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Gates and Ballmer mount buddies act in Fortune

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There's a love-in conversation between Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in the 25 October issue of Fortune magazine. It's billed as the $100 billion friendship, the pre-eminent buddy act in American business. They have known each other for 25 years, since their days at Harvard. Gates boldly claims "That summer [1975] I wrote BASIC for the MITS Altair..." which will be news to the co-developer (some say principal) Paul Allen, and Monte Davidoff. Gates also notes that shortly afterwards, somebody on Long Island "offered to buy Microsoft for seven or eight million dollars -I mean, nothing." Ballmer was "exactly the kind of help" that Gates decided he needed to run Microsoft, at a time when there were 30 employees. He confessed he had overloaded himself, and that the company "was a bit of a mess". Ballmer was offered more than any other employee, but they couldn't seem to agree how much that had been, with Ballmer believing it to be $40,000 and Gates claiming $56,000. The text of the offer letter was left on the Wang word processor, so before long copies were circulating round the office and it became known that Ballmer was a shareholder, along with Gates and Allen. Microsoft's obsession for keeping a great deal of cash on hand can be traced back to an obsession of Gates about being able to meet the payroll. Ballmer wanted to hire 40 more people, but Gates was very conservative, which resulted in their first big row. Ballmer claims that a year ago, the Internet and user-interface innovations were not getting enough of Gates' attention, which was one reason why he became president. There's no clue as to why it hadn't happened earlier, but reading between the lines, it looks as though Gates was a control freak unwilling to surrender any turf. Gates speaks of some big technology bets: the GUI; NT; and a new way for developing software applications for the Web that will start with Windows 2000. He didn't count the volte face to the Internet as a bet, but something evolving out of WebTV was his bet for the living room. Towards the end, Gates mentioned "a unique feature of our technology - it empowers the individual. Our competitors who are doing server-based applications are sort of anti-empowerment - they take away that portable computing and move it to the centre of the network. ... our approach is a counterpoint to those who choose the single-point-of-failure model, where if the server goes down, you can't do anything." He seemed quite unaware of what Microsoft was desperately trying to achieve with server versions of Windows 2000, let alone the fact that server failure was often the result of using NT instead of Unix. ®

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