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Bill Gates' IT legacy: What will it be?

High-tech executives have differing opinions about how the Microsoft icon will be remembered in terms of his contribution to IT.

Just after Bill Gates announced his impending departure from Microsoft, some are already contemplating his legacy to information technology.

Some IT managers pay homage because his company has created just about everything they use. Others refer to him in less flattering terms. Still others recall the time, while visiting Finland in 1998, when he took a cream pie in the face.

Gates was at the helm as Microsoft expanded its product repertoire from COBOL editing tools all the way to pervasive PC applications and the Xbox. But the one thing that IT managers agree on is this – Gates may have personified Microsoft at one time, but this is not the case any more.

"He hasn't been in charge of the day-to-day for quite a while," said Rick Zach, chief engineer at WCVB, a division of Hearst Argyle Television Inc. in New York. "We'd have the [Most Valuable Professional] meetings, and he used to show up. But we haven't seen him for the past two years."

For Zach, Gates' legacy is that Microsoft has created some consistency in terms of what to expect in an IT shop. "If you're a consultant and go into a new business, you no longer have to worry about whether it will be a DECnet or Vines," said Zach, referring to networks made by two now defunct companies, Digital Equipment Corp. and Banyan Systems. "It's TCP with a Microsoft delivery system. You might use Unix or Linux, but it's a Microsoft wrapper around everything."

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Gates announces his departure

The Windows operating system is the core of most of the computers run at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, said Gene Peters, director of information services at the exchange. "Gates has had a major impact on what we run today," Peters said. "But Microsoft has changed so radically. It's much bigger than Gates now."

Gates deserves a lot of credit for having the right idea at the right time, Peters said.

"Regardless of what you think of the software and the OS, someone had the forethought to make something nicer, friendlier, for people who work with computers," he said. "My first computer was an IBM XP, and I remember putting chips in the computer. He made [computers] usable to the masses."

But not everyone thinks about Microsoft technology when they think of Bill Gates. "When you say Bill Gates to me, I think ubergeek," said Clyde Johnson, senior network administrator at industrial products manufacturer HCC Industries, a division of Ametek, Rosemead, Calif. "I remember the pie in the face. To me he's more of a marketing genius than anything else."

"I think Bill Gates is Bill Gates and Microsoft is Microsoft," Johnson added. "It's run by bureaucrats now and probably has been for years."

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