Computer software programmer and business pioneer. Born William Henry Gates, III, on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. The son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, Gates began to show an interest in computer programming at the age of 13 at the Lakeside School. Two years later, he created a device that could analyze traffic patterns with fellow student Paul Allen.
Gates went to Harvard University in 1973. He had developed his first product while there—a program language for the first microcomputer called BASIC. Gates dropped out of Harvard in his junior year. He wanted to spend his time creating software, not in the classroom. In 1975, he founded Micro-Soft (later changed to Microsoft) with his longtime friend Paul Allen. Along with BASIC, Gates worked on the company's next big product called DOS, which is a basic operating system.
DOS led to the company's first huge success. In 1980, Gates made a deal with International Business Machines (IBM) to create a version of DOS for its line of personal computers. Soon DOS was the main operating system used by computer makers, making Microsoft a huge success and Gates a very wealthy man. The first version of the Windows operating system debuted in 1985 and it eventually became the leading system. By this time, the company had more than 1,000 employees and $200 million in sales.
Gates, an astute businessman, continuously looked for ways to grow his company. Microsoft developed a variety of software applications, ranging from word-processing programs to Internet browsers. His efforts paid off handsomely. Gates has become the world's wealthiest person in the United States with an estimated net worth of $50 billion in 2006.
Some say Gates achieved this level of success through questionable business tactics. He was known as a tough competitor in the business world, and some thought that Microsoft was using its operating system as a way to expand its market share for other applications. For example, the Windows operating system came with the Internet Explorer Web browser, giving Microsoft an advantage over other browser application companies. The U.S. Department of Justice thought that Microsoft may have stepped over the line and sued the company in 1998 for alleged antitrust violations. The court battle went on for years, but eventually a settlement was reached in 2001.
For a man who worked tirelessly for years, Gates began to focus on other aspects of his life beginning in the 1990s. In 1994, he married Melinda French. The couple has three children together. They also established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, which works on global health and education issues. Time magazine named the couple—along with singer Bono—as its Persons of Year in 2005 for their charitable efforts.
Gates announced in 2006 that he would be stepping away from the day-to-day operations of Microsoft to spend more time on the foundation's projects and causes. The world's wealthiest man is putting his money to work to help eradicate disease and improve schools.
© 2006 A&E Television Networks