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Microsoft Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 14:50 GMT
Bill Gates: A profile
bill gates
A beaming Bill Gates after announcing his new role
Bill Gates has created the world's largest company, he is the world's richest man and he has become the biggest charitable giver in history.

Not bad for a college drop-out who has almost trademarked the "computer geek" look.

That look may have contributed to some rivals underestimating his abilities in the cut throat world of business. Those that did have almost invariably lived to regret it.

But despite all the wealth and the ruthless domination of the global computer industry, Gates maintains that it is the programming itself which is his abiding passion.

Programming passion

Early this year he stood down as chief executive of Microsoft, to focus on software development and the new challenges of the mobile internet age.

The one-time high-school computer enthusiast - whose worth passed the $100bn mark in 1999 - said he wanted to immerse himself again in the work he loves most.

Gates, has come to be known for his aggressive business tactics and confrontational style of management. The trial was given plenty of evidence of his determination not to allow Microsoft's dominance to be threatened.

He, and his company, have attracted a vast army of critics and enemies in recent years as their domination of the IT world has grown.

To attract such bile is probably inevitable given such power and wealth, although it is in sharp contrast to the admiration normally reserved for business titans in the US.

Early years

He was born on 28 October, 1955, growing up with two sisters in Seattle. Their father, William H. Gates II, is a Seattle attorney. Their late mother, Mary Gates, was a schoolteacher, University of Washington regent and chairwoman of United Way International.

Gates began computing as a 13-year-old at the city's Lakeside school.

By the age of 17, he had sold his first program - a timetabling system for the school, earning him $4,200.

It was at Lakeside that he met Paul Allen, a student two years his senior who shared his fascination with computers.

During Gates' stint at Harvard, the two teamed up to write the first computer language program written for a personal computer.

The PC's maker, MITS, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, liked their work and the two friends in 1975 established Microsoft, so-called because it provided microcomputer software.

Self-made billionaire

A year later, Gates dropped out in the third of a four year course at Harvard, once it became clear that the possibilities for Microsoft were bright.

Rapid growth followed. The big break came in 1980 when an agreement was signed to provide the operating system that became known as MS-DOS, for IBM's new personal computer.

In a contractual masterstroke, Microsoft was allowed to licence the operating system to other manufacturers, spawning an industry of "IBM-compatible" personal computers which depended on Microsoft's operating system.

That fuelled further growth, prompting the company to float in 1986, raising $61m.

Now a multi-millionaire, Allen had already stepped back from the frontline. But Gates continued to play the key role in the company's growth, with his vision for networked computers proving central to Microsoft's success.

Judgement questioned

However, his judgement has not always appeared flawless.

While sales and profits rocketed in the early 1990s, he was seen to have misjudged on a grand scale the possibilities and growth of the internet.

From a position of a net sceptic, it has been a race against time to get Microsoft into a leading position in the internet age - with no clearer example than the launch of the Internet Explorer browser and the clumsy attempts to dislodge Netscape from its market leading position.

A full convert now to what he describes as the looming web lifestyle, Microsoft is also trailing in the battle to create the industry standard operating system for handheld devices which offer full internet access.

This is seen as a crucial area, with more people expected to access the internet on the move, than on a desktop PC within a few years.

It is partly to drive its moves into these growing areas that Gates switched to become head software architect, increasing the role he plays in the technical development of new products.

Outside of Microsoft he also has interests in biotech companies, sitting on the board of the Icos Corporation and a stake in Darwin Molecular, a subsidiary of British-based Chiroscience.

He founded Corbis Corporation, which is developing a digital archive of art and photography from public and private collections around the globe.

His judgement is also being questioned - although time may prove doubters wrong - over an investment with cellular telephone pioneer Craig McCaw in Teledesic.

This company is working on a plan to launch hundreds of low-orbit satellites around the globe to provide worldwide two-way broadband telecommunications service. But it may be beaten to it by new mobile phone services.

Gates has also become a person with great political as well as economic clout across the world, attracting vast acres of coverage from a world which often seems split between those who hate and those who admire his work.

His books, The Road Ahead and Business @ the Speed of Thought have both hit the best seller lists as people seek to see the world as Bill does.

Family man

Gates married Melinda on New Year's Day 1994.Together they have two children, a daughter, Jennifer Katharine Gates, born in 1996, and a son, Rory John Gates, born in 1999.

Gates met his wife, now 35, in 1987 at a Microsoft press event in Manhattan. She was working for the company and later became one of the executives in charge of interactive content.

Other interests listed on his official website are reading and playing golf and bridge.

Gates and Melinda have been giving increasing amounts of money to charity, with his father running a foundation.

It has been endowed with more than $17bn to support initiatives in the areas of global health and education.

Among its recent donations have been $750m over the next five years to get life-saving vaccines to children in developing countries.

The foundation is working with the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and pharmaceutical companies to vaccinate against tuberculosis, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B and measles.

With more than $17bn in the foundation's bank, it is the world's second-richest philanthropic organisation, and within shouting distance of the world number one, The Wellcome Trust in the UK.

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Bill Gates
"I will dedicate myself nearly 100% to software"
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Business
13 Jan 00 | Business
22 Oct 99 | Science/Nature
22 Jul 98 | Business
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