Photo: CBS 60 Minutes
Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen has a memoir called “Idea Man” coming out today. In it, he reveals some amazing stories about his friend Bill Gates.Early excerpts from the book portrayed Gates as a tough negotiator who talked Allen into receiving a smaller share of the company they founded together.
But the memoir also contains some lighter anecdotes about Gates in his childhood and the early days of Microsoft. If you’re only familiar with Gates in his elder-statesman charity role, you may not recognise the hard-charging thrill seeker who built the most profitable tech company in history.
In high school, Gates and Allen honed their programming skills on a DEC minicomputer owned by a local company, C-Cubed. But as students, they didn't have access to as much information as the company's employees, which frustrated them. So at night, Allen would boost the smaller Gates up to the top of the company's dumpsters, where he'd look for interesting stuff. Once, they found a printout of the TOPS-10 source code, and it unlocked a lot of secrets.
As the charges mounted up for their borrowed computer time in high school, Gates and Allen began looking for a way to access one of the free accounts at C-Cubed. They somehow got access to an administrator password, and used it to steal the company's internal accounting file. (Allen doesn't go into detail about how they got the password.) They were hoping to decrypt the file to get one of the free accounts, but they got caught and the company booted them.
One summer, Gates contracted to write a class scheduling program for his high school. He made sure to 'preload' himself into an English class with a dozen girls and no other boys.
When Gates was a senior in high school, he and Allen were working on a temporary programming contract in southern Washington state and sharing an apartment. One night, Gates walked through the door in a leg cast -- he had snapped his leg water skiing. He was supposed to go back to Seattle and stay in a cast for six weeks, but after three weeks he showed up with the cast off, his leg black and blue, and went water-skiing again. Allen writes 'his leg somehow held up.'
Gates had little patience for social convention. One time when Allen's girlfriend Rita cooked him a roast chicken, he ate the entire thing with a spoon.
Gates was a regular at the nightly poker games in his residence hall at Harvard. Allen recounts how he would win or lose hundreds of dollars in a night, and eventually dropped 'thousands.' But the games taught him how to bluff, which became useful later on.
Gates loved to stay up all night working. One time, a new secretary came in on Monday morning to find him sprawled out on the floor. She thought he was unconscious, but he'd just been up all weekend and was taking a quick catnap.
As Microsoft started to get some success, Allen held a crazy Halloween party at his house. Gates got a kick out of sliding on the banister -- he would 'run as fast as he could, throw himself on the banister, and glide toward the kitchen.'
In the early days of Microsoft, Gates got so many speeding tickets that he was forced to hire the best traffic attorney in Washington State to get him out of trouble. One day, he borrowed a friend's Porsche 928 and spun and bottomed out, almost totaling it. The repairs took a year.
In the early 1980s, Gates and Allen were late catching a plane at San Francisco International Airport. As the plane pulled away, Gates ran up to the control panel next to the jetway and began pushing buttons, hoping to move the jetway back out to the plane. Allen thought Gates would be arrested, but instead somebody from the airline called the plane back for them.