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You can’t talk about Microsoft without bringing Bill Gates into the picture. The current chairman of the software company has been its flag bearer since it was founded during the mid-seventies. But contrary to the belief of many, Gates did not singlehandedly build Microsoft and turn it into one of the most profitable businesses to date. Without co-founder Paul Allen, Microsoft and even Gates himself would not be the industry giants that they are today.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Allen befriended Gates while both were in high school—a friendship that was built around a common enthusiasm for the booming computer industry. Their idea of fun was honing their programming skills on time-sharing computers.  They went to different schools in college, but it didn’t take long for both friends to reunite once more. After a couple of semesters and a stroke of inspiration, Allen managed to convince Gates to drop out of Harvard to create Microsoft.

And so began their road to greatness. Allen originally coined the company’s name “Micro-Soft” and spearheaded some sales and marketing efforts, bringing the company into the limelight. Gates, on the other hand, acted as the company’s chief software architect.

Microsoft’s odd couple  seemed indestructible, but the IT industry was shocked when their partnership reached a dramatic ending in 1983. Later on, Allen revealed how Gates tried to cut him off when he got sick with cancer in his tell-all autobiography. Things may have ended in sour note, but Allen still remains as one of the company’s largest shareholders.

Allen has moved on from being a billionaire co-founder to a prolific investor; his portfolio includes real estate holdings, media and content companies, as well as other technology companies. He is also the owner of two professional sports teams and a part-owner of one.

After all the controversies and fallouts, Allen has proven that he is still Microsoft’s other giant.

When a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) steps down, it can be difficult for his or her replacement to measure up. When the CEO is also the company’s founder, it can seem nearly impossible. When Bill Gates, founder and CEO of the computer and software giant Microsoft, stepped down in 2000 amid the Justice Department’s investigation of the company for antitrust activities, he appointed Steve Ballmer to be his successor.

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer at CES 2010, image via Microsoft Sweden

Under Ballmer, Microsoft has expanded into the video game console market, search engines, and the smartphone market, and has posted income growth nine out of the past eleven fiscal years. Ballmer, who has worked for Microsoft in some capacity since 1980, had served as president of the company since 1998. But in the face of dwindling personal computing market share, poor performance of online services, and disappointing smartphone sales, there are rumblings that Ballmer should resign or be asked to step down.

Ballmer’s management style is characterized by his brusque, no-nonsense manner. Since Bill Gates’s final departure from Microsoft in 2008 to focus on his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ballmer has refocused the company’s priorities a number of times. Most recently, he rather publicly fired Bob Muglia from the Server and Tools division Muglia helped build after he joined the company in 1988. And after appointing sales and marketing staff to leadership positions, Ballmer is restocking those positions with people skilled in technical areas like engineering.

Whether or not Ballmer’s shakeup and refocusing on more long-term projects (like a viable competitor to Apple, Inc.’s dominant iPad tablet)is enough to keep Microsoft the technology superpower it has been, remains to be seen. However, despite doubts about his ability to keep Microsoft afloat, Ballmer has shown he will be at its helm and is willing to make some fairly radical changes.