Here's to Bill

July 24, 2008

Bill Gates' final day as an employee of Microsoft was June 27, 2008. Let's all raise our virtual glasses in a toast! Or maybe a virtual fist-bump is better - here you go: III!

I had intended to type this up in time for Mr. Gates' last day, but just simply didn't have time. This marks a historic change at the software behemoth in Washington. Love him or hate him (and there are many people on each side), few people truly realize the impact he has had on the world as we know it.

I love the fact that in America, you can get a crazy and creative idea and run with it. Gates realized that Intel's 8080 chip released in April 1974 was the first affordable chip that could run BASIC in a computer that could be small enough to be classified as a "personal" computer. Then he read an article in the January '75 issue of Popular Electronics about a microcomputer called the Altair 8800 made by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), which ran on an Intel 8080. Realizing that he had to seize the moment because the timing would never be right again, Gates took a leave of absence as a student at Harvard and contacted MITS about developing a BASIC interpreter for that machine. He collaborated with Paul Allen to prepare demo software and close the deal, then he and Paul Allen formed a company named "Micro-soft." The hyphen was dropped in 1976.

Can we imagine what our world would be like had Gates missed reading that magazine in January ‘75? Or if he had decided to finish school and become a lawyer as his parents had hoped? I can't imagine what technology I'd be using to produce documents like this today if Gates and Allen didn't follow through on their crazy idea in 1975.

To get an idea of how deeply Bill Gates has influenced us today, just try either running a business or doing your job without interacting with a computer. If it's not impossible, it's very very difficult at best. Next, try running the computers for your business without ANY Microsoft products. Again, this is difficult but not totally impossible. Then, try interacting with other businesses that use Microsoft products. If you're then successful doing that, think of how many of your daily activities involve a Microsoft product.

I actually worked for a boss in the mid-90's who hated Microsoft. He ran IBM OS/2 operating systems and non-Microsoft applications (Word Perfect, Quattro Pro spreadsheets, etc.). He didn't want to be reminded that Gates originally helped develop OS/2 in partnership with IBM. When IBM dropped support for OS/2, my boss capitulated and migrated to Windows.

At SoftLayer, we use and support a lot of non-Microsoft products. But we couldn't do what we do today without Microsoft products, and many of our customers demand Microsoft products.
In typical American entrepreneurial fashion, SoftLayer started with some semi-crazy ideas to connect the dots between different products in creative ways that had not been previously done. We will do well to have a fraction of the impact that Bill Gates has made.