I just saw Phillipe Kahn (not Khan) in a Best Bait-n-Switch commercial, introducing himself as the inventor of the camera phone.
But that’s not my favorite Phillipe Kahn story.
Once upon a time, Phillipe Kahn was a French immigrant who started a software company called Borland, who specialized in very good and relatively inexpensive programming languages. The biggest problem with Borland was that it directly competed with a company named Microsoft, who specialized in programming languages that weren’t quite as inexpensive. Whether they were as good is a question for somebody else.
Since they were competitors, the two companies tended to hire a lot of people from one another.
When they were in the middle of one of their many wars, a group of Hare Krishna solicited Kahn in an airport. Kahn, the flamboyant Frenchman, gave them a thousand dollars, then told them that there was another thousand in it for them if they’d deliver a message to Bill Gates. “Tell him I just gave you a thousand dollars for hot food, so his programmers will have someplace to go after I drive his company out of business and they’re unemployed,” he said.
The Hare Krishna somehow delivered the message. Gates wasn’t amused.
Kahn gave them the money.
I only know of two people who ever got the better of Bill Gates–Dr. Ed Roberts of Altair and Jack Tramiel of Commodore. And neither of them did it more than once, and neither of their companies are still around anymore, so I think Gates eventually managed to forgive himself. Kahn didn’t join their ranks. Microsoft was able to hire away more Borland talent than the other way around, and Borland slowly faded away, never disappearing, but all of its products that competed with Microsoft products slowly bled to death. Kahn departed the company in 1995. The Borland of today sells niche middleware products and doesn’t look much like the company Kahn used to run.
I guess my favorite Bill Gates story is also my favorite Phillipe Kahn story. But Kahn did a lot more to make the story great.