By People Staff
December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

He is the Rodney Dangerfield of the American Dream. No matter that he developed the Windows operating system that drives computers worldwide or that, at $73 billion and counting, he’s the richest human on the planet. And no matter that CNN founder and Time Warner (owner of PEOPLE’S parent company) vice chairman Ted Turner speaks for many admirers when he says, “He’s done more for the technological revolution than anyone I can think of.” Bill Gates still has trouble getting respect. Indeed, many who’ve been on the receiving end of the enormous clout of Microsoft—the $470 billion empire Gates cofounded—say he doesn’t deserve praise at all. Marc Andreessen, cofounder of the Web browser firm Netscape, recalled a 1995 meeting in which Microsoft, which makes a competing product, tried to bully the smaller company out of its way. “It was like a visit from Don Corleone,” Andreessen told TIME last year. “I expected to find a bloody computer monitor in my bed the next day.” The U.S. Justice Department took Microsoft to court on charges of monopolistic practices, and in a preliminary finding last month the court said that the company had hindered innovation, stifled competition and short-changed consumers. Even Gates’s most benign innovation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has drawn detractors who accuse him and former Microsoft executive Melinda, 35, his wife of five years, of using philanthropy as a public relations move. But the sheer size of their gift—$17 billion—silenced many. “When you write the check,” admits Gates, “You think, ‘Hmm, that’s a lot of zeros.’ ” Gates found inspiration for his largesse in his daughter Jennifer, 3, and 7-month-old son Rory. “Melinda and I talked about the things we believed in for our own kids,” he says. “You want them safe and healthy.” The couple has so far committed hundreds of millions to college scholarships, putting computers into public libraries and providing life-saving vaccines to children in underdeveloped nations. Gates also recently gave $26.5 million to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which “allowed us to double our scientific program,” says Initiative spokesman Victor Zonana. “Bill Gates really is a visionary.” As for his own vision, Gates sees the world differently now that he’s a dad. “Jennifer wakes up at night, and I lie down to help her get back to sleep,” he says. “She puts her feet on top of mine and watches to see if I’m awake. She’s just a thrill.”