William Henry Gates, III (born October 28, 1955), more popularly known as Bill Gates, is the co-founder (together with Paul Allen) and Chairman of Microsoft Corporation. He is one of the richest men in the world—if not the richest. According to one estimate, Gates possesses more wealth than the poorest 50 percent of the entire human species.
Born in Seattle, Washington, Bill Gates was a brilliant student who is generally remembered as exceedingly egotistical; according to one account of his high school years, he predicted that he would be a billionaire by the age of 25. He was a student at Harvard University when he co-authored with Paul Allen the original Altair BASIC interpreter for the Altair 2600[?] 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 developed into Visual Basic, which is still popular today.
In the early 1970s, 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 industry.
Gates went on to establish an 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, 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.
It is incontestable that 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.
Along with his wife, 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. To put this matter into perspective, it is worth remembering that these charitable contributions—whatever their motive—have provided sorely needed funds for minority college scholarships, AIDS prevention, and other worthy causes.