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Bill Gates to get honorary knighthood

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Jack Writes:SEATTLE — Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday bestowed honorary knighthood on Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates. Gates proclaimed himself "humbled and delighted."

In announcing the knighthood last year, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Gates as "one of the most important business leaders of his age," and credited Microsoft software with having a "profound impact on the British economy."

Gates and his wife, Melinda, are also notable philanthropists. They launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 with $26 billion to promote equity in global health and education. The foundation has set up a $210 million international scholarship program at Britain's University of Cambridge and invested millions of dollars in research for an AIDS vaccine.

His wife described the queen as "engaging" company and said they found plenty to talk about on issues such as health problems in the developing world, the avian flu and their shared interest in travel.

But on the subject of computers, it seems the monarch does not enjoy the same passion for technology as Gates.

"She said all the kids do (use computers), and the computer helps to schedule things. But she said for she herself ... typing is not as natural for her as it is for young people," Gates said.

Like other non-Britons who've received the honor — including Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former president George Bush and movie mogul Steven Spielberg — Gates can append KBE, or Knight Commander of the British Empire, to his name.

But he is not entitled to add the title "Sir," a distinction reserved for British nationals. To achieve full knight status, Gates would have to become a British citizen.

That's what the late Sir John Paul Getty II, son of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, did. Born in America, the younger Getty, who died in 2000 at age 70, was a lifelong Anglophile. He moved permanently to Britain in 1971, setting up household on a 2,500-acre estate, complete with his prized oval cricket ground. Sir Paul quietly became the greatest philanthropist living in Britain.

Getty was made an honorary knight in 1986, and upgraded to the full honor in 1998, a year after becoming a British citizen.

By contrast, the Gateses and their three children appear to be comfortably ensconced in a highly secure five-acre residential compound partially buried into a hillside on the shores of Seattle's Lake Washington. It includes a manmade trout stream, garage space for dozens of vehicles and screens displaying valuable art in digital form.

Straw's statement notwithstanding, critics say, Microsoft's impact has not been uniformly positive. The European Commission last March ruled Microsoft used illegal monopolistic practices to extend its flagship Windows desktop operating system into the computer server and media player markets.

"Being a convicted monopolist apparently doesn't keep you from getting knighted," says Linux consultant and advocate Bruce Perens. "I suppose monarchy and monopoly go well together."

Britain has been a big user of open-source programming created by volunteers, including the Linux operating system that competes against Windows.


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