Computers: A Hard-Core Technoid

He looks like an undernourished grad student as he waits for a plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. His gray sweater has patches on the elbows; his shoes are scuffed; his ginger hair flops over a pair of steel-framed glasses. He fidgets with a thick pile of papers that contain preliminary sketches for a new portable computer and technical details for silicon chips that will be used in machines of the late 1980s. The tag on his battered black suitcase reads "William H. Gates, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, Microsoft."

Gates, 28, has helped catapult Microsoft to the forefront of...

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