In the popular mythology of Microsoft, co-founder Paul Allen has been portrayed as something of a shadowy, behind the scenes character. Like his doppelganger at Apple, Steve Wozniak, Allen’s contributions were largely usurped by his partner’s force of personality. In Woz’s case it was Steve Jobs, in Allen’s it was Bill Gates. As is often the case with such byte-sized historical factoids, the reality of the situation was a little more complicated.
The origins of the company are really not in dispute. Gates was at Harvard, (where he met future Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer), while Allen was a student at Washington State University. They both dropped out of college to focus on the shared dream of starting a software company. Microsoft was initially located in Albuquerque, New Mexico — home of the first personal computer, the Altair 8800. This was in 1975, and the two initially thought they had already missed the boat on being the first to come up with a unifying BASIC platform for computers to run on.
As Allen freely admits, a fortuitous combination of drive, programming and luck all came together to make Microsoft the behemoth it became. The “micro-computer’s” rise from hardcore electronic hobbyist toy to ubiquitous business tool, to being today’s bedrock of communication seems inevitable now. Microsoft’s dominance of the industry was a long time in coming, however.
This is where the controversy surrounding Allen' memoirs, Idea Man, stem from. While Gates’ determination to make his company the leader in software is without question, his personality is what drove Paul Allen to leave. The “official” story was that Allen’s departure was for health reasons. This was true; in 1982 Paul Allen was diagnosed with lymphoma — a particularly virulent form of cancer. He was only 27. The stark reality of the situation understandably led to some deep soul-searching, and to his eventual decision to resign.