Bill Gates, not Steve Jobs, is the real hero

Steve Jobs was a great CEO, but Bill Gates has moved beyond technology and is trying to save the world. Why isn't he getting more recognition?

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On the shoulders of Bill Gates
A science fiction author, maybe it was Robert Heinlein, once wrote that "you can't railroad until it's time to railroad." He was talking about time travel and why it wouldn't be possible to journey to, say, the Middle Ages and build a railroad with your 21st-century knowledge. The infrastructure simply didn't exist: No steel, no lathes, no boilers, and so on.

Similarly, there wouldn't be an iPhone without ubiquitous computing. Because Gates and company realized that they needed to standardize the personal computer and make it possible for any company to build one and run the same software, businesses and then millions of individuals became computer users. It's no accident that to this day, Windows computers have a much greater market share than Macs. I'm not saying they are better, but there are just many more of them. The closed Apple platform never could have spread to every corner of the world, even though it is superior in many ways.

Because so many people and companies started using computers, it made sense to build out the Internet. Had there not been millions of computers in use, the Web would still be a tool for a handful of scientists using a command-line interface. As the Internet grew, the supporting infrastructure, much of it owned by the telecommunications industry, grew. And so did demand. (Here too the open, available-to-all Internet triumphed over the closed AOL and Apple's own closed eWorld.)

If consumers didn't care about the Web, there would have been no reason to build an iPhone or an Android. No one would need one.

Finally, there is the question of focus. Since leaving Microsoft, Gates and his wife Melinda have made their foundation into one of the world's premier charities. Since 1994, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation amassed an endowment of more than $31 billion in funds to fight the world's most difficult issues. But it hasn't merely accumulated funds -- the foundation has already given away more than $25 billion, as Wessel notes in his HBR essay.

I don't know what Jobs did with his money. He may well have been a substantial donor to many a good cause. But at the end of his life, he was focused on business, while Gates is focused on broader and ultimately more significant concerns.

In a note to the members of the Harvard community, Gates wrote, "I hope you will reflect on what you've done with your talent and energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you work to address the world's deepest inequities, on how well you treat people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity."

As Wessel put it, "Those are not the words of a leader of business. Those are the words of a leader of people."

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