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Microsoft cofounder Allen unloads on Gates

In money as in code: unforgiving

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

St. Bill Gates, latter-day savior of philanthropy, has been recast as an alpha geek in a memoir penned by fellow Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

Gates was always reputed to be a tough and driven boss, demanding of his employees and unforgiving of bad code. According to Allen's forthcoming book, though, Gates played hardball from day one on the business side, as well – and with his friend and cofounder.

Gates apparently claimed 60 per cent of revenue from sales of the original BASIC code, with Allen getting 40 per cent. The ratio later changing to 64-36 after their first big sale, with Allen agreeing to the change.

Later, in 1982 when Allen had been diagnosed with cancer, Allen is reported to have said he overhead Gates and current chief executive Steve Ballmer discussing Allen's lack of recent contributions to the young company, and talking about how to dilute Allen's stock allocation.

Allen reckons the pair backed down when he confronted them.

Stock seems to the biggest bone of contention in a relationship that dated from school and that, legend dictates, remains friendly. According to Allen, he asked for an increase in his Microsoft stock allocation following his work on Microsoft's SoftCard, but was rejected by Gates.

According to The Wall St Journal, which obtained an early copy of Allen's memoir, entitled Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft:

Mr. Allen was deeply disappointed in the response from Mr. Gates, whom he had known since Mr. Allen was a tenth grader and Mr. Gates was an eighth grader at a prestigious private school in Seattle.

"In that moment, something died for me," Mr. Allen writes. "I'd thought that our partnership was based on fairness, but now I saw that Bill's self-interest overrode all other considerations. My partner was out to grab as much of the pie as possible and hold on to it, and that was something I could not accept."

Mr. Allen said he sucked it up and thought, "OK ... but one day I'm out of here."

When Allen finally left Microsoft in 1983, Gates tried to buy back Allen's stock for $5 per share – half the price Allen wanted. Allen kept his Microsoft shares and went on to become one of the richest men in the world, now worth $13.5bn.

Allen also recalls that the night before he and Gates were scheduled to present their first commercial product – BASIC for the Altair 8080 – Gates had stayed up double-checking Allen's code to make sure there were no mistakes.

Like any memoir, it's not clear how much is factually correct or how events have been reshaped by time and the subject's recollections. For example, Allen has claimed to be in meetings that others say he didn't attend, such as the hiring of a programmer in the early days.

Gates is reported to have responded simply in a written statement: "While my recollection of many of these events may differ from Paul's, I value his friendship and the important contributions he made to the world of technology and at Microsoft". ®

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