Photo: Business Insider, Microsoft
William Henry Gates III is 56 years old and his life is the stuff of an epic movie.He’s been admired, hated, reviled, humiliated, copied, and fawned over.
His ideas about computers and software changed the world and created immense wealth—not just for himself but for an entire ecosystem of software developers.
Gates began messing around with computers when he was about 13.
Think about that for a minute, because this was before every house had a PC ... before graphical user interfaces ... things Gates helped to bring about.
When Gates was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at his school used proceeds from a rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric computer. (Back in those days, businesses had to pay for every hour of computer time.)
Gates wrote his first program on this machine: a man-versus-machine Tic-Tac-Toe game.
Gates met Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen while the two were at Lakeside, a boarding school. Although Allen was two years older, they both loved computers and became friends.
In 1974, Allen showed Gates an article in Popular Mechanics on the Altair 8800 minicomputer kit. It sparked an idea: What if everyone could have a small, personal computer? They called the company that sold these computers and said they had a software program called BASIC to run on it. They didn't. The company CEO was interested and they scrambled to write the code in two months.
Success! The company bought the program and Micro-soft was formed. (They would later ditch the hyphen).
There was a moment in Bill Gates's early life that paved the way for the billions he would earn.
In the early days of computing, hobbyists would freely pirate and share software and were doing that with Microsoft's BASIC. In February of 1976, Gates wrote an open letter to computer hobbyists which explained that distributing the software without paying for it would 'prevent good software from being written.'
He insisted that people pay for software.
It was a wildly unpopular viewpoint at the time--and in some circles today, it still is.
In the '80s, Gates's mum, Mary Maxwell Gates, sat on the board of the United Way with then-IBM chairman John Opel and introduced her son to the bigwigs.
IBM had invented the PC and wanted a copy of BASIC for it AND a disk operating system (DOS). Gates convinced IBM that Microsoft had an operating system but really went out and licensed it from another company.
Microsoft adapted the licensed software for the IBM PC but refused to sell IBM the source code. Gates thought that other manufacturers would clone IBM's PC and they, too, would want an operating system from Microsoft.
Boy, was he right!
The company who wrote the original DOS accused Gates of bamboozling it and sued. They settled out of court.
Here's an ad for PC clone Tandy 2000 from 1984 with Windows 1.0.
From the get-go, Bill Gates was NOT known for his social skills. He had shouting matches with the CEO of the manufacturer of the Altair computer.
As Microsoft's CEO, he was notorious for being combative and insulting to managers during their routine meetings--calling their ideas stupid, for instance.
This 'abusive manager' style has seeped into the DNA of Microsoft and some managers still act that way, according to ex-employees.
Gates went to Harvard but dropped out to start Microsoft with Allen. His mum was not happy. She was worried about his future and wanted him to stay in school and become a lawyer, like his dad.
But Harvard served one important role: That's where he met Steve Ballmer. Ballmer would join Microsoft in 1980 as Microsoft's 30th employee. He reportedly got a salary of $50,000 and an 8 per cent share of the company.
Gates never would return to college.
In 1978, Microsoft grossed $2.5 million. Gates was only 23. Here's the ragtag group of Microsoft's first employees in Albuquerque.
Many of these people stayed with Microsoft long enough to become millionaires. But Gates was no picnic to work for. One of the women in this picture even sued the company for sexual discrimination.
As Microsoft grew, so did Gates's ruthlessness. While working with Apple, Gates got wind of an operating system that used a mouse, not just a keyboard.
Apple would later sue Microsoft for copying the 'look and feel' of the Macintosh with Windows--and lose.
Microsoft used its popularity with Windows to make it harder for competing software to survive. The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department investigated Microsoft for unfair business practices multiple times. In 1998, the United States charged Microsoft under antitrust laws.
Gates was evasive in court and Microsoft lost the suit.
Despite his reputation as an abusive manager and brutal competitor, Gates's wealth, intelligence and business smarts made him the most eligible bachelor in America for decades.
But unlike other software billionaires, like Oracle's Larry Ellison, he wasn't particularly known as a ladies man. He started dating Melinda French in 1989 and on January 1, 1994 they married. They have two daughters. and live in a 66,000 square foot house overlooking Lake Washington.
Between the humiliating antitrust lawsuit and becoming a family man, Gates began to change his ruthless ways ...
In 1994, Gates gave away some of his Microsoft stock to create the William H. Gates Foundation. In 2000, he and his wife combined three family foundations into one big one. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was born.
In 2000 he also left the CEO job at Microsoft for the role of 'chief software architect.' By 2006 he left day-to-day operations altogether to spend his full time on charitable work.
In December 2010, Gates and his good friend and fellow investor Warren Buffett signed the 'Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge.' They promised to donate at least half of their wealth to charity over time.
Gates also began to recruit other billionaires into giving their money away. Mark Zuckerberg was one of the first to agree and sign the Pledge, too.
Soon, people began to forget about the antitrust stuff. Gates has become one of the world's most generous philanthropists.
In 2011, he appeared on Jon Stewart to discuss the eradication of polio in underdeveloped countries.
These days Gates's reputation has been scrubbed clean.
Today he's known as a good guy out saving the world.
From ruthless, hated businessman to admired, angelic philanthropist, Bill Gates' life has been full of awesome drama.
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