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Bill Gates: a biography

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Stats

  • Founded in 2000, second largest charitable foundation in the world
  • As of October 2008, its endowment was $35.1bn
  • In 2006 Warren Buffet, the world's second richest person, donated over $30bn, the largest ever philanthropic donation
  • Donates at least $1.5bn a year
  • The $800m it spends each year on global health is almost as much as the WHO
Bill Gates: a biography

He was born on 28 October 1955 and raised in simple surroundings in sopping wet Seattle.

His father was a lawyer, his mother a schoolteacher. Bill Gates' story sounds pretty conventional.

Gates isn't doing too badly, sitting on an estimated $58bn fortune

A conventional beginning, but Gates' story is far from boring. High school chums may have felt him a little geeky when he programmed computers at the age of just 13, but young Bill was just doing what he enjoyed.

And it was this maverick attitude that led him to ditch the stuffy, mock-English cloisters of Harvard for the world of business. Driven by a vision of how indispensable the computer was to become, Gates channelled all his energy into his baby, Microsoft.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft reported revenues of $51bn in the fiscal year 2006-2007 and now employs over 65,000 people around the world. Gates himself isn't doing too badly either, sitting on an estimated $58bn fortune.

The masterstroke that set Microsoft on its way came in 1980. The company struck a deal with IBM to develop the operating system for its new computer, but crucially, retained the right to license the system - called MS-DOS - to other manufacturers.

When a generation of IBM-compatible home computers followed, Microsoft was assured a dominant position in the market - a legacy which has brought the software behemoth before countless courts for alleged violations of anti-monopoly law.

The 1990s were more turbulent for Microsoft, and not just because of anti-competition investigations. In 1995, while Microsoft was preoccupied with the most expensive consumer marketing campaign in history, Netscape was busy making itself the web browser of choice.

Gates and Microsoft almost missed the internet. They eventually caught on and Microsoft's Internet Explorer supplanted Netscape, but a number of online upstarts - notably Google and Yahoo! - had stolen a march in other areas.

Gates, the world's richest man for 14 years straight until 2008, now channels much of his wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose endowment stands at $38.7bn. He has announced that, from July 2008, he will relinquish day-to-day control of Microsoft, so he can immerse himself fully in his philanthropic vehicle.

Gates' generosity and monumental impact on the computer industry set him apart. Well, that and $58bn.

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