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Bye-bye Bill

There can be only a few readers who haven’t heard the news that in 2008 Bill Gates is to step down from day-to-day involvement in the running of Microsoft. Here’s our tribute...

This article appears in the September 06 issue of PC Advisor, which is available now in all good newsagents.

In the minds of most of us, Microsoft and Bill Gates go together like peanut butter and jelly. Myths and legends about the company’s birth abound. There are the inevitable tales of pirated ideas and false claims. But, together with his friend Paul Allen, Gates started the company in 1975 when the pair wrote software for a self-assembly computer called the Altair.

Microsoft’s subsequent growth to its giant status has been well documented. Although not everyone is a member of the Microsoft fan club, there are few who would deny the company’s software has changed the way the world works.
Most of us had our first computing experience with a Microsoft operating system and we ventured on to the internet with Internet Explorer. Bill Gates is as well-known as his company’s software. His views on the future of computing are familiar to anyone working in the industry.

I recall a particularly far-sighted 1995 article written by Gates, Internet tidal wave, in which he predicted that e-commerce would become critical to business survival in the future. He said that any company that didn’t embrace the internet as a means of marketing its products and services would struggle for survival in the 21st century.

This was 11 years ago but, in the light of today’s huge online marketplace, you can see how accurate the prediction was.

He may be a man of vision, but he won’t go down in history as one of the world’s great orators. I’ve been in the same room with him on several occasions and, although I’ve had an impression of enormous enthusiasm, I can’t say I’ve been blown away by his way with words.

There’s an aura of power about Gates. But this is to be expected – he personally owns large numbers of Microsoft shares, about 9 percent of the company. And Forbes magazine estimated Gates’ net worth at $50bn (about £27.5bn) in its 2006 ranking. This is more than enough to earn him the title of the world’s richest individual.

Sometimes the possession of great wealth is accompanied by a sense of social responsibility and, for a while now, Gates has been devoting a good deal of his time to the charity he and his wife Melinda founded in 2001. Between them, Bill and Melinda have given away more than $10bn (£5.5bn) to recipients as diverse as American libraries (computer equipment) and the University of Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre (research into HIV vaccines).

Gates’ charitable philosophy is a fairly simple one. It’s neatly summed up by a statement he made when his ‘retirement’ was announced. He said: “I believe with great wealth comes great responsibility – the responsibility to give back to society and make sure those resources are given back in the best possible way, to those in need.”

No doubt the Microsoft ship will sail on without Gates’ hands on the helm. No doubt the company will continue to dominate the software market.

Nevertheless, I can’t shake off the feeling that something will be lacking, that Microsoft will take a step back in terms of its public image and that many will look upon Bill Gates’ withdrawal as a retrograde step in the company’s history.

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