Bill Gates Bids a Teary Farewell to Microsoft

REDMOND, Washington (Reuters) – Bill Gatessaid a teary goodbye on Friday to Microsoft Corp, the software maker hebuilt into the world’s most valuable technology company based on theambitious goal of placing a computer on every desk and in every home.

He leaves Microsoft, which he co-founded with childhood friend PaulAllen in 1975, to focus on his philanthropic organization, the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity, funded inpart by his vast fortune.

At an employee event at Microsoft’s scenic headquarters campus here,Gates joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on stage to deliver a shortspeech and field questions from employees.

"There won’t be a day in my life when I won’t be thinking aboutMicrosoft, the great things that we’re doing and wanting to help," saidGates, who wiped away tears as the group of employees rose to give hima standing ovation.

Ballmer, a Harvard University classmate who joined Microsoft atGates’ behest, got choked up as he tried to describe Gates’ impact onthe company and society at large.

"There’s no way to say thanks to Bill. Bill’s the founder. Bill’s the leader," said Ballmer. "This is Bill’s baby."

Gates will leave behind a life’s work developing software to devoteenergy to finding new vaccines or to microfinance projects in thedeveloping world. He will remain chairman of Microsoft and work onspecial technology projects.

Ballmer spoke about how he contemplated quitting Microsoft a monthafter joining the company and return to Stanford University businessschool. Bill passionately implored him to stay and laid out the visionof the company.

"This is what Bill said to me. ‘You don’t get it. You don’t get it.We are going to put a computer on every desk and in every home,’" saidBallmer.

There are currently more than one billion PCs worldwide, according to research firm IDC.

Once the world’s richest man, Gates’ personal fortune has beenestimated at about $58 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. He hasslipped to third place, behind investor and good friend Warren Buffettand Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim.

(Editing by Phil Berlowitz)