Microsoft: The Mogul and His Marketeers A Look at William Henry Gates III, the Sovereign King of Computer Techies

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BILL GATES is famous for his inability to sit still. In meetings he rocks back and forth with pent-up energy, as if he were a small boy waiting to burst from his chair. When walking down halls he has been known to spontaneously leap upward. If he ever jumps as successfully as he runs a business he'll be the first human to reach orbit from a standing start. Critics may call him a monopolist, decry his business tactics, and complain Microsoft technology isn't that great. But it's hard to deny that William Henry Gates III is one of the most successful business leaders of this or any other age, for that matter. He's America's richest man, the king of computer techies, the patron saint of those who wear pocket protectors. To millions worldwide he is the most visible symbol of a technological revolution. To others, he symbolizes the danger that this revolution is concentrating power too narrowly. The CEO of Microsoft Corporation may be better groomed now than he was when the personal-computer software industry was a relative business backwater. He no longer walks around with his glasses as dirty as an old windshield. His hair is better cut, his clothes more expensive. Not that this means he wears Armani suits. At a recent presentation on interactive TV, the Internet, and "wallet PCs", Gates spoke wearing an argyle sweater. What hasn't changed is his passion for technology: seeing a computer in every home, on every desk, and "information at your fingertips." Having carved out a virtual monopoly in the basic software that runs PCs, he is busy trying to expand into new fields of technology. Yet success doesn't seem to have gone to his head, analysts say. He is so competitive that he runs scared even in areas where Microsoft dominates. "Gates is as tight with a buck as he ever was," says Mark Macgillivray, managing director of H&M Consulting in Sunnyvale, Calif. Gates watches that Microsoft's division's don't get flabby even as they add workers and rush to create new products. Others in the industry have as clear a sense of where technology is headed over the next 20 years. Gates is known more as a shrewd businessman than as a technical wizard or visionary futurist. He stands apart in his ability to map out orderly steps to make the vision reality, says Jesse Berst, editorial director of Windows Watcher, a newsletter about Microsoft. Gates is "a chess player who can see several moves ahead of his opponents," Mr. Berst says. "His timing is impeccable," agrees Mark Anderson, a consultant and founder of Technology Alliance Partners in Friday Harbor, Wash. But it is not clear whether Gates, who loves strategy games such as bridge and poker, will be able to keep his winning streak alive indefinitely. Observers say Microsoft's dominance of the software industry could be stopped by an unforeseen technology shift, or by the actions of rivals or government antitrust lawyers. The company could even be slowed by its sheer size and scope of its own activities. …