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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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By Jack Ripoff on 7/2/2008 6:32:00 PM , Rating: 2
"MSDOS, Window 3.1/3.11 (earlier versions were worthless),
Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Though much hated
apparently Vista..."

Microsoft didn't create MS-DOS, they bought it from SCP, which in turn copied it from Kildall's CP/M. DOS and CP/M only differed in the file system. And while CP/M greatly evolved with time and later became DR-DOS, Microsoft's operating system didn't change much at all.

The first versions of Windows were just the GUI portion of OS/2 sold as a separate product for DOS. The interface was very close to Apple's, and the cooperative multitasking worked just like Quarterdeck's DesqView.

Windows 95, 98 and ME were just a revamped Windows interface, this time with DOS included in the package.

Windows NT (which apparently standed for "New Technology") wasn't anything new. It was based off VMS, and Microsoft had to pay DEC $150 million for using portions of VMS's code in Windows NT. It was an improvement over the DOS-based products, but it was (and Vista still is) full of legacy APIs.

"For Productivity Office, various versions usually tied with OS release, the still dominante productivity suite."

Their Office software became dominant because, by the time Windows hit the market, competing application developers had already put their R&D money into OS/2 versions of their products expecting that OS/2 would be delivered as promised by the IBM/Microsoft partnership. So Microsoft shipped both an OS and an application suite way before their competitors could catch up. But Word wasn't quite the text processor WordPerfect was, and Excel didn't really do anything Lotus 1-2-3 couldn't do, but was riddled with macro bugs.

Most other Microsoft products were bought from other companies. They got PowerPoint from Forethought, FrontPage from Vermeer Tech and NetCarta, Visio from Visio Corp, et cetera ad nauseam.

"While Netscape/Mozilla was there at the start of the web, it was really IE that was there durring the most critical stage of development and while many of the client side development tools designed for a richer client experience have fallen from favor (read active x), IE did create this desier for a richer client experience than just static web pages. Additionally, AJAX..."

You can't be serious, if it weren't by IE the web would be much richer (and interoperable) by now. IE still has crippled CSS support and incomplete/buggy Javascript support.

"All of the above leading to a single hardware architecture (which was open) becoming the dominant standard, allowing pricing for PCs and compoents to dramatically fall particularly for the performance you get..."

Which wouldn't be possible if it weren't for Kildall in the first place. He created the first open hardware architecture by segregating system-specific hardware interfaces in a set of BIOS routines.

He also created menu-driven user interfaces, the first programming language and compiler for microprocessors, and invented what we call today as preemptive multitasking.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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