In a post on LinkedIn, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced on 13 March that he would be stepping down from the company’s board.
In the post, Gates wrote: “I have made the decision to step down from both of the public boards on which I serve – Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway – to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities, including global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change.”
He said he would continue to work with Microsoft, even though he would no longer be a board member. “Microsoft will always be an important part of my life’s work, and I will continue to be engaged with Satya and the technical leadership to help shape the vision and achieve the company’s ambitious goals. I feel more optimistic than ever about the progress the company is making and how it can continue to benefit the world,” he wrote.
Gates and Paul Allen established Microsoft in 1975 to ride the wave of interest in “homebrew” computing – the nascent home computer market, which began with the world’s first home computer, the Altair 8800.
The pair took the inspired decision to provide an easy-to-use programming language for this new computer, and Microsoft Basic became the company’s first product.
As the home computer market grew, so did sales of Microsoft Basic. It became the de facto programming language for home computers, and when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was writing Basic on his own home computer, he eventually decided to use the Microsoft product instead.
Gates and Allen made the biggest breakthrough in corporate history when the pair were approached by IBM to provide an operating system for a secret project, Project Chess, that would become the IBM PC – IBM’s first small computer designed for individual users.
At the time, Microsoft did not have its own operating system, so it acquired one called Quick and Dirty Dos from the Seattle Computer Products. This became PC Dos, which shipped with the first IBM PC.
Since the PC was built on what is now known as industry standard hardware, all the components were off-the-shelf. The only part IBM actually had full control over was the basic input output system, or Bios, that enabled the operating system to talk to the keyboard, video and other PC component hardware.
Compaq was able to reverse engineer the Bios, enabling it to produce the world’s first 100% IBM compatible PC clone, the Compaq Luggable, which ran the Microsoft version of PC DOS.
As sales of PCs went exponential, sales of MS-DOS and later Windows also grew, making Gates a billionaire. In 1995, Gates was named the world’s richest man. Following a meeting in 2010 with fellow billionaire Warren Buffet, Gates and his wife Melinda pledged to give away their fortune to charity through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
For the past two decades, the foundation has spent more than $24bn on global development programmes. In the foundation’s annual letter, posted on February 20, the pair wrote: “At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions.
“Businesses have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders. But foundations like ours have the freedom to test out ideas that might not otherwise get tried, some of which may lead to breakthroughs.”
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