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Paul Allen's memoir, 'Idea Man,' shows Bill Gates in a mixed light

March 30, 2011 | 12:48 pm


Paul Allen's memoir, "Idea Man," won't be in stores until April 19, but Vanity Fair has an excerpt that's telling. In it, Allen remembers the 13-year-old Bill Gates -- they were classmates -- as smart, competitive, persistent and entrepreneurial. He also writes that as he was suffering from cancer, Gates and Steve Ballmer "were scheming to rip me off."

From the excerpt in Vanity Fair:

One evening in late December 1982, I heard Bill and Steve speaking heatedly in Bill's office and paused outside to listen in. It was easy to get the gist of the conversation. They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to themselves and other shareholders. It was clear that they'd been thinking about this for some time.

Unable to stand it any longer, I burst in on them and shouted, "This is unbelievable! It shows your true character, once and for all." I was speaking to both of them, but staring straight at Bill. Caught red-handed, they were struck dumb. Before they could respond, I turned on my heel and left.

I replayed their dialogue in my mind while driving home, and it felt more and more heinous to me. I helped start the company and was still an active member of management, though limited by my illness, and now my partner and my colleague were scheming to rip me off. It was mercenary opportunism, plain and simple.

There was a reconciliation -- Allen includes an apologetic note from Gates, and a conversation with Ballmer -- but Allen, who was a co-founder of Microsoft, had already decided he was ready to go. He left his position at the company in February 1983.

Allen's company, Vulcan Inc., has a portfolio that includes technology companies, the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers. He has been a funder of the Experience Music Project; the Alien Telescope Array; the Paul Allen Institute for Brain Science; and Tier One, the team that won the Ansari X prize to successfully build and fly the first suborbital commercial spacecraft.

"Idea Man" is being published by Penguin.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Paul Allen and Bill Gates in 1981. Credit: Microsoft Corp. via Bloomberg News