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Jerry Kaplan on Gates' transition

The former Go chief executive, who went head to head with Gates on pen-based computing and later sued Microsoft, says Gates' charitable work outweighs any of the "skeletons" in his closet.

In reporting on Bill Gates' transition from full-time status at Microsoft, I expected to hear praise from Gates' colleagues. What surprised me was the amount of support that came from even his most long-time adversaries.

Even Scott McNealy had nice things to say.

When asked about Gates, another tech executive said, "Frankly, the first thing to come to mind is his philanthropic work which I am a big cheerleader of. I really think he's stepped up and done the right thing."

Jerry Kaplan

That executive was pen computing pioneer Jerry Kaplan, the same guy who is still trying to sue Microsoft for the tactics it allegedly employed to keep Kaplan's start-up out of the operating system business.

"That's a business matter," Kaplan told me on Tuesday. "The company engaged in some practices for which I believe they have some justifiable liability and we are trying to sort that out. It's not a personal issue."

Kaplan said that Gates' charitable work far outweighs any of his business practices.

Gates tease

"Hey, you know, lots of people have some skeletons in their closet and I don't begrudge him a few," said Kaplan, who now runs Winster, a Web site where visitors have to work together, rather than compete, to win prizes. "His ultimate legacy will not be about Microsoft. It will be how he used his position to make an enormous impact on the world."

I asked Kaplan when his opinion about Gates changed.

"Probably when I stopped dealing with him," he said with a laugh. Then he added, "I think it's great that he's retiring. The more he focuses on the philanthropic work the better place the world will be."