All well and good, but all this generosity comes as Microsoft is up to its neck in an antitrust trial, charged with forcing the company’s Explorer browser on unsuspecting customers. The proceedings, which are expected to come to a conclusion later this fall, have forced embarrassing business admissions from both Gates and his employees, and have done nothing to dispel the image of the former wunderkind as a soulless corporate warrior. Will this latest gush of cash convince the public that Gates is really just a cuddly genius whose brilliance happens to have brought him truckloads of dollars? "You could make a case that this scholarship contribution is a very politically shrewd thing to do," says TIME San Francisco correspondent Michael Krantz. "But let’s face facts: This kind of money, being donated in this way, will change America for the better. If giving $1 billion to further minority education is just a political ploy, a lot of people will say we should have more political players like Bill Gates." And lest we forget, Gates is following in the long, proud tradition of Carnegie and Rockefeller, who wrote huge philanthropic checks with one hand and suppressed labor and an open marketplace with the other.
It’s hard not to be cynical when the world’s richest man takes a break from his bloody antitrust trial to start throwing fistfuls of money at under-served sectors of the population. Let the cynicism begin: Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, announced Thursday that their foundation will donate at least $1 billion to fund minority college scholarships over the next 20 years. Each year, the foundation will target 1,000 minority students interested in pursuing careers in education, science, engineering and math, and will pay for their college tuition, room, board and expenses. The Gates’ foundation, which is worth about $17 billion, also recently pledged $100 million to vaccinate children in developing countries.