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Gates loses title as world's richest man

On the day that the government proposes breaking his company into two pieces, Bill Gates is surpassed by Oracle chief Larry Ellison.

It was a bad day for Bill.

Not only did the government issue a stinging recommendation that the world?s largest software company be hacked into two pieces, but Microsoft chairman Bill Gates? also lost his crown as the world?s richest man.

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison--Gates? longtime nemesis in the ego-driven technology industry--now holds the top spot. Based on the closing prices of Oracle and Microsoft stock, Ellison is worth $53 billion, compared to Gates? $51.75 billion.

Although Ellison has topped Gates, at least temporarily, it's not accurate to call him the world's richest person just yet. Just as Ellison's wealth has soared in the past year, it's possible that another captain of industry, billionaire investor or foreign prince has also seen a surge in his or her net worth.

The duel between Ellison, a polished Silicon Valley celebrity, and Gates, a halting technophile who lives near Seattle, is one of the most acrimonious and public of any in American business. The media has zealously monitored the stock prices of the two companies in recent weeks; a flood of "poor Bill" stories have provided a backdrop to the relatively dry Justice Department proceedings.

The reversal in the two men?s Bill Gates wealth gives new depth to Gates? own characterization of the antitrust events this afternoon as "very disturbing." The recent weakness in Microsoft shares is due largely to the antitrust suit hanging over the company--a case that will likely take years to shake out.

According to the October edition of Forbes, Bill Gates was the world's richest man last year, with a net worth of $85 billion. Ellison trailed badly with a relatively paltry $13 billion.

But according to the most current Securities and Exchange Commission records of the technology titans' holdings, Gates, 44, is sitting on 742 million Microsoft shares worth $51.75 billion, based on today's closing price of $69.75. Ellison's 663 million shares of Oracle, meanwhile, are valued at $53 billion, based on today's closing price of $79.94.

The most common method for calculating Breaking the giant: Special Coverage the net worth of billionaires is to look at the millions of shares they hold in the public companies they founded. As a result, the calculations do not include other investments or assets these billionaires hold.

Ellison, for example, has 19 million shares of Oracle spinoff Liberate Technologies, which are valued at more than $600 million. Gates also has untold riches in investments and assets that are not publicly known.

In addition, Gates has made highly publicized donations of billions of dollars.

Though he hasn?t publicly boasted of his increasing wealth relative to that of his rival, Ellison has not wasted any time jumping into the anti-Microsoft fray. Early in the drawn-out antitrust proceedings, Ellison dubbed Gates the "PC pope" because of his company's dominance over who is allowed to build PCs.

Last December, Ellison told reporters at his mansion in the posh Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco that he believes Microsoft should be broken into not two, but three companies.