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Who was Paul Allen?

by Beth Divine 16 Dec 2018

Paul Allen died on the 15th of October 2018, and you had most probably never heard of him unless you are deeply invested in computers and Microsoft. Paul Allen was partners with a man of whom you have almost certainly heard: Bill Gates. The pair, best friends from their schooldays, established Microsoft, growing it from a garage-based home business to the multi-million (billion?) dollar industry that it is today, recognised in probably every country in the world.

Gates was the idea man, Allen the cool logician, channelling Gates’s wilder ideas into workable concepts, and the two together added up to something greater than the sum of their parts. A few years apart while the two attended separate colleges could have seen the end of their partnership and their friendship, but Gates prevailed upon Allen to move to Boston to undertake a programming job. The wonderful world of microchips was just opening up at that time, and the combination of Allen and his programming affinity, Gates and his splendidly wild ideas along with Boston and microchips was all the alchemy needed to trigger the seed of what would become the leviathan, Microsoft. They swerved quickly into writing computer languages, coming up with Basic, and then MS-DOS – the building blocks on which it can (arguably) be said the entire modern wave of technology is formed, from smartphones to the internet to your favourite game app.

Despite the tremendous success of their business and Allen being one of the first computer riche, he was plagued by ill-health, suffering from cancer in the early 80s. Unable to look after his health and deal with the notoriously eccentric Gates, Allen left the company before its wealth grew to the stupendous heights they enjoy today. However, the two had disagreed on the price Gates was willing to pay to buy out Allen: Allen wanted ten dollars a share while Gates only wanted to pay five – Allen held onto his forty per cent stake, enjoying a huge $US26 billion fortune when shares shot up by a staggering 24,000 per cent. Today, that twenty six billion would be three hundred billion…

Regardless of the precise value of his shares, Allen’s life was immeasurably eased by having a wide open income stream from Microsoft. He invested widely, aiding the fight against Ebola, supporting and owning sports teams, and investing in a range of interests and charities.

His cancer returned in 2009 and he again successfully battled it into remission, but it came back in 2018, and he sadly passed away from sepsis at the relatively young age of sixty five. His passing marks the beginning of the end of an era: Allen was one of those who brought the world into close communication, flattening barriers, shortening distances and making the world into a true global village. It is important that his legacy, and those of his peers, is not wilfully disregarded by those too ignorant or greedy to appreciate it.