Paul G. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates and became a billionaire philanthropist who invested in conservation, space travel and professional sports, died Monday. He was 65.
Earlier this month, Allen announced that the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that he was treated for in 2009 had returned and that he planned to fight it aggressively.
“While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much-loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend,” said his sister, Jody Allen, in a statement.
Allen, who was an avid sports fan, owned the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
Allen and Gates met while attending a private school in north Seattle. The two friends would later drop out of college to pursue the future they envisioned: a world with a computer in every home.
Gates so strongly believed it that he left Harvard University in his junior year to devote himself full time to his and Allen’s startup, originally called Micro-Soft. Allen spent two years at Washington State University before dropping out as well.
They founded the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and their first product was a computer language for the Altair hobby-kit personal computer, giving hobbyists a basic way to program and operate the machine.
After Gates and Allen found some success selling their programming language, MS-Basic, the Seattle natives moved their business in 1979 to Bellevue, Washington, not far from its eventual home in Redmond.
Microsoft’s big break came in 1980, when IBM Corp. decided to move into personal computers and asked Microsoft to provide the operating system.
Gates and company didn’t invent the operating system. To meet IBM’s needs, they spent $50,000 to buy one known as QDOS from another programmer, Tim Paterson. Eventually the product, refined by Microsoft – and renamed DOS, for Disk Operating System – became the core of IBM PCs and their clones, catapulting Microsoft into its dominant position in the PC industry.
The first versions of two classic Microsoft products, Microsoft Word and the Windows operating system, were released in 1983. By 1991, Microsoft’s operating systems were used by 93 percent of the world’s personal computers.
The Windows operating system is now used on most of the world’s desktop computers, and Word is the cornerstone of the company’s prevalent Office products.
Microsoft was thrust onto the throne of technology and soon Gates and Allen became billionaires.
With his sister Jody Allen in 1986, Paul Allen founded Vulcan, the investment firm that oversees his business and philanthropic efforts. He founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the aerospace firm Stratolaunch, which has built a colossal airplane designed to launch satellites into orbit. He also backed research into nuclear-fusion power.
Allen later joined the list of America’s wealthiest people who pledged to give away the bulk of their fortunes to charity. In 2010, he publicly pledged to give away the majority of his fortune, saying he believed “those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity.”
That same year, Allen donated $26 million to Washington State University – the largest gift in the institution’s history at the time – to complete a veterinary research center named the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health. In doing so, he one-upped the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which had two years earlier donated $25 million to start construction on the building in Pullman.
“To date, no other individual has given more to the university, cumulatively, than Paul Allen,” said WSU spokesman Phil Weiler.
Allen also made substantial contributions to the YMCA of the Inland Northwest. He donated $50,000 in 1999 for the construction of the Spokane Valley branch, and $200,000 in 2009 to build the North and Central locations in Spokane, a spokesman for the nonprofit said. The 80,000-square-foot Central building, at 930 N. Monroe St., also houses the YWCA.
When he released his 2011 memoir, “Idea Man,” Allen allowed “60 Minutes” inside his home on Lake Washington, across the water from Seattle, revealing collections that ranged from the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock to vintage warplanes and a 300-foot yacht with its own submarine.
Allen served as Microsoft’s executive vice president of research and new product development until 1983, when he resigned after being diagnosed with cancer.
“To be 30 years old and have that kind of shock – to face your mortality – really makes you feel like you should do some of the things that you haven’t done yet,” Allen said in a 2000 book, “Inside Out: Microsoft in Our Own Words,” published to celebrate 25 years of Microsoft.
His influence is firmly imprinted on the cultural landscape of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, from the bright metallic Museum of Pop Culture designed by architect Frank Gehry to the computer science center at the University of Washington that bears his name.
In 1988 at the age of 35, he bought the Trail Blazers, telling the Associated Press that “for a true fan of the game, this is a dream come true.”
He also was a part owner of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders FC and bought the Seahawks in 1996. Allen could sometimes be seen at games or chatting in the locker room with players.
Spokesman-Review reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this story.
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