Andrew Carnegie and steel mills, Henry Ford and cars and Gordon Moore and transistors come to mind as possible comparisons. But Bill Gates' Windows operating system is the dominant product of its age, running well over 90 percent of the PCs in the world and inspiring praise, venom and legal tangles during various points in Gates' tenure in the industry.
Analysts and observers couldn't help but offer their thoughts on the legacy left by Gates after heto step down from a day-to-day role at Microsoft in 2008. "This is probably a once-in-a-generation guy," said John Reimer, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Said Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman of executive search firm Christian and Timbers, "Bill Gates is bigger than life. He has led what for this generation has been the most storied technology firm."
And Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC, added, "I think of what a great businessman he was, but not necessarily what a great technologist he was."
Despite such characterizations, Gates' announcement provoked a muted reaction from the industry players who stood by his products--as well as those who clashed with his strategies.
On the hardware side, Dell and Hewlett-Packard declined to comment on the historic shift at the helm of one of their largest partners. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices had no immediate comment on Gates' announcement.
Gateway noted Gates' announcement with a brief statement. "Microsoft remains a valued Gateway partner, and we're confident they will put the right team in place to continue moving the company and its products forward," said Greg Memo, senior vice president of products for the PC maker.
Apple Computer, one of Microsoft's most public foes, resisted the temptation to mark Gates' announcement, declining to comment through a representative. Another one-time Gates combatant, lawyer, did take some time to reflect on Gates' legacy. Reback helped the government prepare its against Microsoft in the 1990s.
"It certainly sounds like it is the passing of an era. Ray Ozzie is a top-notch technologist and Craig Mundie is superb...but he (Gates) has been the driving force of that company since it started," Reback said. "So, it's certainly both a time for reflection and a time to wonder what's ahead."
Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, referred to IBM's famous founder in describing Gates. "The industry has been fortunate to have the technical, business and philanthropic leadership of Bill Gates--he is the Thomas Watson of our generation."
Most of Gates' newer foes chose not to recognize the transition with formal statements. A Google representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and Yahoo declined to comment through a representative. Software enemies like Oracle and Red Hat likewise could not be reached for remarks.
Despite the lack of public statements, Gates certainly had an effect on just about anyone who has used a PC, said Azure Capital's Mike Kwatinetz. "Before Microsoft and Gates, technology was not democratized as it is today," he said in an e-mail. "That is probably his greatest achievement: making the PC pervasive, affordable, available to every household in America and very easy to use."