One of the greatest industrialists of all times, certainly the greatest of modern times retired last Friday. William Henry Gates, after 33 years as the Chief Executive Officer, Software Architect and Chairman of the Board of the Microsoft Corporation called it quits. His retirement closes out the era in which the microprocessor-based computer went from a hobbyist curiosity to the ubiquitous device of the modern world. Distributed computing grew from an obscure niche in computer science to the communication fabric of the current digital millennium.
Bill Gates’ vision took Microsoft Corporation from a group of young, wild-eyed, enthusiastic iconoclasts to being one of the most valuable corporations in the world. He did it without a dollar from the taxpayers, without the assistance of any government agency, asking only to be paid for his product. It is a classic story of creating wealth from nothingness through the power of vision, human creativity and hard work.
Gates’ detractors were largely competitors that fell by the wayside as they could not keep up with his vision as he redefined the modern corporation in its abilities to respond to customer needs and input in a rapidly changing market and technological infrastructure. Xerox, Apple, IBM, Digital Equipment, and Sun all at one time or another had superior technologies, higher market valuations and larger capital pools than Microsoft. Yet by the dawn of the twenty-first century, after only 25 years they had all been left behind. Xerox was out of the computer business entirely, after having invented the graphical user interface, networking and the mouse pointer. Digital Equipment and the VAX architecture are dead and buried. Sun is on life support as it watches market share crumble away. IBM dramatically reinvented itself when it had one foot in the grave but now sells more services than hardware. Apple emulated Microsoft by remaking itself with its multimedia products, the iPod and iPhone.
When Sun and Netscape conspired successfully to get the justice department to consider Microsoft as a monopoly, there was a momentary hesitation by Gates as he was dragged in to a world that he had never considered relevant: the politics of envy in Washington. When this happened Microsoft did not even have an office in Washington, let alone any lobbyists. That was as foreign to Bill Gates mentality as alchemy. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Judge Robert Penfield Jackson when he struck a blow for economic freedom by ruling in favor of the defendant, Microsoft.
Along the way Bill Gates created more billionaires and millionaires than any firm in history. Microsoft has extended his vision of distributed computing in a networked world from the Ivy League towers of Harvard to every country and continent on the face of the earth, from outer space to huts in the third world. All he asked was that people pay for his product. Don’t steal it he implored: a voluntary transaction between vendor and customer.
Microsoft, when sued by Sun et al., had not had a price increase in many years. They continue to donate millions of dollars of hardware and software every year to charity. Their development tools and libraries are available for free on the internet to anyone that has the desire, the knowledge and the ability to make the next killer app and join the millionaires club.
There could be no Google unless there first had been a Microsoft. Linux is only viable because of it’s devoted copying of Windows. The internet started as a device for laboratories to communicate with one another rapidly if primitively; now it has come in multi-media splendor to your living room. Only providence knows where it will go next.
Bill Gates ennobled mankind by empowering it to see deeper, to stretch its imaginations farther, and to connect with others from different faiths, philosophies, and continents by sharing the joint intellectual property of knowledge. A classic positive-sum economic game where the whole is greater than its parts and no one loses because all commerce is of free will and voluntary. Bill Gates is a giant of capitalism.
Thank for your effort.
George Giles [send him mail] is an Independent writer in Nashville, TN.