Skinny, shy and awkward, teenaged Bill Gates seemed an unlikely successor to his

overachieving parents. His father, powerfully built and 6'6'' tall, was a

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prominent Seattle attorney, and his mother served on charitable boards and ran

the United Way. While he showed enormous talent for math and logic, young Bill,

a middle child, was no one's idea of a natural leader, let alone a future

billionaire who would reinvent American business. Born in 1955, Gates attended

public elementary school, and enrolled in the private Lakeside School at age

twelve. The following year, Gates wrote his first computer program, at a time

when computers were still room-sized machines run by scientists in white coats.

Soon afterwards, he and his friend Paul Allen wrote a scheduling program for the

school--which coincidentally placed the two in the same classes as the prettiest

girls in school. Still in high school, Gates and Allen founded a company called

Traf-O-Data which analyzed city traffic data. Gates set off for Harvard

University intending to become a lawyer like his father. Still shy and awkward,

he rarely ventured out to parties unless dragged by his friend Steve Ballmer,

whom he later repaid by naming him president of Microsoft. One day in December

1974, Allen, who was working at Honeywell outside of Boston, showed Gates a

Popular Mechanics cover featuring the Altair 8800, a $397 computer from M.I.T.S.

computing that any hobbyist could build. The only thing the computer lacked,

besides a keyboard and monitor, was software. Gates and Allen contacted the head

of M.I.T.S. and said they could provide a version of BASIC for the Altair. After

a successful demonstration at the company's Albuquerque headquarters, M.I.T.S.

contracted with Gates and Allen for programming languages. The pair moved to New

Mexico and started Micro-soft (they dropped the hypen later). Although the

company's first five clients went bankrupt, the company struggled on, moving to

Seattle in 1979. The following year, IBM asked Gates to provide an operating

system for its first personal computer. Gates purchased a system called QDOS

(Quick and Dirty Operating System) for $50,000 from another company, changed the

name to MS-DOS, and licensed it to IBM. The IBM PC took the market by storm when

it was introduced in 1981--and licensing fees streamed into Microsoft, ensuring

the company's survival over the next several years. Microsoft continued

concentrating on the software market, adding consumer applications like

Microsoft Word. In 1986, when the company went public, Gates became a paper

billionaire at the age of thirty-one. The following year, the company introduced

its first version of Windows, and by 1993 was selling a million copies a month.

When Windows 95 was introduced in August 1995, 7 million copies were sold in the

first six weeks alone. Microsoft's software became so ubiquitous that the U.S.

Justice Department began a series of long-lasting antitrust investigations

against the company, bogging it down in protracted legal battles. In 1995, Gates

dramatically changed the direction of the entire company and focused on the

Internet. While some of his efforts, including the much hyped Microsoft Network

and its highly touted Web "shows", fizzled, the company quickly gained

ground on Netscape with its popular Internet Explorer browser. Meanwhile, Gates

built a 40,000-square-foot technological showcase of a home on Lake Washington.

Gates also got married on Jan. 1, 1994, to Melinda French Gates(a marketing

executive at Microsoft). The couple had two children: a daughter, Jennifer

Katharine Gates, born in 1996; and a son, Rory John Gates, born in 1999. a

marketing executive at Microsoft. They later had two kids: daughter Jennifer

born in 1996 and son Rory born in 1999. Bill and Melinda Gates have endowed a

foundation with more than $17 billion to support philanthropic initiatives in

the areas of global health and learning, with the hope that as we move into the

21st century, advances in these critical areas will be available for all

people.To date, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than

$300 million to organizations working in global health; more than $300 million

to improve learning opportunities, including the Gates Library Initiative to

bring computers, Internet Access and training to public libraries in low-income

communities in the United States and Canada; more than $54 million to community

projects in the Pacific Northwest; and more than $29 million to special projects

and annual giving campaigns. In addition to his passion for computers, Gates is

interested in biotechnology. He sits on the board of the Icos Corporation and is

a shareholder in Darwin Molecular, a subsidiary of British-based Chiroscience.

He also founded Corbis Corporation, which is developing one of the largest

resources of visual information in the world-a comprehensive digital archive of

art and photography from public and private collections around the globe. Gates

also has invested with cellular telephone pioneer Craig McCaw in Teledesic, a

company that is working on an ambitious plan to launch hundreds of low-orbit

satellites around the globe to provide worldwide two-way broadband

telecommunications service.