Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 16, 2006

11-20 Microsoft Returns

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Microsoft is coming back to its roots. No, Bill Gates isn't moving the company back to Albuquerque, but Paul Allen has just finished an expansive museum exhibit titled "Startup: Albuquerque and the Personal Computer Revolution."
The $5 million exhibit will be permanently housed at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Allen contributed the bulk of the money, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation kicking in $1 million and the museum raising some of the amount.
Allen originally wanted to house the exhibit in the vacant Cal Linn building, near the state fairgrounds, where the company had its first offices, but logistical problems turned out to be too difficult.
The location won't be forgotten, however. On Thursday, Nov. 23, a plaque will be installed at the site, commemorating its historical significance.
More people are sure to see the Microsoft exhibit at the museum, anyway. Located near Old Town, the museum welcomes 250,000 visitors a year. Its focus is on evolution of life in the universe so a 3,000 square-foot exhibit on evolution of computer technology isn't too much of a stretch.
Why is Paul Allen, who left Microsoft in 1983, the prime mover of this project instead of Bill Gates? Allen actually was the lead founder of Microsoft. It was Allen who saw the fateful article in Popular Electronics magazine and pulled Gates out of a Harvard dormitory poker game to read and discuss the article.
That article told of the development of the world's first personal computer, the Altair 8800, a do-it-yourself kit, that sold for $400. The machine had no monitor, keyboard or software, just switches and blinking lights. They were pretty useless but became a hot item among scientists and hobbyists.
Allen and Gates were about to make it even hotter. Late at night, the two wrote a BASIC software program in Harvard's computer lab. Allen took the paper tape produced by the big computer to the Albuquerque manufacturer, MITS, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. He loaded it on the Altair and was immediately hired as director of software.
Gates soon dropped out of Harvard to join Allen in Albuquerque. They were given space in the MITS office at the Cal Linn Building to continue developing software. They authorized MITS to sell their BASIC as part of the Altair kit. They also retained the rights to market it themselves.
They programmed until very late every night and then knocked off for a bite to eat at a nearby Denny's, Gates favorite restaurant.
Soon, they created their own company and named it Microsoft. They divided their time between MITS and Microsoft, with Allen heading Microsoft. This was 1975. Allen was 21 and Gates was 19.
The little company grew. By early 1979, Allen and Gates were having difficulty finding venture capital and the employee base they needed to continue operations in Albuquerque, so they moved back to their native Seattle, where Gates' father, an attorney, helped get them started.
Allen developed a strong attachment to the area while he was here. In 2000, he reportedly purchased the 20-acre Sol y Sombra, the late artist Georgia O'Keeffe's former house, in Santa Fe.
The choice of Albuquerque for the museum is being likened to having an aviation museum at Kittyhawk. Allen has more personal reasons. "I always had a fondness for the area," he says.
Gates may still have some fondness for New Mexico. Recently he and PNM Resources, Inc. have become equal partners in an unregulated electric power generation joint venture.
But some of Gates' New Mexico memories likely center around his poor driving record. He was arrested twice, once for speeding and once for running a stop sign. Neither time did he have a driver's license.
That may be why he was arrested both times. A mug shot from one of those arrests made the cover of a national magazine eight years ago. Since then Gates sometimes uses it in speeches to liven up a crowd.


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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