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William Henry "Bill" Gates III October 28, 1955 - Now

Microsoft cofounder and chief executive officer Bill Gates has become the wealthiest man in America and one of the most influential personalities in the ever-evolving computer industry. William H. Gates III was born on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. He was the second child and only son of William Henry Gates Jr.,

Although Gates's parents had a law career in mind for their son, he developed an early interest in computer science and began studying computers in the seventh grade at Seattle's Lakeside School. At Lakeside, Gates came to know Paul Allen, a classmate with similar interests in technology who would eventually become his business partner.

Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975, ending his academic life and beginning his career as a software designer. At this time, Gates and Allen cofounded Microsoft. They wrote programs for the early Apple and Commodore machines. One of Gates's most significant opportunities arrived in 1980, when IBM approached him to help with their personal computer project, code name Project Chess. Gates developed the Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS. (An operating system is a type of software that controls the way a computer runs.) Not only did he sell IBM on the new operating system, but he also convinced the computer giant to allow others to write software for the machine. The result was the rapid growth of licenses for MS-DOS, as software developers quickly moved to become compatible with (able to work with) IBM. By the early 1990s Microsoft had sold more than one hundred million copies of MS-DOS, making the operating system the all-time leader in software sales. For his achievements in science and technology, Gates received the Howard Vollum Award in 1984 from Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

His fortune at the time of his marriage was estimated at close to seven billion dollars. By 1997 his worth was estimated at approximately $37 billion, earning him the title of "richest man in America."

On January 13, 2000, Gates handed off day-to-day management of Microsoft to friend and right-hand man Steve Ballmer. Aside from being the most famous businessman of the late 1990s, Gates also has distinguished himself as a philanthropist (someone working for charity). He and wife Melinda established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on helping to improve health care and education for children around the world. The foundation has donated $4 billion since its start in 1996.

Although many describe Gates as cold and distant, his friends find him friendlier since his marriage and since the birth of his daughter, Jennifer, in April 1996. Further, he recognizes his overall contribution to both the world of technology and his efforts in philanthropy. In Forbes magazine's 2002 list of the two hundred richest people in the world, Gates was number one for the eighth straight year, coming in with a net worth of $52.8 billion.


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