relied on Microsoft for basic software. He had established himself as the unchallenged boss of the PC industry by the early 1990s.
Gates built a massive paper fortune as Microsoft’s greatest individual shareholder, mostly due to the company’s success. In 1986, he had become a paper tycoon, and within a decade, his net worth had soared into the tens of billions of dollars, making him the world’s richest private individual according to some estimates. With little interest other than software and the possibilities of information technology, Gates initially preferred to remain out of the public eye, addressing civic and philanthropic activities through one of his charities. Nonetheless, as Microsoft’s influence and reputation rose, particularly as it drew the attention of the United States Justice Department’s antitrust division, Gates reluctantly became a more visible presence. Rivals (especially in competing Silicon Valley corporations) described him as driven, deceitful, and determined to profit from almost every electronic transaction in the world. His followers, on the other hand, praised his acute commercial acumen, flexibility, and insatiable desire to develop new methods to make computers and electronics more useful through software.
All of these characteristics may be seen in Gates’ quick response to the sudden public interest in the Internet. Beginning in 1995 and 1996, Gates feverishly reoriented Microsoft on the development of consumer and enterprise software solutions for the Internet, created the Windows CE operating system platform for networking non-computer devices such as home televisions and personal digital assistants, and relaunched Microsoft. He built the Microsoft Network to compete with America Online and other Internet service providers and bought the massive Bettmann photo archives and other assets for use in electronic distribution through Gates’ firm, Corbis.
Gates was well-known for his humanitarian activities in addition to his job at Microsoft. In 1994, he founded the William H. Gates Foundation (renamed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999) with his then-wife, Melinda, to fund worldwide health programmes as well as projects in the Pacific Northwest. The pair also supported North American libraries through the Gates Library Foundation (renamed the Gates Learning Foundation in 1999) and secured funds for minority study grants through the Gates Millennium Scholars programme in the late 1990s. Warren Buffett pledged an ongoing gift to the foundation in June 2006, which would allow its assets to reach $60 billion over the next 20 years. The foundation continued to focus on worldwide health and development, as well as community and education initiatives in the United States, around the turn of the century. After a brief transition phase, Gates gave up day-to-day control of Microsoft in June 2008, though he remained chairman of the board, to devote more time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In February 2014, he stepped down as chairman but was retained on the board until 2020. During this period, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016). Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding is a documentary series. Bill Gates made an appearance in 2019. Two years later, Gates and his wife divorced.
It remains to be seen whether Gates’ exceptional achievements ensure him a permanent position in the pantheon of great Americans. Historians are likely to see him as a corporate magnate as essential to computers as John D. Rockefeller was to oil. “Success is a horrible teacher,” Gates concluded in his 1995 best-seller The Road Ahead. It tricks intelligent people into believing they can’t lose.