Episode 68: Bill Gates and Microsoft

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 68: Bill Gates and Microsoft

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Now for the podcast:


William Henry Gates III was born in Seattle, WA, in 1955. Bill Gates met Paul Allen in high school in the late 1960s. The two were very interested in the school’s teletype machine. Teletypes were the first computer terminals and were used to send messages to other teletypes. The school limited each student’s time on the teletype. However, Gates and Allen discovered bugs in the system and took advantage of them so they could have more time on it. They ended up debugging the program. They also wrote a program to monitor traffic in Seattle, for which they made $20,000.

Allen went to college in Washington state. Gates went to college at Harvard in 1973 to study law. However, both dropped out of college and founded Microsoft in 1975, just one year before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. Microsoft’s first product was a program, written in the BASIC computer language, that ran the Altair computer. In fact, the pair wrote the program only after the Altair company agreed to see a demonstration. They presented it without having tested it on an Altair beforehand. It worked perfectly.

Microsoft moved to the Seattle area in 1979, when the company was making about $2.5 million. Gates was 23, and he was the head of the company.

Bill Gates’ mother, Mary, served on IBM’s corporate board of directors. Through her, Gates met IBM’s CEO. He eventually made a deal with IBM to license the MS-DOS operating system for the IBM personal computer (PC). When other companies cloned IBM’s PC, Microsoft was then able to license MS-DOS to them, too. Business was so good that Microsoft’s gross revenue was $16 million by 1981. It was a global company by 1983, with about 30 percent of the world’s computers running Microsoft software.

MS-DOS was a keyboard-driven system. Only text showed on the screen. On the other hand, Apple computers had a graphical user interface (GUI). In fact, Microsoft and Apple worked together to produce much of the new PC operating-system (OS) technology in those days. Gates saw that Apple’s GUI was a big threat to Microsoft’s MS-DOS, so he announced that Microsoft would develop the Windows OS and it would run on PCs currently running MS-DOS. However, Microsoft was not working on Windows at the time. This was a genius marketing move because people would wait for Windows rather than buying Apple computers.

This made Gates and Jobs enemies, and it cemented the differences between Microsoft and Apple products forever. Windows 1.0 was launched in 1985, and it looked very similar to Apple’s GUI. At the time of this recording, Windows is now up to version 11.

More Microsoft facts:

  • Bill Gates became one of the richest men in the world because of his business and computer skills.

  • Paul Allen left Microsoft in 1983 because he had cancer. He recovered but didn’t rejoin the company. He died in 2018.

  • Microsoft’s headquarters moved to Redmond, WA, also near Seattle, in 1986.

  • Also in 1986, Microsoft went public, which instantly made four billionaires and 12,000 millionaires out of Microsoft employees.

  • Microsoft Office, including MS Word and Excel, was introduced in 1990.

  • Windows 95, introduced in August 1995, included Internet Explorer, a web browser that allowed the OS to take advantage of the fast-growing internet.

  • The first Xbox game console was released in 2001.

  • Microsoft bought Hotmail in 1997 and renamed it Outlook in 2012.

Bill Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000 and became Chief Software Architect, but he remained Chairman of the Board. In 2008, he stopped working for Microsoft altogether to give more time to the charity he founded with his wife, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gateses have personally donated over $36 billion in Microsoft stock to the foundation so far.

Bill Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s Chairman of the Board in 2014. He chairs his foundation now and has received many awards for his ongoing philanthropic work.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.