However, the changes announced today by Microsoft suggest that, far from relinquishing his hold on Microsoft, Gates will be getting more involved in the day-to-day running of the company he founded nearly 40 years ago.
Gates had an interest in computer programming from a young age, and pursued his passion throughout college. In 1975, together with his childhood friend Paul Allen, Gates developed a version of the programming language BASIC for the first microcomputer – the MITS Altair 8800.
The Altair 8800 kick-started the home computing revolution
Gates and Allen approached MITS with their creation, and the company agreed to distribute it as 'Altair BASIC'. Paul Allen was hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with him in Albuquerque in November 1975. They officially established Microsoft' on 4 April 1975, with Gates as the CEO. Gates never returned to Harvard.
Microsoft became independent of MITS in late 1976, but continued to develop programming language software for various systems. The company moved from Albuquerque to Bellevue, Washington, on 1 January 1979.
During Microsoft's early years, all employees had broad responsibility for the company's business. Gates oversaw the business details, but continued to write code as well. In the first five years, he personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, and often rewrote parts of it as he saw fit.
IBM approached Microsoft in July 1980 to provide the operating system for its upcoming personal computer. For this deal, Microsoft bought a system called 86-DOS from a company called Seattle Computer Products and, after adapting it for the PC, delivered it to IBM as 'PC DOS' in exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000.
However, Gates did not offer to transfer the copyright on the operating system, because he believed that other hardware companies would clone IBM's system. He was right, and the sales of PC DOS made Microsoft a major player in the industry. Despite IBM's name on the operating system, Gates was quickly identified as 'the man behind the machine'.
Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates pose with IBM personal computers
Gates oversaw Microsoft's company restructuring in June 1981, which re-incorporated the company in Washington state and made Gates president of Microsoft and the chairman of the board.
By this time he had gained a reputation for being distant to others. He met regularly with Microsoft's senior managers and program managers, and was reportedly verbally pugnacious, berating managers for perceived holes in their business strategies that placed the company's long-term interests at risk.
Microsoft launched the first version of its Windows operating system on 20 November 1985, and in August, the company struck a deal with IBM to develop a separate operating system called OS/2. Microsoft moved its headquarters to Redmond in February 1986, and on March 13 the company went public.
Creative differences caused the partnership between Microsoft and IBM to deteriorate in 1991. By then, Microsoft had introduced its Office suite, which bundled applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, as well as Windows 3.0. Both Office and Windows became dominant in their respective areas.
Following Gates's internal 'Internet Tidal Wave' in May 1995, Microsoft began to redefine its offerings and expand its product line into computer networking and the World Wide Web. The company released Windows 95 in August 1995, featuring pre-emptive multitasking and a completely new user interface with a novel start button.
Gates handed over the CEO position in 2000, to Steve Ballmer, an old college friend and employee of the company since 1980. Allen resigned after a long-term illness, while Gates became 'chief software architect' and chairman of the board.
Bill Gates (left) and Steve Ballmer
Microsoft went on to release Windows XP in 2001, followed by Windows Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009 and Windows 8 in 2011. It entered the game console market dominated by Sony and Nintendo, launching the first Xbox in 2001, and has begun to take on Apple in the smartphone market with the launch of Windows Phone in 2011, and the purchase of Nokia in 2013.
Meanwhile, Gates announced in June 2006 that he would begin transitioning out of his day-to-day role to dedicate more time to philanthropy. He divided his responsibilities between two successors, placing Ray Ozzie in charge of day-to-day management and Craig Mundie in charge of long-term product strategy.
He finally retired as chief software architect in June 2008, but retained his role as chairman, in addition to being an advisor for the company on key projects.
Since then, Gates has dedicated the majority of his time to philanthropy, through the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. The primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. As of 16 May 2013, Bill Gates had donated $28 billion to the foundation
Gates was the world's highest-earning billionaire in 2013, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, with a fortune of $78.5 billion. He still owns about 4.5 percent of Microsoft and is its largest individual shareholder. He and his wife plan to eventually donate 95 per cent of their wealth to charity.
Now read: Bill Gates is back to take a bite out of Apple, Amazon and Google
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