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Biography of William Henry Gates, III

"I want to have a computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software." - Bill Gates

William Henry Gates III (Oct. 28, 1955-), perhaps the ultimate "baby boomer" was born in Seattle, Wash., on Oct. 28, 1955, the only son in a close-knit family. His lawyer father and teacher mother quickly recognized how highly intelligent, especially in the area of mathematics, their offspring was at an early age and enrolled him in the challenging and experimental Lakeside School.

In 1968, when Gates was 13 Landmark arranged for its students to use a computer owned by a local company. Gates, the math whiz, took to computing like the proverbial duck to water.

But the computer as an academic learning experience didn't last long for Gates. At the age of 14, Bill Gates went into business with some of his friends. He founded and became president of Traf-O-Data that soon found employment by surrounding towns who used the firm's computers to monitor traffic. In its first year, the company made $20,000. But had trouble keeping clients when it was discovered that the firm was run by a group of high school students.

However, his talents with a computer soon caught the eye of officials at Seattle-based TRW who offered him a position at a computer programmer with a salary in excess of $20,000 a year. Gates took it only after he got Landmark School to agree that he could set aside his senior year studies.

In 1973, 18-year-old Gates left home for Harvard University where he planned to follow in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer. However, all that changed the following year when his old friend Paul Allen came visiting.

Allen had an idea: He had read an article in a magazine regarding the Altair 8800, the first home computer. The computers the two young men had worked on in high school were not only huge but also quite difficult to operate.

Gates listened intently; not realizing the words he would soon hear would change his entire life. Allen went on: The Altair was entirely different. It was small and its inventor had hopes of making so easy to operate that anyone could use it.

But there was a problem. Allen went on. No one, according to the article, had developed software to make the Altair run efficiently. Without software the new computer was worthless and MITS, Altair's manufacturer, was anxious to get their product on the market.

The solution: Gates and Allen called MITS' president and boldly told him they had created the software the Altair system had to have. Impressed, he asked the two to meet him at the company's headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M.

So the two were off to New Mexico to make the world's first practical home computer a reality. But there was a hitch --- a rather big hitch. They hadn't begun to create the software necessary to operate the system.

With a mixture of youthful confidence and deadline anxiety, Gates and Allen began to create what had never been created. Days passed into nights and nights into days with the two seldom leaving Gates' dorm room and they puzzled over an enigma. The sum total of their knowledge about the Altair was what was contained in the single magazine article. But a combination of brilliance, skill and youthful can-do attitude soon allowed them to develop the software the Altair needed.

Later, Gates would reflect, "That's the coolest program I ever did. We just had this book that described the machine. If we read the book wrong, or the book was wrong, we were hosed."

But what about the needed software? When MITS tried it . it worked perfectly.

Gates decided it was the time to venture out into the new digital world. He dropped out of college, moved to Albuquerque with Allen and together they formed a new company called Microsoft. They continued making software for MITS until that company went out of business. Gates and Allen then moved their fledgling company to the greener pastures of Seattle, Washington, and began working with a group of much larger firms including Apple Computers, Commodore Commuters and Tandy Corporation.

However, it wasn't until 1980 that Microsoft hit the big time when Gates made a deal with computer giant IBM. It was under that agreement that Microsoft created MS-DOS --- Microsoft disc operating system. IBM would use that system to operate all its home computers. In exchange for the rights to use MS-DOS, IBM struck a royalty deal with Microsoft --- royalties which grew to more than $200 million a year by 1997.

In the meantime, Gates and Allen developed their own version of DOS, which competed, directly with IBM's version. Eventually, Microsoft's Windows operating system would be installed on some 80 percent of the world's computers, its popularity being bolstered by Microsoft applications (software such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, games and other programs designed to automate everyday tasks for business and the home) built to run on the operating system.

One of the hardest moments in both the personal and professional life of young Bill Gates came in 1983. His boyhood friend and partner, Paul Allen fell ill with cancer and left Microsoft. Suddenly, Gates was faced with running one of the fastest growing companies in America by himself. But he proved to be more than capable of doing so. Running against the public's conception that the typical computer programmer was a bit flaky with little aptitude for business, Gates proved to be a brilliant businessman --- so brilliant in fact that he that by 1987 --- when he was still just 31 years of age --- he was valued at being worth more than $1 billion.

Since then, the expansion of dramatic expansion of Microsoft into the world's largest producer of software for microcomputers has elevated Gates to the status of one of the richest people in the world with a current net worth estimated at $51 billion.

What the future of Microsoft will be is uncertain. The United States government and the attorneys general of nearly two dozen states are suing Microsoft for monopolistic practices. A ruling by a federal district court judge is expected within a few months, but whatever the ruling may be, this case promises to spend years making it way through the court system and will almost certainly end up before the United States Supreme Court for a final decision.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates, who is married and has two children, has become very involved in charitable and education works and has been talking about adopting a less daily hands-on running of Microsoft.