Bill Gates was born in Seattle, Washington to William Henry Gates, Jr, a corporate lawyer, and Mary Maxwell, board member of First Interstate Bank, Pacific Northwest Bell and the national board of United Way. Gates went to Lakeside School, Seattle's most exclusive prep school, and later on went to study at Harvard University, but dropped out without graduating.
While Bill Gates was a student at Harvard, he co-authored with Paul Allen the original Altair BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 in the mid 1970s. The Altair was the first commercially successful personal computer. Inspired by BASIC, an easy-to-learn programming language developed at Dartmouth College for teaching purposes, Gates' and Allen's version of BASIC later became Microsoft BASIC, the primary interpreted computer language of the MS-DOS operating system, which was the key to Microsoft's early commercial success. Microsoft Basic became Microsoft QuickBasic. When released without a compiler it is known as QBasic. QuickBasic evolved into Visual Basic, versions of which are still popular today.
In the early 1970s, Bill Gates wrote the Open Letter to Hobbyists, which shocked the
computer hobbyist community by insisting that a commercial market existed for
computer software and that such software should not be freely copied without the
publisher's permission. At the time, the community was strongly influenced by
its ham radio legacy and the related Hacker ethic, which insist that innovations
and knowledge should be freely shared in the community. Gates went on to
co-found Microsoft Corporation, one of the world's most successful commercial
enterprises, and led the way toward the emergence of the commercial software
Bill Gates went on to establish a debatably unsavory reputation for his business practices. A case in point concerns the origins of MS-DOS. In the late 1970s, IBM was planning to enter the personal computer market in with its IBM Personal Computer (PC), which was released in 1981. IBM needed an operating system for its new computer, which was based on the newly developed, 16-bit architecture of the Intel x86 processor family. After briefly negotiating with another company (the Digital Research Corporation in California), IBM approached Microsoft. Without revealing their ties with IBM, Microsoft executives in turn approached Seattle Computer, which had developed an x86-based operating system, and purchased the operating system for a reported sum of $50,000. (In Microsoft's defense, they may have been under agreement not to discuss their talks with IBM, so they really couldn't have revealed their ties.) Microsoft subsequently licensed the operating system to IBM (which released it under the PC-DOS name) and worked with computer manufacturers to include its own version, called MS-DOS, with every computer system sold.
Spectacularly successful, this deal was challenged in court by Seattle Computer on the grounds that Microsoft had concealed its relationship with IBM in order to purchase the operating system cheaply; subsequently, there was a settlement, but no admission of duplicity or guilt. Gates' reputation was further sullied by a series of major antitrust actions brought both by the U.S. Department of Justice and individual companies against Microsoft in the late 1990s.
In the mid-1980s Gates became excited about the possibilities of compact disc for storage, and sponsored the publication of the book CD-ROM: The New Papyrus that promoted the idea of CD-ROM.
It is incontestable that Bill Gates has played hardball in the software industry. It has also been established in a court of law, and unanimously affirmed on appeal by a pro-business appellate court, that his company, under his leadership, repeatedly and egregiously engaged in business practices that violated U.S. laws.
In 2000, Bill Gates promoted long-time friend and Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer to the role of Chief Executive Officer and took on the role of "Chief Software Architect".
On the personal side, Gates married Melinda French on January 1, 1994. They have three children, Jennifer Katharine Gates (1996), Rory John Gates (1999) and Phoebe Adele Gates (2002).
Along with his wife, Bill Gates has also founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organization. Critics have called this a response to negative public outcry over the seemingly monopolistic and anti-competitive practices of his company, but those close to Gates say that he had long expressed his plan to eventually give away most of his large fortune. In 1997 the Washington Post reported that "Gates has said he intends to give 90 percent of his wealth away while he is still alive." To put this matter into perspective, it is worth remembering that these charitable contributions—whatever their motive—have provided sorely needed funds for underrepresented minority college scholarships, AIDS prevention, and other causes, many focusing on issues often ignored by the charitable community, such as diseases that strike mainly in the third world.
In 1994, he acquired the Codex Leicester, a collection of writings by Leonardo da Vinci; as of 2003 it was on display at the Seattle Art Museum.
Estimated wealth according to Forbes list of the World's Wealthiest People:
Bill Gates in film
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