June 25, 2024

An ‘Unvarnished’ Peek Into Microsoft’s History

At one point in the book, which will be published on Tuesday, Mr. Allen describes Mr. Gates as a partner “who could take my ideas and magnify them.” At another point, Mr. Allen writes, “Our great string of successes had married my vision to his unmatched aptitude for business.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Allen denied, in an interview on Friday, that the book was an effort to swing the pendulum of history in his direction, to claim more of the credit for critical decisions at the birth of the personal computer industry.

“I just think this is my side of the story told in an unvarnished, warts-and-all way,” Mr. Allen said.

Fiery confrontations between Mr. Allen and Mr. Gates drew considerable attention last month after an excerpt of the book was published in the May issue of Vanity Fair and on the magazine’s Web site. The clashes came over product decisions, hiring plans and their shares in the young company.

In the book, Mr. Allen quotes from a letter he wrote to Mr. Gates in June 1982, explaining why he planned to leave Microsoft. “Over the years,” Mr. Allen wrote in the letter, “the result of these and other incidents has been the gradual destruction of both our friendship and our ability to work together.”

Later that year, Mr. Allen was told that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and while he was successfully treated, Mr. Allen resigned as a Microsoft employee in February 1983. That was less than eight years after the company was founded, and three years before Microsoft became a public company in 1986. Still, by 1983, Microsoft was well on its way to becoming a powerhouse company in the PC era.

“We had an amazing friendship and an amazing partnership,” Mr. Allen said in the interview on Friday. “That unraveled at Microsoft.”

Yet, as the book makes clear, the friendship was mended over time. When Mr. Allen was again struck with cancer in 2009, Mr. Gates was one of his most frequent visitors. “He was everything you’d want from a friend, caring and concerned,” Mr. Allen writes.

Their friendship was forged over many years, beginning at Lakeside School, a private school in Seattle, where they met and first encountered computing, on a time-sharing terminal there linked to a mainframe miles away.

The book is filled with admiring observations about Mr. Gates, his intelligence, his intensity, even his sense of humor. The two men, Mr. Allen writes, have seen about 500 movies together. At Lakeside, Mr. Allen recounts a senior-year assignment to write essays about those “near and dear to me.” In the book, Mr. Allen quotes from the essay he wrote about Mr. Gates. It ends, “We fit together very well.”

Indeed, Mr. Allen describes his years at Microsoft as being “like a failed romance. Parts of the relationship had been wonderful, but I remembered the negatives, too.”

But bonds, if loosened, remained. Mr. Allen was a member of the Microsoft board until 2000, and Mr. Gates invited Mr. Allen to his wedding in 1994. Mr. Allen’s stake in the company made him immensely wealthy, worth an estimated $13.5 billion, enabling him to own two professional sports teams, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks, and finance ambitious research projects on artificial intelligence and mapping the brain.

Mr. Allen said he still owned a “substantial,” though undisclosed, holding of Microsoft shares.

Of his bitter feelings years ago, Mr. Allen said, “I got over it. And then we went on. I think we’ve both mellowed.”

Mr. Allen sent Mr. Gates, and several others from the early Microsoft days, copies of his book. Mr. Gates issued a statement when the excerpt appeared in Vanity Fair, saying his recollection of incidents described in the book differed from Mr. Allen’s, but that he still valued Mr. Allen’s friendship and his contributions to Microsoft.

The book’s title, “Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-Founder of Microsoft” (Portfolio/Penguin), captures Mr. Allen’s view of his role. His ideas, according to the book, included recognizing that the early microprocessors of the 1970s could run software for a general-purpose PC, naming the company and creating the two-button mouse (Apple’s had a single button; the Xerox PARC Alto used a three-button model).

Steve Wood, employee No. 6 at Microsoft, said Mr. Allen’s contributions had probably not been widely recognized, largely because he left so early and Microsoft became huge and powerful later, when Mr. Gates personified Microsoft. The precise role of each man is “a very subjective thing” and “very context-dependent,” said Mr. Wood, who has read the book.

“But clearly, Microsoft would never have happened without both of them,” Mr. Wood said.

Another early employee who read the book said he thought the “Batman and Robin” portrayal was “particularly unfair to Bill.” The person, who asked not to be named because of his friendship with both men, said Mr. Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, is a self-trained computer scientist, who wrote most of the company’s first product, Microsoft Basic (Mr. Allen wrote the programming development tools).

“Time and again, Bill was the one who made it happen,” the person said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=30e6b3c87c4e7a957f53285d01a61f8c

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