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‘Heartbroken’ Bill Gates Mourns Passing Of Paul Allen

‘Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry,’ says Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in a blog post on the passing of his co-founder partner Paul Allen. ‘That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together. In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul.’

A "heartbroken" Bill Gates says that without his "true partner and dear friend" Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen Microsoft would not have been formed and the PC industry would simply not exist.

"I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paul Allen," said Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a statement released by his private office. "From our early days together at Lakeside School, through our partnership in the creation of Microsoft, to some of our joint philanthropic projects over the years, Paul was a true partner and dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him."

Allen passed away at the age of 65 on Monday in Seattle due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Gates and Allen first met at the private Lakeside School in Seattle where they both shared a passion for programming and computers. The two Microsoft co-founders are shown in old photographs using the school's Teletype terminal.

Gates wrote a heart-wrenching tribute recalling those early days at Lakeside in a blog post on gatesnotes.

"I met Paul when I was in 7th grade, and it changed my life," wrote Gates, who posted a photo of him and Allen in the Lakeside computer room. "I looked up to him right away. He was two years ahead of me in school, really tall, and proved to be a genius with computers. (Later, he also had a very cool beard, which I could never pull off.) We started hanging out together, especially once the first computer arrived at our school. We spent just about all our free time messing around with any computer we could get our hands on."

Gates said Allen was "cooler" than he was and and was really into guitar legend Jimi Hendrix as a teenager. "I remember him playing ‘Are You Experienced?’ for me," wrote Gates. "I wasn’t experienced at much of anything back then, and Paul wanted to share this amazing music with me. That’s the kind of person he was. He loved life and the people around him, and it showed."

Allen foresaw that computers would change the world, wrote Gates. "Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry," said Gates. "That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together. In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul."

In fact, Allen, who was inspired by the invention of the first PCs including the Altair 8800 computer, convinced Gates to leave Harvard in order to co-found Microsoft.

"In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area—he was working, and I was going to college," recalled Gates in his blog post. "One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: ‘This is happening without us!’ That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul."

As one of his oldest friends and first business partner, Gates said Allen set a standard that few others could meet. "He had a wide-ranging mind and a special talent for explaining complicated subjects in a simple way," recalled Gates. "Since I was lucky enough to know him from such a young age, I saw that before the rest of the world did. As a teenager, I was curious about (of all things) gasoline. What did ‘refining’ even mean? I turned to the most knowledgeable person I knew. Paul explained it in a super-clear and interesting way. It was just one of many enlightening conversations we would have over the coming decades."

Allen left Microsoft in 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease but remained on the board as the company's second largest shareholder until resigning in 2000.

After Microsoft, Allen formed a company, Vulcan, to oversee his ambitious philanthropic and business ventures, which included ownership of two professional sports teams, the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers.

"Sports was another passion that Paul loved to share with his friends," wrote Gates, who also posted a picture of Allen and himself at a basketball game. "In later years he would take me to see his beloved Portland Trail Blazers and patiently helped me understand everything that was happening on the court."

Allen was also the investor behind Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne sub-orbital private commercial space venture, and in 2011 launched Stratolaunch Systems, developer of a six-engine jet aircraft that is expected to be able to carry a rocket to high altitude where it could launch a spacecraft at a lower cost than traditional rocket launches.

On the philanthropic side, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has supported multiple nonprofit organizations. Allen himself signed The Giving Pledge, under which he promised to leave at least half of his estate to philanthropic causes.

Gates said in his statement that Allen wasn’t content with starting one company. "He channeled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people’s lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world," said Gates. "He was fond of saying, ‘If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it.’ That’s the kind of person he was."

Gates said Allen "loved life and those around him and we all cherished him" in return. "When I think about Paul, I remember a passionate man who held his family and friends dear," wrote Gates. "I also remember a brilliant technologist and philanthropist who wanted to accomplish great things, and did. Paul deserved more time in life. He would have made the most of it. I will miss him tremendously."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for his part, said Allen’s contributions to Microsoft, the industry and community are indispensable. "As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world," wrote Nadella in a post at Microsoft.com. "I have learned so much from him— his inquisitiveness, curiosity and push for high standards are something that will continue to inspire me and all of us at Microsoft. Our hearts are with Paul’s family and loved ones. Rest in peace."

Through his pioneering software work with Microsoft, Allen is also credited with helping to create the modern IT sales channel, which now totals more than 150,000 IT solution providers in North America.

Joe Balsarotti, a 37-year industry veteran who is the owner and president of Software To Go, a top solution provider in the St. Louis metropolitan market, says Allen is one of the pioneers who moved personal computing from what was the realm of hobbyists and clubs into a business.

"Paul Allen was part of the team that made Microsoft what it is and absolutely changed the world," said Balsarotti. "We have lost a heck of a lot of pioneers way too young. You have to have visionaries so we can do what we do well, which is put together technology for businesses. We solve the customer's problems with technology."

Balsarotti, who was on his way to Seattle for a meeting of The ASCII Group, an independent IT community and cooperative founded in 1984, says Allen and Gates in the early days of the industry showed off their latest software offerings at PC clubs.

Balsarotti recalled the frenzy around the big productivity gains experienced by businesses in the early days of the PC industry. "If you knew anything about computers in the early 1980s you could make money," he said. "It was very easy to prove the value of a PC to businesses in terms of the productivity gains. We would talk about how much time a bookkeeper could save or a typist that no longer had to retype a letter on a typewriter. You could see small businesses thinking bigger and getting bigger and it snowballed from there."

Balsarotti never did meet Allen, but he did get a chance to meet Gates during a PC users group meeting where Gates personally demonstrated the Excel spreadsheet.

Balsarotti also got a chance to meet Gates several years ago at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. "I thanked him for creating the industry I work in," said Balsarotti. "I told him I had been selling products since Olympic Decathalon [an early Microsoft sports game]."

Balsarotti said Allen's loss will be felt by the industry and the Seattle area where the Microsoft co-founder was a major philanthropist and booster of the community. "Paul was one of the driving forces behind this industry and the channel," said Balsarotti. "It's a big loss."

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