Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has passed away

16 Oct 2018

Paul Allen, technologist, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft. Image: Vulcan Inc

Paul Allen and Bill Gates ignited the personal computing revolution.

Technologist and philanthropist Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975, has passed away at age 65.

Allen died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma yesterday (15 October). He had only announced two weeks ago that the cancer had returned after he received treatment for it in 2009.

‘Personal computing would not have existed without Allen’

At the time of his passing, Allen was estimated to be the 46th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $20.3bn, including 100m shares in Microsoft.

He was the chair of Vulcan Inc, which managed his various business and philanthropic projects. He also owned two professional sports teams: the Seattle Seahawks football team and the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

The birth of the personal computing era

A native of Seattle, Washington, Allen befriended Bill Gates at Lakeside School, a private school where they honed their programming skills on the Teletype terminal.

Allen dropped out of Washington State University and went to work at Honeywell near Boston as a programmer. He is credited with convincing Gates to drop out of Harvard to co-found Microsoft.

The computing world of the 1970s bears little resemblance to the tech world of today, with mainframe machines filling entire rooms and programming skills required to do basic tasks on microcomputers that most people take for granted today.

In 1975, Allen and Gates, then living in New Mexico, began selling a BASIC programming language interpreter product, and it is understood that Allen came up with the original name of Micro-Soft.

Their big break occurred in 1980 when they convinced IBM to allow them to deliver a disk operating system (DOS) for the original IBM personal computer. However, they had not yet created their DOS product. To stay in the game, Allen masterminded the acquisition of QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) from Tim Paterson, an employee at Seattle Computer Products.

The IBM deal was a watershed moment for Microsoft and indeed the broader computing world, paving the way for future products such as the Windows operating system.

Allen, after receiving his cancer diagnosis, decided to leave Microsoft in 1982. He left with a 36pc shareholding, making him a billionaire when Microsoft became a public company. Allen officially resigned from the Microsoft board of directors in 2000 but continued to be a strategic adviser to the company.

After Microsoft, he was an active investor and innovator, investing in companies such as Ticketmaster and Vulcan Aerospace as well as holding 43 patents in his name. But he was best known for his philanthropic pursuits, giving away more than $2bn towards the advancement of science, technology, education, wildlife conservation, the arts and the community.

Gates said: “I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends” and added that “personal computing would not have existed without Allen”.

“But Paul wasn’t content with starting one company,” Gates said. “He channelled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people’s lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world. 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.”

Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, said: “My brother was a remarkable individual on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much-loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.

“Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us – and so many others – we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years