Bill Gates' legacy: A modern day Henry Ford

Bill Gates is arguably the individual who has had the biggest impact on the world of technology and his departure from Microsoft on 27 June will mark the end of an era.
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor on
Bill Gates is arguably the individual who has had the biggest impact on the world of technology and his departure from Microsoft on 27 June will mark the end of an era.

During his career Gates has made Microsoft into one of the biggest companies in the world with products that have long been ubiquitous for computer users.

But the company has also suffered from accusations of anti-competitive behavior with well-publicized battles with US regulators and the European Union.

Video: (Left) Bill Gates' hits and misses

So what is Bill Gates' legacy as he departs from the mega-corporation he built from scratch and how will his time as Microsoft figurehead be remembered?

Rob Horwitz, co-founder of analyst firm, Directions on Microsoft, compares Gates to car manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford.

He said: "Gates took an arcane technology that was accessible to few and figured out how to re-engineer, extend, package and market it so that it was relevant and affordable to the masses." He added: "Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile, and Gates didn't invent the computer but the brilliance of both was in figuring out how to make their respective products ubiquitous."

ZDNet bloggers on Bill Gates

Mary-Jo Foley, Microsoft expert and blogger on silicon.com sister site ZDNet.com, says Gates has created legacies in both technology and philanthropy.

She said: "On the tech front, I'd say Gates will be remembered for making good on his goal of helping popularize personal computing. Microsoft did end up enabling consumer and business users to deploy--almost--a PC on every desk."

She added: "He helped create a partner ecosystem, via which a number of hardware, software and service vendors built entire businesses around Microsoft software."

But Foley also noted that Gates played a major role in putting numerous companies out of business through Microsoft's aggressive competition.

"Some of these companies claim Microsoft stole their ideas; others collapsed from being squeezed out of the market by Goliath [Microsoft]," Foley said.

In terms of what Gates will be remembered for, Foley said many will recall him as a "hard-charging competitor who was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the personal computing boom."

On the other hand, she said others may remember a "ruthless competitor who got away with a lot of illegal monopolistic behavior."

Bill Gates--a retrospective Photos: (Left) Bill Gates--a retrospecitve

But she concluded: "I think both sides will remember Gates as a nerd who made good--and ultimately did a lot of good with the billions he made through his Foundation work."

Forrester analyst George F Colony says the ruthless way in which Microsoft achieved its dominant position under Gates wasn't as detrimental as others would argue.

Writing on his blog Colony refers to the behavior employed by Gates as "constructive monopolist" due to the benefits it created for technology users by creating a set of standards.

Like Directions on Microsoft's Hurwitz, Colony compares Gates to another famous figure, Thomas Edison. He said both created good technologies and "worked to get them accepted by more users than their competitors."

"Gates has been a business innovator, not a technology innovator. [He] had the vision to see this future and he possessed the competitive drive to force his technologies into monopoly positions in the marketplace," Colony added.

Colony also suggests part of the reason Microsoft has failed to convincingly combat Google--and why Steve Jobs has been able to resurrect his career so spectacularly--is that Gates has been focusing much more on his philanthropic activities in recent years than the company he founded.

Colony summed up Gates' single most important legacy as: "The ability, through monopolistic business practices, to make Microsoft's products global, de facto standards for business and consumers."

David Mitchell, senior analyst with Ovum, said Gates' legacy centers on technology produced before the modern "Vista generation" of the company.

"He helped to create a generation of people in the industry that focus on usability and making computing a simpler experience that ordinary people can manage," Mitchell said.

He added: "He was one of the people responsible for the democratization of computing, taking it from the hands of technical elite into the mainstream of business and the home."

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