Is it a stretch to say that Bill Gates is on the short list of the most influential people in world history? Some people wouldn’t consider it as such. Co-founder of the world’s largest software business, Gates’s computer and programming genius and innovations are so well known that his acumen as a business strategist and aggressive tactician is often overlooked. He stepped down from Microsoft in 2014 and is now a lecturer, consultant, and philanthropist.
A native of Seattle, Bill Gates grew up in an upper-middle-class family and draws his charitable character from his mother, who used to take him with her when she did volunteer work at various schools and community organizations. When he was 13, after having taught himself computer programming, Gates created a tic-tac-toe game program that users could play vs. the computer.
It was around this time that he met Paul Allen, who was two years older, at the school they attended together. They became friends fast and spent a lot of time in the school’s computer lab, where Allen and Gates, then only 15, created a computer program that monitored Seattle traffic, from which they made $20,000.
When Gates went off to Harvard in 1973, he did so with the initial plan of becoming a lawyer, mostly at his parents’ behest, but he remained transfixed with computers and spent more time in computer labs than in class.
Around this time, Bill’s high school buddy Paul had a job at Honeywell in Boston. They got together and wrote a software program for the Altair computer, made by a New Mexico-based computer company called MITS. The software program worked perfectly, and the company hired Allen. Soon, Gates quit Harvard to work with Allen.
This eventually led to the creation of Microsoft.
The Early Days of Microsoft
Microsoft didn’t start as the impactful behemoth it’s been for the past three-plus decades. The 1970s witnessed the birth of personal computing, but most computer enthusiasts at the time were in it for fun not for money, sharing their software free with friends and family. That Bill Gates did not see it this way provides insight into how he made Microsoft the world-changing goliath it became.
He saw the sharing and free distribution of software as stealing, a discouragement to developers who wanted to invest time and money in creating software that they could also later make money from. Simply put, it was a threat to innovation.
So when MITS president Ed Roberts sold the company to another computer company, Gates sued the new owner so he and Allen could retain the rights to the Altair program they had developed.
In 1979, Microsoft’s operations were moved to the Seattle area and the small team of developers, marketers, programmers, and strategists threw all their energy into the company. Gates, only 23 at the time, made himself head of the company, sometimes being so hands-on that he inspected every line of code written, often making necessary changes himself.
A Fateful Meeting
In 1980, IBM wanted to run a software program on its new line of personal computers but hadn’t found one yet. Due to his mother’s connections, Bill Gates met with IBM and convinced them that Microsoft could meet IBM’s needs.
At the time, though, and not for the last time, Microsoft hadn’t yet created what Gates had promised. In other words, Microsoft didn’t have the necessary operating system that would run IBM’s PCs. So Gates bought an operating system that could run, once he made the necessary adaptations, on IBM’s computers. He negotiated a deal with the developer that Microsoft would be the exclusive licensing agent and then outright owner of the software.
IBM tried to buy the software source code, but Gates rejected their overtures. In turn, he got IBM to agree to pay Microsoft a fee for licensing copies of the software sold with their PCs. This was shrewd, as it allowed Microsoft to license the software to other PC manufacturers that they were certain would soon copy IBM’s lead. Microsoft even designed a separate software program to allow its software to be run on an Apple.
This was MS-DOS.
Windows Goes Global
By 1983, Bill Gates had taken Microsoft global, with offices around the world and 30% of the world’s computers running its software. The same year, Paul Allen found out that he had Hodgkin’s disease, from which he recovered a year later. However, it led to his resigning to follow other opportunities.
Although the text-and-keyboard-centric MS-DOS was popular, it had limitations, which became all the more apparent when compared to a new, competing graphics interface, image-and-text-based software from VisiCorp being used on Macintosh systems at the time. Gates quickly saw this as a threat to both MS-DOS and Microsoft itself, so his announcement in 1983 that Microsoft’s own graphics interface software was under development was a bluff.
This bluff became Windows.
It was pure genius, for he figured that anyone already with MS-DOS would wait for the new Windows program rather change to a new system. When Windows was released in 1985, two years after Gates’s announcement, VisiCorp became a footnote in history.
Microsoft exploded in popularity, and when the company’s stock went public in 1986, Gates’s financial security over the course of several lifetimes was sealed. He became a billionaire in 1987, and he’s remained near the top of the world’s wealthiest people ever since.
Still, his competitive fire has never waned.
Analytical, Competitive, Effective
Bill Gates has always been able to see things before others could, which, along with his intelligence and intense drive, have kept Microsoft at the forefront of technology for decades. Gates analyzes all potential outcomes of possible choices or decisions before finally settling on one, and he constantly challenges those around him to see if they believe in their own ideas or proposals.
While he was still running Microsoft day-to-day, if he got wind of a competitor trying to swoop in and steal software or operating system market share, he’d improve his product. This way of innovating begot the 1989 introduction of Microsoft Office, a bundled office software application created as an answer to IBM’s launch of OS/2, which itself was aimed at replacing MS-DOS on their machines. However, Office had applications that OS/2 was incompatible with, leaving Microsoft with a virtual monopoly on operating systems for PCs.
And it remains much the same today.
Spreading His Sphere of Influence
In 1994, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda founded the William H. Gates Foundation to support infrastructure, education, and health in low-income communities worldwide. Six years later, they set up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well.
That same year, Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO but stayed as its chairman and chief software developer. In 2008, Gates left his full-time work at Microsoft, though staying as its chairman, to devote more time to his philanthropy. In 2014, he stepped down from his chairman position and took on the role of technology advisor.
Gate’s imprint on world history has already been sealed with his technological, business, and financial endeavors, but he’s not finished. Through his philanthropy and various advisor roles, he continues leaving his impact on other areas, including education, health, environment, and even politics.