William Henry Gates III, better known as Bill Gates, was born on 28 October 1955 in Seattle, Washington. He is best known as co-founder of software giant Microsoft Corporation, a company he and Paul Allen bootstrapped in 1979. The enormous success of Microsoft has amassed the entrepreneur an astounding fortune, earning him the title of “richest man in the world” from 1995 to 2007, according to Forbes Magazine. As of 2013, Gates’ net worth is estimated at $67 billion US Dollars (USD).
Bill Gates was born to a well-to-do family, his father a successful lawyer, and his mother a board member for First Interstate Bank. He has two siblings, Kristianne and Libby. Throughout grammar school, he excelled in math and science, and enrolled in Lakeside, an exclusive preparatory school.
At Lakeside, the young man was exposed to his first computers in the form of Teletype terminals networked to a remote server. Use of the Teletype required purchasing time blocks from the server. Gates and his Lakeside friends were banned from one system after administrators learned the kids were exploiting flaws in the system to acquire free time.
Gates quickly developed a passionate interest in computer operating systems, source code, and computer languages, including BASIC, FORTRAN, LISP, and COBOL. He and Allen were soon getting work searching for vulnerabilities in existing systems and writing proprietary programs. By age 14, Gates founded a short-lived venture with Allen that earned him $20,000 USD in the first year.
Interested in law, Gates enrolled in Harvard College in 1973, but the world would have different plans for the future software mogul. Just two years into Harvard, he took a leave of absence to work with Allen writing an operating system (OS) for what is now considered to be the precursor to personal computers, the Altair 8800. The two young men formed a partnership they initially called “Micro-soft,” later changing it to “Microsoft” to be trademarked in November 1976.
Perhaps foreshadowing things to come, the Altair operating system that Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote was widely copied and shared among computer enthusiasts, prompting Gates to write an open letter in February 1976. In his letter, he conveyed his distress at having people use the OS without making payment, stressing the time and work that goes into programming and the inability to provide quality software without fair compensation.
Four years later, in 1980, IBM approached Gates to provide an operating system for an upcoming personal computer line. He suggested 86-DOS, an operating system written by Tim Patterson of Seattle Computer Products (SCP). Gates subsequently negotiated with SCP to make Microsoft the sole licensing agent of 86-DOS and eventually full owner, never mentioning the potential mega-contract with IBM. Microsoft adapted the OS, renamed it “PC-DOS” and asked IBM for a one-time fee, retaining copyright. When IBM clones hit the market, as Gates predicted they would, every computer required a copy of Microsoft’s operating system, licensed directly from the company.
If MS-DOS® opened the door to Gates’ legendary status in the computer world, the Windows® operating system kicked it wide open. While MS-DOS® was a text-based command-line OS, Windows® revolutionized the personal computer world, providing an easy, graphical, point-and-click interface that made computers accessible to everyone. The market exploded from a relatively small community of computer geeks to the general public, and businesses large and small.
The Windows® OS created a de facto monopoly for Gates in the IBM PC market. Microsoft frequently bought out small up-and-coming companies that were developing popular software packages, absorbing the products into the Microsoft line. In many cases, Gates was criticized for his aggressiveness in forcing out competition. This came to a head in the mid-1990s, when Microsoft packaged Internet Explorer® with Windows 95®, essentially “pushing” its browser upon new computer users, usurping the market share or rival browser Netscape®. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice brought charges against Microsoft in an antitrust case, eventually ending with a ruling against the software giant.
In 1994, Bill Gates married Microsoft employee Melinda Ann French. They had three children: Jennifer (b. 1996), Rory (b. 1999), and Phoebe (b. 2002). Gates has received honorary doctorates from universities in the Netherlands, Sweden, Tokyo, and from Harvard. In 2000, he and Melinda founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, donating billions to improve global healthcare, fight AIDS, improve educational opportunities and provide scholarships. He also received an honorary Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 and was named one of the most influential people of the 20th Century by Time magazine.