In Search of the Real Bill Gates

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The only completed part of the house is the indoor pool under the family quarters. A sleek lap pool reflecting images from a wall snakes through glass into an outdoor Japanese bath area. The security guard reappears and warns, "Be careful of what you do in there, since the boats on the lake can see inside." As the door to the pool room closes, Gates doubles over in laughter. Does he come in here often at night? "Sometimes with Melinda," he says.

We wander out to the deck, and the wind slams the door shut. It's locked. Gates tries to call the guard, but he's disappeared to a distant part of the estate. So he leads the way past bulldozers into trenches that will someday become an estuary and stocked trout stream. At the moment, however, it's a quagmire that proves impassable. Remarkably, Gates is able to avoid looking sheepish. After a few more minutes of shouting, he attracts the guard's attention.

Gates chose the austere and natural architectural style before he got married, but Melinda is now putting her own imprint on it. "The exposed concrete is going to have to go," he says, expressing some concern about how the architect might take this.

Gates met Melinda French 10 years ago at a Microsoft press event in Manhattan. She was working for the company and later became one of the executives in charge of interactive content. Their daughter Jennifer was born last April. Melinda, 32, is no longer at Microsoft, and she is active in charity work and on the board of Duke, where she studied computer science as an undergraduate and then got a graduate degree in business. Like Gates, she is smart and independent. Like his mother, she is also friendly and social, with an easy manner of organizing trips and activities. But she zealously guards her privacy and doesn't give interviews.

"I used to think I wouldn't be all that interested in the baby until she was two or so and could talk," says Gates as he shows off the more intimate family quarters. "But I'm totally into it now. She's just started to say 'ba-ba' and have a personality."

Melinda is Catholic, goes to church and wants to raise Jennifer that way. "But she offered me a deal," Gates says. "If I start going to church--my family was Congregationalist--then Jennifer could be raised in whatever religion I choose." Gates admits that he is tempted, because he would prefer she have a religion that "has less theology and all" than Catholicism, but he has not yet taken up the offer. "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient," he explains. "There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

If Ballmer is Gates' social goad, his intellectual one is Nathan Myhrvold (pronounced Meer-voll), 37, who likes to joke that he's got more degrees than a thermometer, including a doctorate in physics from Princeton. With a fast and exuberant laugh, he has a passion for subjects ranging from technology (he heads Microsoft's advanced-research group) to dinosaurs (he's about to publish a paper on the aerodynamics of the apatosaurus tail) to cooking. He sometimes moonlights as a chef at Rover's, a French restaurant in Seattle.

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