Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is publishing a memoir in May, titled "Idea Man," that details the company's early days. While that alone might not make national news, the book is attracting early buzz for scenes that depict both Bill Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a somewhat negative light.
Although "Idea Man" has yet to hit shelves, an extensive excerpt is available on Vanity Fair's Website. It paints a portrait of a very young and extraordinarily driven Gates, balanced by an Allen who seems determined to downplay his ambitions or strengths in areas like mathematics. The story of Microsoft's beginnings is well-trod territory-but Allen's position as a key player in that narrative gives it an added dimension.
Allen co-founded Microsoft with Gates in 1975, after the two decided to develop a programming language, Altair BASIC, which would run on the MITS Altair 8800. Microsoft's Website calls Altair BASIC "the first computer language program written for a personal computer." Allen describes the eighth-grade Bill Gates as "all arms and legs and nervous energy," capable even at that age of enormous concentration and competitiveness.
That competitive instinct, paired with an unflagging persistence, eventually led to friction between the two future moguls. There apparently were arguments over the minutiae of starting a company, both over operational details and its ultimate direction. Perhaps most controversially, however, Allen suggests Gates and Ballmer-whom he describes as resembling "an operative for the N.K.V.D.," the Soviet agency responsible for Gulags and mass executions-jockeyed to reduce his stock holdings in the company.
"One evening in late December 1982," he wrote, "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."
Allen apparently drove home after that. "I helped start the company and was still an active member of management, though limited by my [cancer], and now my partner and my colleague were scheming to rip me off."
According to Allen's narrative, both Gates and Ballmer tried to patch things up, but the stresses involved in working for Microsoft-combined with battling a brutal illness-eventually drove Allen to resign from his post. Allen eventually became a billionaire off Microsoft stock, and he used those funds to subsequently invest in a number of business ventures, including DreamWorks Animation and the Seattle Seahawks.
Gates eventually retired from full-time duties at Microsoft to devote his considerable fortune to philanthropic efforts. He did find time, however, to issue an early statement to Allen's memoirs.
"While my recollection of many of these events may differ from Paul's, I value his friendship and the important contributions he made to the world of technology and at Microsoft," Gates wrote in an e-mail reprinted in a March 30 Reuters article.
Some early Microsoft employees have questioned Allen's take on the company's early days, according to a March 30 report in The Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Allen for instance, puts himself in meetings that people familiar with the meetings say he never attended." It also quotes two-decade Microsoft employee Carl Stork as "surprised" that Allen would go public in such a manner.