US computer entrepreneur. He co-founded Microsoft Corporation in 1975, with school friend and fellow entrepreneur Paul Allen, and succeeded in converting a passion for computers into a globally dominant software business. Gates and Allen adapted a version of BASIC, an early computer language, and licensed the operating system MS-DOS to IBM for its first personal computer (PC) in 1981. US magazine Forbes estimated his net worth at US$56 billion in 2007, making him the richest man in the world at that time. In 2008 he gave up a day-to-day role in Microsoft to spend more time on philanthropic work, but continued to serve as company chair and as an advisor on key development projects.
By 1983 MS-DOS was the dominant operating system, and Gates was able to use his enormous royalties to fund the development of the Windows graphical user interface, the mouse, and Microsoft applications (including Word and Excel) in the 1990s. However, Microsoft's dominant position in the software market led to an antitrust court action in 1996, and the company was eventually forced to pay penalties for breaking US competition laws in 2001. In 2008 Microsoft incurred a further fine of €899 million by the European Commission because of the company's failure to comply with earlier anti-trust rulings.
In 2000 he established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support health and educational initiatives, including providing funds for college scholarships for minorities, and for the prevention of AIDS and diseases prevalent in developing countries. The foudation's work and donations are credited with encouraging philanthropy among the very rich.
Gates was born in Seattle, Washington. His father was a lawyer and his mother a schoolteacher. While attending Lakeside School he met Allen, who shared his interest in computer development. The two young men bought an Intel chip, built a computer, and developed their first software business, Traf-O-Data. In 1973 Gates went to Harvard to read law and again teamed up with Allen to develop a version of BASIC for the Altair 8800, the first proper PC. They sold the software under licence to MITS (Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems) and then formed a new company called Microsoft to develop versions of BASIC for other computer companies. By this time Gates had dropped out of Harvard.
In 1980 IBM was moving into the PC business and needed a user-friendly operating system. In a defining moment in Microsoft's history, the company bought the rights to an operating system – SCP-DOS – from Seattle Computer Products, tailored it to the PC market, renamed it MS-DOS, and licensed it to IBM in 1981. Allen left Microsoft for health reasons in 1983 but, under Gates' leadership, the company saw a period of unparalleled growth. In 1983 Gates introduced a word-processing program, MS Word, which enabled text to be edited, formatted, saved, and printed. In 1985 he launched the Windows graphical user interface (GUI). As an extension of the MS-DOS operating system, it was a concept that empowered the growing army of home computer users as never before. The company went public in 1986 and in 1992 launched Windows 3.1, coupled with a new MS Office software suite (including MS Word), giving ordinary users control and understanding of a multifunction tool. Desktop icons gave instant access to word-processing applications, spreadsheets, and visual presentations. A click of the mouse took over from function keys. Windows 3.1 was followed in 1995 by Windows 95 (an upgraded version of Windows with a completely redesigned operating system), which sold about 7 million copies worldwide within two months of its release, as well as several other versions with new features.
In 1994 Netscape, set up by US computer entrepreneur Jim Clark, released its free Navigator Internet browser, which provided an alternative platform on which to develop software, thus threatening Microsoft. Having been unusually slow to react to the potential of the Internet, Gates rapidly developed a rival browser, Internet Explorer, which he gave away free and incorporated within Windows 95. This led to claims from competitors that Gates was using his control of the desktop to dominate the market for other software applications. In 2001 Microsoft launched Windows XP and branched out into the gaming console market with the launch of the Xbox. The Windows operating system Vista and Office 2007 were launched in 2007.
Gates has published The Road Ahead (1995, with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson) and Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999, with Collins Hemingway).
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