What about Bill Gates?

What about Bill Gates?

Summary: In his recent post (Who shapes IT? ), my colleague David Grober presents a list of those who have shaped the IT industry.


In his recent post (Who shapes IT? ), my colleague David Grober presents a list of those who have shaped the IT industry.  Each name was contributed by other bloggers within the ZDNet family.  What I want to know is why Bill Gates' name does not appear on this list. 

Before 1981, no one even knew who Bill Gates was.  Twenty-five years later, he is the richest man in the world, a world-class philanthropist, and certainly a contender for that dubious title of 'most hated'.  How did he do it? 

In 1981, when IBM decided to explore the marketing potential of the personal computer, Apple Computer, Inc. was already a five-year-old company.  Microsoft had been founded a year earlier, in late 1975, and was producing a BASIC interpreter, written by Paul Allen and Bill Gates.  Steve Ballmer had recently been hired by Microsoft to run the business side of things. 

IBM was looking for an operating system for its IBM PC and came to Microsoft.  Without a product, Microsoft turned to Seattle Computer Products, who subsequently received a total of $75,000 for what would become the core of MS-DOS.  (There was a story floating around in the 1980's that the inventor of CP/M was also contacted but that he never responded to IBM's inquiries.)

Windows 1.0 first appeared in 1985 with a wide selection of mini-applications. 

It wasn't pretty on a character-based monochrome display, and not nearly as complete as the Apple Macintosh which shipped the same year, but it was a beginning.

Version 2.11 would be the first commercially-successful version of the Windows.  It shipped with IBM's newly announced PS/2 line in 1987.  That same year, IBM and Microsoft announced the joint development of OS/2, as a replacement for PC-DOS (IBM's version of MS-DOS) -- utilizing it's own Presentation Manager.  This relationship with IBM would continue until 1990, when it would being to unravel over the relative success of Windows 3.0 over OS/2.  While Microsoft continued to co-develop OS/2 through version 2.   What was to become OS/2 version 3 instead became Windows NT 3.  (Officially, Windows XP (SP2) is version 5.1 of Windows NT.)  IBM went on to release their own in-house developed OS/2 Warp v 3 but it was too little, too late.

So how does this little history lead me to conclude that Bill Gates belongs on the list of those who have shaped IT?  Just this ...

It was Bill Gates' vision of a single operating environment which came with a wide variety of applications which anyone could use with minimal training that brought personal computing to the homes of hundreds of millions of people. 

Did Bill Gates think of it first?  No.  The engineers at Xerox PARC thought of it first, when they integrated a computer workstation running under their own graphical user interface (GUI) with a wide variety of applications, with the mouse, and with their other invention -- the Ethernet.

Did Bill Gates first bring it to the consumer marketplace?  Nope.  That was Steve Jobs, with the Apple Lisa in 1983. 

So why Bill Gates?  Because Bill Gates has made IT both accessible and cost-effective to most everyone ... 

Sure, Apple (the only one of those pioneering companies still in business) is still extolling the virtues of its elegant one-stop solution.  But the Apple solution is still expensive by comparison: 

Personal computer vendors routinely offer loss-leaders for $300 to $500 with typical configurations under $700 and there are dozens of small 'white box' vendors who offer 'roll your own' solutions which offer a level of flexibility available nowhere else.  What's more, these solutions are ubiquitous to the point of being available in stores on most any street corner. 

By comparison, a complete Apple system starts at $1300 and is only available from Apple or an occasional authorized Apple dealer -- at full price. 

Ironically, the ubiquity of Windows-compatible personal computers has also greatly enhanced the availability of Linux-compatible platforms.  Making way for viable alternatives to Windows on identical hardware. 

To be sure many, many people have contributed to the state of IT today but it is clear to me that Bill Gates has played a significant role in the evolution of IT and that contribution should not go unnoticed.

Topic: Apple

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  • Gates should not be on the list, He IS the list.

    Anyone with any knowledge of the industry knows this.
    • very very apt title.

      couldnt agree with you more.
  • Absolutely - Bill Gates and Microsoft have made a lasting impact

    Infact if it was left to IBM, the PC would have remained a toy. To them their earnings would come from mainframes selling to businesses.

    If it was left to Apple they clearly had no idea of what to do with it. They just made a toy and expected people to buy it and say 'hey I got a computer at home'. Not much one could do with it.

    It was Microsoft that came up with revolutionary ideas that made the PC to be used in offices and in projects at many companies.

    Sybase was ported to the PC and they dint bother to do anything more. It was MS which licenced the code from them and with no support or help from Sybase, started tinkering with the code and came up with MS SQL.
    Now mainframes were used for airline reservations. But Microsoft used a multi-tier approach to do the same task 'airline reservations' with PC's and the entire costs was less than 5% of the mainframe.
    The multi-tier approach used a database, multiple mid tier PC's and ofcourse the client PC which the end user used. The mid tier PC's used lots of important techniques such as database connection pooling, off loading the workload to the mid-tier.

    Now a PC costing about $10K then WAS ABLE TO DO WHAT UNTIL THEN WAS DONE BY MINI COMPUTERS OR THE MAINFRAME. Mini were probably costing $1 million or more and mainframes more than $10 million.

    Hence the PC entered the enterprise.

    It is stuff like this that makes Microsoft leaving such a lasting impact on the IT landscape. Credit should go to a large extent to Microsoft programmers and also ofcourse to Bill Gates for leading Microsoft and for being involved in almost all major projects at that time.
  • Gates legitimately belongs on the list

    Both the "Who shapes IT" and the "Who shaped IT" lists. Whether his influence is beneficial or not is, of course, something that we talkbackers argue about on a regular basis.
    John L. Ries
  • If I understand you correctly

    You're crediting Gates with the proliferation of commodity computing platforms, as if he somehow had been the driver behind the IBM PC or perhaps the Intel 808x processors.

    While I will grant that Gates has had a profound impact on IT history, I don't see him as being instrumental (or even particularly influential) in those developments.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • And you do.

      IIRC (and I do, because I was there) the personal computer revolution was fully underway when the IBM PC appeared. If it hadn't been BillG it would have been somebody.

      Nevertheless, it WAS a crappy list.
      • That's right!

        IBM entered a busy marketplace with a number of contenders -- none of whom had any idea how to sell the enterprise (including Apple). IBM introduced an underpowered, arguably inferior, product made from off-the-shelf parts and sold it to business. Name recognition and aggessive pricing brought the IBM PC from the office into the home before Apple, et al, knew what hit them. What was remarkable was thet Bill gates had the foresight not to sign an exclusive contract with IBM. If he had, IBM would have swallowed Microsoft up rather than allow them to compete against OS/2.
        M Wagner
  • Message has been deleted.

    Charles Silverman
    • corrections

      "It wasn't until Window 3.1 in 1992, eight years later, that the Windows had sufficient functionality to compete with what the Macintosh offered"

      Thats not true. Windows 3.0 (late 80's) was hugely successful. However Microsoft had sowed the seeds for it long long before that.

      Microsoft was doing multi-tier apporach (database connection pooling ... etc in mid 80's) a lot of those techniques are widely used today. Microsoft showed whats possible with a PC.

      Microsoft had Win32 which is by far a better API for programming than objective C that Apple uses today (what crapware is that).
    • Microsoft showed whats possible with a PC

      Microsoft showed whats possible with a PC. Hence the wide adoption of PC and MS-Dos.

      What did Apple show. Okay they made the first GUI computer (which the copied from Xerox) but didnt have anything significant to show after that.
  • some corrections

    The first Mac came out in January, 1984, and Windows 1.0 didn't
    appear until until November
    1985. Remember Apple's Macintosh1984 Superbowl commercial!
    Windows was an unabashed attempt to copy the Mac after Bill
    tried and failed to get Steve Jobs to license the Mac OS to other
    hardware vendors. It wasn't until Window 3.1 in 1992, eight
    years later, that the Windows had sufficient functionality to
    compete with what the Macintosh offered. Back then, Microsoft
    owed more to Windows' success to the fact that it ran on a hugh
    installed base of MS-DOS computers, the choice of many
    businesses, rather than anything having to do with innovation or
    orginality. While Xerox PARC provided GUI inspirations for Lisa
    and the Mac OS, Apple did sufficient innovation in the process
    so the claim of copying just isn't that accurate. These days,
    many reviewers are noticing that Vista looks like another
    attempt to copy Mac OS X.
    Charles Silverman
    • ????

      Charles - a sad fact. The revolution happened on MS-DOS - not the Mac. You may be watching too many movies - you represent only 3% of the global computing world.

      Apple attempted to make a computer that they would have total control over. The IBM PC, MS-DOS and Windows welcomed external software and hardware development. It's pretty obvious as to which approach worked.

      And arguing that Windows is a copy of an Apple copy of a Xerox OS is a little disingenuous. Remember Windows brought in the first major innovation - 2 mouse buttons and the concept of a menu for EACH window - just little things but way ahead of the Apple who were so convinced that 2 buttons would confuse their users - they may have been right. ;-)
    • I didn't claim that Bill Gates ...

      ... was an innovator. It's the innovators at Xerox who deserve the credit for the technology. Not Microsoft and not Apple. The inability of Xerox to effectively market their own inventions though is legendary.

      The installed base of MS-DOS computers was huge for two reasons. (1) Bill Gates did not enter into an exclusive relationship with IBM, so that anyone could produce a clone, of which there were many by the time Windows 2.x shipped. (2) MS-DOS machines, while clunky by comparison, were (and still are) half the price of Apple's offerings.

      By the time that Windows 2.11 hit the streets their were others who had introduced similar 'integrated' products running under MS-DOS but none of them survived.
      M Wagner
  • Blogger corrections

    Sorry you obviously don't read the bloggers here.

    [sarcasm]Bill Gates had nothing to do with anything except creating evil monopolies. He couldn't program, used other people's work and is as close to Darth Vader as is humanly possible.[/sarcasm]

    Apple on the other hand made the first Xerox copy operating system with no multitasking, did an extreme makeover of a *nix OS and rebadged an MP3 player. Oh and I actually 'used' the Apple Lisa. If you waited long enough you could say "Wow look at that font" - if you typed something in. But actually use it for something? - sorry I'm laughing so much I'm choking.

    If you were actually alive during the 70s and 80s you can remember what actually happened. Computing was revolutionized, first with the IBM PC (the first real business PC) and MS-DOS and then Windows. Sure there were some ads running in 1984 about the Mac and a few people bought them - so many in fact that they are still at around 3% of global usage. The other revolution was in software development with the advent of the Visual IDE. I could go on and on. Apple of course went on to successfully invent the fantasy world of movies, where everyone uses an Apple. You've got to hand it to Apple - innovation NO, development environments NO but superficial design and marketing - YES!!!.

    So I agree with others here, Bill Gates isn't just on the list, he is the list.
    • well said

      Any other country would have given Bill Gates the highest civilian medal.

      Its only in the US where majority lack the math and science education and who only know the popular culture, know what they know from marketing, believing perception to be reality.

      When you look at the achievements of Microsoft and the innovations that it has done and believed and delivered in its mantra of software, its a pity that Microsoft is not viewed as a NATIONAL ASSET.
      • And what country would that be?

        Any country that actually means anything?
        • definitly makes a lot of sense

          where majority have excellent math and science education.
      • How can you say that?

        Innovation, hell no. it?s documented proof that he stole everything. He didn?t innovate anything, it?s all been done before by others, he just put his name on it, and paid people off. Just research the web, I?m tired of posting MS lawsuits.
  • Microsoft could be considered a National Asset if they acted like it!

    Yet they release software that interrogates the computers it runs on expecting to find a software thief. I'm sure the lawyers looked at the verbiage before it got released. No the WGA doesn't come right out and call you a thief BUT with the way it works, the implication is there.

    You want to know why MS isn't considered a National Treasure? That's why. That and all of the other self-inflicted PR disasters over the last 20 years.

    Read the EULA. That tells the tale. They will not accept responsibility for any of their software failures!
    • And that's why.........

      I'm running Linux right now and will be until they accept the responsibility of providing a safe, secure and reliable product that people can trust. Until then I'm not holding my breath!