So Long, Bill Gates, and Thanks for the Monopoly

He’s a merciless competitor, a shameless “fan” of other people’s ideas and an unapologetic monopolist. And because of all that, Bill Gates has done more to create the thriving computer industry than anybody else.

As Gates prepares to retire from full-time work at Microsoft July 1, after 33 years of doing everything from writing code to defending his company’s business practices in court, many people are saying ‘good riddance’ to the man most techies loved to hate. What the critics won’t acknowledge is that it was Gates’ most obnoxious qualities that made it possible for the tech industry to grow as large as it has.

“In his prime, Gates combined the monomania of the compulsive software programmer with the competitiveness of Attila the Hun,” said Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter and The Big Switch.

And that was a good thing. “A lot of people see Microsoft as the enemy of openness and innovation, but it’s worth remembering that it was the open architecture of the Microsoft-based PC that spurred massive creativity in both hardware and software and sped the adoption of computers both at home and at work,” Carr said.

In fact, the monopoly that Microsoft once had on computer operating systems was essential to the development of the computer industry, enforcing a de facto standard that permitted thousands of software and hardware companies to blossom.