The name Bill Gates has been synonymous with Microsoft ever since the company was founded. He was the face of the company and the one who was at the receiving end of both tech love and monopoly lawsuits. Now, with his resignation from the company on June 27, an era is coming to an end—both for Microsoft as well as the tech world.
Starting out as a partnership between an engineer and a Harvard drop out, making BASIC compilers on Altair machines, Microsoft went on to become the technology giantwe know today, with Gates reigning as the world’s richest man for a number of years. In the course of the journey, Microsoft earned its fair share of controversies, loyal supporters and violent detractors. It has seen its once unchallenged hegemony challenged by both proprietary Apple, and the open source Linux movement. In the era of the Internet, it has been upstaged by smarter and nimbler rivals like Google. However, depite all these deficiencies and failures, Microsoft will still remain the top dog of the tech world for a very long time, riding on the momentum of products like Windows XP and Office.
As a person, Gates does not inspire fanboy-ism the way Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs does. He no longer has the Midas touch, as Google’s Page and Brin seem to have now. Neither he nor Microsoft has innovated anything terrific, but what sets him apart from the flock, especially during the early days of personal computing was the ability to think like a businessman and bring complex technology to the lives of the common man—who never ventured beyond operating the television. Microsoft’s monopoly has had another beneficial effect—standardisation. Before Microsoft took the tech world by storm, there were too many conflicting standards, both in hardware and software, with little or no interoperability between them. Microsoft imposed its own set of standards, even though they turned out to be flawed, and made the world take notice of the benefits of different devices and software being able to talk to each other.
After retiring from day-to-day activities at Microsoft, Gates plans to spend most of his time and money in philanthropic work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With assets of nearly $65 billion, and generous help from Warren Buffet, this foundation is the largest ever, in terms of funds at disposal. The foundation is engaged mostly in tackling diseases like malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis in the third world and has significant media coverage. Gates is also a frequent visitor to India, and recently gave $27 million dollars in grant for fighting HIV / AIDS in India. Ultimately, Bill Gates might be remembered more for his philanthropic activities, than for being at the helm of the largest tech monopoly in recent years. And that’s a legacy he would be more comfortable with.