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Bill Gates leaves an enormous legacy but an uncertain future

June 27, 2008 | 12:12 pm
Bill Gates in 1990

As Bill Gates leaves full-time work as chairman of Microsoft today, he can look back on one of the most extraordinary careers in the annals of business -- a rise from college dropout to world's wealthiest individual. Along the way, his forceful execution fulfilled the audacious goal of putting a computer in nearly every home, at least in the U.S.

But the company Gates leaves behind is, at long last, floundering. Its stock price is where it was six years ago. Microsoft has just bungled an attempt to buy Yahoo in what would have been the largest acquisition in Silicon Valley history. And the attention of the technology world, once riveted on the Redmond, Wash., company, has turned elsewhere, to Google and beyond.

Perhaps most surprising, Microsoft appears to be losing ground on the one product that it rode to world dominance: the operating system powering 9 in 10 personal computers.

By coincidence, today also marks the last day of general availability of Windows XP, the operating system that Microsoft finally got right. Its successor, Windows Vista, is so unworthy that even Microsoft's closest partner, top chip maker Intel, is refusing to distribute it to employees.

What do you think? If Gates went wrong, where? Will Microsoft ever command the technology industry again?

-- Joseph Menn

Photo: Bill Gates in 1990. Credit: Marty Lederhandler / Associated Press

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