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A young Bill Gates striking a pose on an office desk.

Though Gates played a more limited role in its development, the Zune was a modest success for Gates and Microsoft as he phased into retirement  (Source: Microsoft)

Gates will always be remembered as a founding father of the tech industry. And although many of his peers could lay a similar claim, none matched Gates in sheer impact on the industry.  (Source: AP)
This ordinary Friday is anything but for the tech industry

For 33 years, Bill Gates has poured his heart and soul, not to mention many long hours into making Microsoft into a seemingly unstoppable software juggernaut.  From modest beginnings, Gates rose from being a Harvard dropout to becoming the world's richest man, a position he held until recently.  Bill Gates’ sizable estimated net worth of $50B USD is a figure worthy of note, but more substantial is how he changed the tech industry.

From pushing and helping to develop DOS and the PC to defining the modern operating system with Windows, Gates has left a perhaps unparalleled mark on the face of technology in the world today.  On Friday, after 33-years with Microsoft -- the company he cofounded with Paul Allen, a friend from school, in New Mexico in 1975 -- Gates will clock in his last workday with the company.

The move has been a long time coming.  In 2000, Gates stepped down as CEO and allowed his trusted, if a bit vociferous, friend Steve Ballmer assume the position.  The move was largely precipitated from the fallout of the major antitrust case in which Microsoft had been charged by the FTC of violations and found guilty.   Afterwards, Gates assumed the role of "Chief Software Architect".  In time, he would abdicate this role to Ray Ozzie and go on to become Chairman.

Now at last he is leaving the company.  Gates, ever lampooned and conversely idolized by pop culture, brought Microsoft into its period of greatest success with the rise of Windows 95, 98 and 2000.  During this era, Internet Explorer became king of the browser arena and Microsoft Office and its brethren became the undisputed leaders in productivity software.  Direct 3D and later DirectX became the standards of the newly formed 3D gaming industry.  In short, Microsoft dominated virtually every arena of personal computing software.

As Gates began to abdicate his responsibilities, some of Microsoft's more rocky times came into focus.  IE lost some ground to its first real competitor -- Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser.  After a strong success with Windows XP, Windows Vista received poor critical reception and struggled to be adopted in the business community.  Meanwhile Microsoft received massive fines from the EU for its closed box software policies, which violated the EU's stricter anticompetitive laws.

Perhaps the greatest struggle for Microsoft has been its attempt to gain a controlling influence over the online world.  Try as Microsoft may, it has been unable to match first Yahoo, and now Google in terms of online relevance.  It tried to jump start its efforts with a Yahoo merger, but the talks fell through.

However, for its struggles the company has also had its successes.  The Zune music players were relatively well received, and while they did not turn out to be the iPod killer that Microsoft had hoped, they became a valuable new business.  Perhaps Microsoft's greatest new success was the creation of the Xbox game console.  From nowhere, the first Xbox surpassed long time stalwart Nintendo's next gen Gamecube console and only took second place to the wildly successful Playstation 2. 

In this generation the roles have reversed -- after an early lead thanks to its early release, Microsoft fell to second place to a reinvigorated Nintendo's wildly successful Wii.  Yet again Microsoft maintained a healthy margin over its third place competitor, in this case the PS3.

The mixed bag since cannot be pinned on any specific factor, but Bill Gates’ influence on the initial rampant success of Microsoft was undeniable.  His methods were a bit strange at times.  He was ruthless and competitive, not afraid to outmaneuver his competitors out of their livelihood, hiring the more talented of them in the aftermath.

He was equal parts guru and corporate shark, for days relentlessly dictating business policy, and then disappearing for months into his cabin retreat where he read papers from his best researchers and pondered the changing face of technology.  He would always return with profound memos which changed the course of the company; including his now famous 1995 "Internet Tidal Wave" memo.

Some fear that a post-Gates Microsoft will struggle to think and react like Gates.  Worse yet, CEO Steve Ballmer, a major guiding force in the company, will be departing in only 10 years.  With Ray Ozzie a similar age to Ballmer and Gates, the leadership line may fall into shambles.  However, Gates is going to do his part to keep the ship steady.   He will continue to chair board meetings and will continue to offer advice to Steve Ballmer, until he retires.

In his free time, Bill will devote more time to his charity work and family.  Bill and his wife Melinda have created the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charity of its kind.  Thanks to large personal donations from Gates and donations from people worldwide, the foundation has asset trust endowments of $37.3 billion and has committed to grants of $16.5 billion during its 14 years.  Gates and his wife plan to spend all of their money on charity within 50 years of their death.  For his efforts, he and his wife were TIME magazine's people of the year in 2005.

Gates hopes to use the money to focus on eradicating AIDS and malaria.  In short, he hopes in his retirement to modestly help conquer the greatest diseases afflicting mankind.

Bill Gates has given a couple farewell speeches in which he got a little teary eyed.  It’s understandable, though.  Even to the most hard-line critic of Microsoft, it’s hard to look at Gates and Microsoft's story and not feel something, not to feel moved by the force that this man created.  Gates may still be a shadowed presence at Microsoft, but as he fades into the twilight, the tech industry pauses to consider the departure of the man who defined it.

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bill gates didnt do anything
By tastyratz on 6/27/2008 3:58:02 PM , Rating: -1
bill gates didn't revolutionize crap. He purchased dos and rode the wave, he wasn't a talented programmer just sh*t lucked into a good deal and rode the wave of sales. From there it was just hiring someone else to do work and watch it grow

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By 325hhee on 6/27/08, Rating: 0
RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By tastyratz on 6/27/2008 4:52:42 PM , Rating: 2
my comment wasn't a love him or hate him comment. Bill was a business man, he purchased and sold something else. I wouldn't say his work revolutionized it per say, he piggybacked someone else's product and made it sound like it was his own creation. People idolize him like some sort of programming genius. He made an intelligent purchase and delegated well. Worked great for him in the end but have no illusions... that's all

Bill gates is going to donate lots of money and lots of great things are going to come from that money. I'm glad someone willing to do that with his money has that caliber of a wallet.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By Parhel on 6/27/2008 5:10:58 PM , Rating: 5
You're just plain wrong. Programming genius? I'm a darn good programmer, and I'll be the first to say that we are a dime a dozen. Bill Gates was a honest-to-goodness visionary, far moreso than anyone else in the IT world in my lifetime if not ever. He understood 25 years ago what the personal computer could do for us today, and he captained the ship and made the decisions that made it happen. Microsoft laid the groundwork for the way we do business today, and without Gates we would be several steps back.

I'm not trying to write a hagiography here. Gates was a ruthless businessman. He was by all accounts a real SOB of a boss, and a far worse competitor. But if anyone in the last 25 years should be considered a genius, it's him.

Go to YouTube, and watch Charlie Rose's interviews with Bill Gates. You won't be wasting your time, trust me. Then consider when those interviews were conducted. As just one small example, when e-mail was nothing but a gleam in the eye of the business world, he was the first to say that it would become the primary form of business communication. He was simply 10 years ahead of everyone else.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By mindless1 on 6/28/08, Rating: 0
RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By Solandri on 6/28/2008 12:39:36 PM , Rating: 2
As just one small example, when e-mail was nothing but a gleam in the eye of the business world, he was the first to say that it would become the primary form of business communication. He was simply 10 years ahead of everyone else.

Actually that's one area where he was dead wrong. Gates believed the AOL / Compuserve / Prodigy model of pay-per-month dial-up BBSes would become the dominant networking model. He thought the Internet would fail and stubbornly refused to put a TCP/IP stack in Windows. I had to mess with installing Trumpet Winsock under Windows 3.1 to get Internet access, and believe me it was no cake walk. I switched from Windows to OS/2 at the time just so I wouldn't have to mess with the lack of a TCP/IP stack anymore.

In 1995, a full year after the WWW exploded into the mainstream, more than seven years after the establishment of email gateways between ARPANET and BITNET (thereby connecting most of the online business, educational, government, and military computers at the time), and more than 25 years after the implementation of email on ARPANET, Gates finally conceded defeat and put a TCP/IP stack in Windows 95, thus allowing the PC masses to join the Internet at large.

Yet lay people seem to be ignorant of this history, and repeatedly misattribute the creation of email and the Internet to him. He was actually the biggest impediment to the public joining the Internet. If it weren't for him holding PC users hostage to try to foist upon them a proprietary network model which eventually failed, you all could've had email and the Web about 5 years earlier than you actually got it.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By Solandri on 6/28/2008 1:18:17 PM , Rating: 2
And just to be clear, he was a very good programmer. I cut my teeth on BASIC, and although it wasn't the greatest of learning languages, the PC implementation was solid. As it turned out, while he was merely a good programmer, he was a brilliant, if ruthless, businessman.

I think that's why so many tech geeks resent him. His technical abilities were good but nowhere near the top. It was his business acumen that was god-like. If all everyone talked about was Gates the businessman, I don't think tech geeks would have that big a problem with him. But lay people repeatedly try to infer from his business success that he was also a technology giant, which simply isn't the case. Whenever he had to choose between business profit and advancement of technology, he almost always sided with his business. That's why Microsoft is the champion of the proprietary software model, while the Internet is built on the open source model. To Gates, control and profit was more important than progress. Tech geeks resent that someone to whom tech advancement was merely a secondary goal had so much influence over it.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By LorKha on 6/27/2008 4:42:30 PM , Rating: 5
$10 you wrote that comment in Windows.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By jvillaro on 6/27/2008 4:44:07 PM , Rating: 4
WOW I'm amazed of how dumb you are.

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By Mystery Meat on 6/27/2008 4:58:48 PM , Rating: 5
If you email a copy of this article to all your friends, Bill Gates will send you ten dollars.

By maverick85wd on 6/28/2008 11:30:54 AM , Rating: 2
turns out he put all the money from those emails into charity

RE: bill gates didnt do anything
By 306maxi on 6/29/2008 6:39:12 AM , Rating: 2
And the Taco Bell dog will run across your screen.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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