San Mateo County Times

Fans crowd forum for chance to meet world's richest man
Thursday, July 2, 1999

By Liz Garone

BURLINGAME -- The richest man in the world may have a lot of enemies, but they weren't easy to find Wednesday at the annual Workstation Leadership Forum.

Rather, most of the crowd at the Microsoft and Intel-sponsored event at the Hyatt Regency sang the praises of Bill Gates, treating him like an international film star, as he walked by, bodyguards hovering around him.

Gates received much louder and livelier applause than the previous speaker, Intel CEO Craig Barrett. The two were in town to talk about joint cooperation between their companies -- Microsoft, the largest personal software maker, and Intel, the biggest chip maker -- in the worldwide workstation market.

"I just wanted to see him (Gates)," said an ecstatic Kevin Richards, 21, of Toronto, Canada. "That's why I'm here."

"The time has come that nerds are powerful, and he's an icon," said Richards' co-worker, 27-year-old Chris Cheung. "I wanted to reaffirm that he's really just another guy."

More than once during Workstations Without Limitations -- Gates' 45-minute presentation -- his digital slide projection system malfunctioned, bringing up the wrong slide and not allowing him to advance to the correct one.

Gates appeared to stay calm, simply calling into his microphone for help.

"You'd expect everything to be perfect, no glitches," said Richards. "But it wasn't."

Bill Kloepfer, chairman of the University of Phoenix's technology department in Belmont, had seen Gates speak before -- and was looking forward to hearing him again.

"He's a very competent business person," said Kloepfer, a self-proclaimed Gates supporter. "What he's trying to do is build a very potent company."

While Gates spoke to the crowd, Laura Baldwin and her three school-age children waited 100 yards away in the hotel lobby.

Jacob, 12, paced back and forth, the string from a yo-yo dangling from his hand.

"Jacob really wants to meet Bill Gates," said his mother. "He's a big fan. We're hoping he'll pass by."

"I want to be able to tell my friends that I saw him," said the Illinois sixth-grader, whose father was a conference participant.

While Jacob was a little confused about some of his facts -- he thought that Gates was the chairman of IBM and had given away $5 billion to a single charity -- he did get one thing right.

"He's the richest man in the world," he said, beaming.

Among the crowd of 700 workstation customers and developers, there was, at least, one Gates detractor.

"I hate him. All he cares about is money," said an East Bay computer consultant. Still, the 60ish man didn't want to give his name.

"Like everyone else out there, I still have to work with Microsoft," he said. "I'm not taking any chances."

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