As Bill Gates prepares to step down, we've taken a look back at his 10 most memorable moments at Microsoft. And we've taken the opportunity to ponder what might have been if Bill had taken a different path at each of these forks in the road. How different things could have been...

After entering the computer industry in 1975, some 33 years ago, Microsoft head honcho Bill Gates has certainly left an indelible mark on everything digital.

As Bill Gates prepares to step down and concentrate his efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we've taken a look back at his 10 most memorable moments. From the launch of Windows 95 to his stand in the 1998 Antitrust case, our favourite memories are guaranteed to elicit tears, smiles and even the odd grimace from you.

And we've also taken the opportunity to ponder what might have been if Bill had taken a different role at each of these forks in the road. How different things could have been...

Bill Gates and Ballmer

Keep up with Bill: get the latest Microsoft news at PC Advisor's Microsoft News Spotlight

Windows 95 starts up

24 August, 1995

We'll probably never see another product launch like the one that propelled Windows 95 into the world (and that's surely a good thing).

Even the pomp and circumstance surrounding the iPhone's debut last year blanched in comparison. The millions of dollars that Microsoft paid for the rights to the Rolling Stones' 'Start Me Up' was only the beginning of the estimated £150 million marketing juggernaut that accompanied this launch.

Among other excesses, the Empire State Building was bathed in Microsoft corporate colours and playing fields in Britain were painted with the Windows 95 logo to make it visible from the air.

Microsoft's Redmond Research Lab in Washington was transformed into a carnival for the day, with food, jugglers, clowns, hot air balloons, a ferris wheel, and circus tents.

And at the centre of it all was Bill, grinning awkwardly in his blue Microsoft polo shirt and trying to sound casual as he engaged in teleprompter banter with Jay Leno, host of US TV programme The Tonight Show.

Bill's best line: "Windows 95 is so easy even a talk-show host can figure it out." Good thing he didn't quit his day job (until now).

What might have been: Perhaps Bill could have chosen this moment to try out as a stand-up comic? Er... don't call us, we'll call you.

Windows 95

Turn On, drop out, hack code

January 1975

It was a photo of the MITS Altair 8800 on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine that started it all. After Harvard classmate Paul Allen showed him the issue, Bill Gates called MITS president Ed Roberts and convinced him that he and Allen had created a BASIC program for the Altair, even though neither had written a single line of code.

After Roberts expressed interest, they worked feverishly to create the program in eight weeks.

Later that year, Gates dropped out of Harvard and moved to Albuquerque, where he took a job writing software for Roberts at $10 an hour. Eventually he made enough money from his BASIC royalties to buy himself a Porsche 911, with which he racked up multiple arrests for speeding and driving without a licence.

What might have been: Bill Gates, driving instructor? Only on the racetrack. Stick to the software. And stay out of jail.

Bill Gates mug shot

NEXT PAGE: Taking the stand in the Microsoft vs US antitrust case

  1. Our favourite memories of Microsoft's CEO
  2. Taking the stand in the Microsoft vs US antitrust case
  3. That cream pie incident
  4. Avoiding separating Microsoft into two companies

As Bill Gates prepares to step down, we've taken a look back at his 10 most memorable moments at Microsoft. And we've taken the opportunity to ponder what might have been if Bill had taken a different path at each of these forks in the road. How different things could have been... Read on: there's tears, tantrums and even a cream pie.

Taking the stand in the MS antitrust case

27 August, 1998

Windows has always had problems with memory management; evidently Gates does too.

That's certainly how it appeared when the CEO's videotaped deposition in the United States vs Microsoft antitrust trial hit the web. Gates' reputation as a brilliant, detail-oriented control freak took a serious tumble as he peppered his testimony with "I don't recall" (6 times), "I don't remember" (14 times), and "I don't know" (22 times).

Gates quibbled about the meaning of words such as 'concerned' and 'compete', engaging US attorney David Boies in a circuitous dance of semantics.

Excerpts from Gates' video evoked chuckles from Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. But Gates would have the last laugh when a US Court of Appeals overruled Jackson's judgment against Microsoft three years later.

What might have been: Expert witness? We object. It's supergrassing and the witness-protection programme for you, Gates.

Bill Gates on the stand

Keep up with Bill: get the latest Microsoft news at PC Advisor's Microsoft News Spotlight

Bill Gates: angel in the centrefold

July 1987

Yes, we are talking about that Bill Gates. No, he did not pose in the nude, praise Yahweh. He was wearing a dark blue suit, a lavender shirt, and a striped tie, instead of the usual lumpy sweater. And PC Advisor's sister title PC World is entirely to blame for this one because the Gates gatefold graced that magaxine's July 1987 issue, alongside an interview with the then-32-year-old software tycoon.

It was the first centrefold the magazine ran, as well as (almost certainly) the last. And yes, we take the mickey.

What might have been: Bill Gates the pin-up? My eyes, my eyes.

Bill Gates male model

A gazillionaire is born

13 March, 1986

The day Microsoft went public, Gates became an instant megamillionaire (actually a £117 millionaire, based on the share price). But it wasn't until 17 July, 1995, that Forbes Magazine named him the richest featherless biped on the planet, with a net worth just shy of £6.5bn. His wealth snowballed from there.

During the height of dotcom madness, Gates' paper fortune exceeded $100bn, inspiring several websites devoted to measuring just how much money that was in real terms. No wonder people found it easy to believe the rumour that he'd give you £500 just for responding to an email.

But instead of hoarding all the cash, Gates put his money where other people's mouths are, establishing the William H Gates III Foundation (later changed to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). After the bubble burst, Microsoft's share price plummeted (as did every other tech stock), further deflating his bank balance. Now with a personal net worth of just £29bn, Gates ranks third in the world behind Mexican telecom entrepreneur Carlos Slim Helu and Bill's bridge-playing buddy, Warren Buffet.

What might have been: Quasi-retired philanthropist? Well, yes.

NEXT PAGE: That cream pie incident

  1. Our favourite memories of Microsoft's CEO
  2. Taking the stand in the Microsoft vs US antitrust case
  3. That cream pie incident
  4. Avoiding separating Microsoft into two companies

As Bill Gates prepares to step down, we've taken a look back at his 10 most memorable moments at Microsoft. And we've taken the opportunity to ponder what might have been if Bill had taken a different path at each of these forks in the road. How different things could have been... Read on: there's tears, tantrums and even a cream pie.

If it's a cream pie, this must be Belgium

4 February, 1998

Gates was notorious for making pie-in-the-sky predictions for Microsoft products. So it probably shouldn't have surprised him to receive a pie in the eye when he visited Brussels in February 1998.

Gates got creamed as he was entering the Concert Noble Hall for an education conference sponsored by the Flemish government. Belgian anarchist Noël 'the Pieman' Godin took credit for the aerial pastry, one in a series of tart-fuelled attacks Godin has inflicted on notable people.

Gates reportedly said later that the pie "wasn't that tasty".

What might have been: Circus clown? The way he took that pie, the boy has potential.

Bill Gates cream pie

Keep up with Bill: get the latest Microsoft news at PC Advisor's Microsoft News Spotlight

Mr Gates builds his dream house

1988 to 1995

What do you do when you have more money than God? Build a house fit for a deity, of course. Gates' mansion on the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle took seven years to complete and cost somewhere between £20m and £50m, depending on which source you accept. According to Fortune Magazine, it was a bachelor's dream and a bride's nightmare: 40,000 square feet with several garages, a trampoline room, an indoor pool, a theatre with a popcorn machine, and enough software and high-tech displays to make a newlywed feel as though she were living inside a video game.

After their wedding, Melinda apparently toned down some of the house's boy-toyishness. Still, as PBS' Robert X Cringely reported, visitors to the home were asked to wear electronic badges that allowed the house "to adjust climate, music, lighting, even the electronic artwork on the walls, to match their preferences as they move from room to room.

"And what happens when more than one person is in a room? The reality of active badges is that Bill Gates is still king. When Bill is in the room, his taste rules."

What might have been: Bill the builder? We think we'd rather just rent.

Bill Gates house

Bill gets hitched

1 January, 1994

When you're the world's richest man you have to work double-time to hide from the public eye. So when Gates decided to marry former Microsoft product manager Melinda French, he organised the wedding on the tiny Hawaiian island of Lanai, booked every hotel room on the island, and rented every helicopter in the state to frustrate potential paparazzi.

The $1 million ceremony took place on the 12th tee of the Manele Bay Hotel golf course. On the guest list: best man Steve Ballmer, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Warren Buffet, and Washington Post executive Katherine Graham. The wedding singer? Singer Willie Nelson.

What might have been: Bill Gates the wedding planner? We like Bill's style, but it's too rich for our blood. And our wallet. We'll stick with curly sandwiches above the Dog and Duck.

NEXT PAGE: Avoiding separating Microsoft into two companies

  1. Our favourite memories of Microsoft's CEO
  2. Taking the stand in the Microsoft vs US antitrust case
  3. That cream pie incident
  4. Avoiding separating Microsoft into two companies

As Bill Gates prepares to step down, we've taken a look back at his 10 most memorable moments at Microsoft. And we've taken the opportunity to ponder what might have been if Bill had taken a different path at each of these forks in the road. How different things could have been... Read on: there's tears, tantrums and even a cream pie.

Microsoft: when one becomes one. Still

28 June, 2001

Bill, Ballmer & Co dodged a major bullet when a federal appeals court overruled US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's decision in United States vs Microsoft, rescinding his order to split the company in two.

The appellate court found that Microsoft had indeed acted as a monopoly in bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, but it ruled Jackson's remedy too harsh. By then, Gates had already stepped down as Microsoft CEO, having handed the reins to Steve Ballmer in January 2000.

Who knows? If Microsoft had been split, Gates might have found himself competing with his old college buddy Ballmer and Yahoo might be trying to buy them instead.

What might have been: Bill Gates counting down his days in the office until he gets his Yahoo pension. Could have happened...

Keep up with Bill: get the latest Microsoft news at PC Advisor's Microsoft News Spotlight

Bill finally gets his degree

7 June, 2007

More than 30 years after dropping out of Harvard, Bill finally got to graduate. As a student, Gates was known to prefer poker and programming over attending classes, but in June 2007 he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree after delivering the commencement address at his alma mater.

Remember kids, stay in school. And if you can't manage that, starting your own software empire and dominating the world for 30 years isn't a bad fallback plan.

What might have been: Professor Gates, chair of World Domination Studies at Runcorn Polytechnic.

Professor Bill Gates

  1. Our favourite memories of Microsoft's CEO
  2. Taking the stand in the Microsoft vs US antitrust case
  3. That cream pie incident
  4. Avoiding separating Microsoft into two companies