For much of the 1990s, Nathan Myhrvold was regarded by many as Microsoft's brains.
As the founder of Microsoft Research and later as the company's chief technical officer, Myhrvold was one of the company's top technology strategists. When the senior ranks were reshuffled, he remained one of the only executives to report to Bill Gates himself.
Myhrvold didn't quite fit Microsoft's mold. A physicist by training with interests that extended well beyond software and business, he at one time studied with Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking. When he left the company in 1998, he told reporters he wanted to go to Montana in search of dinosaur fossils.
But this doesn't mean he wasn't deeply responsible for much of Microsoft's success. With control of a $2 billion research and development budget in the late 1990s, he oversaw projects that underlie Microsoft's strategy today, including much of the research behind the .Net online services program.
Myhrvold went to Redmond in 1986, when Microsoft bought the software start-up he had founded with his brother, Cameron. He rose through the ranks quickly, soon becoming one of Gates' most trusted vice presidents.
While at the company, he was famous for long memos detailing his ideas about markets, technology and the future. As reported in The New Yorker and elsewhere, these weren't always on target: In the early 1990s, he was predicting the quick convergence of consumer electronics and computers while playing down the consumer Internet with its relatively sluggish speeds.
Since Myhrvold left the company, he's been free to pursue some of his more varied intellectual interests, from photography to archaeology. But the 42-year-old has put considerable time and money into a new firm called Intellectual Ventures, started with fellow Microsoft veteran Edward Jung, who once held Gates' current title of chief software architect.
Intellectual Ventures, funded entirely by Myhrvold and Jung, has announced the funding of only one company: OpenDesign, which is dedicated to distributing computer tasks among multiple machines connected to a network. But Myhrvold also has his eye on biotechnology.
"Biotech is at the stage where computing was when Bill (Gates and Paul Allen) started Microsoft," he recently told U.S. News & World Report. "Maybe it's 10 years, but in the next very short blink of an eye, we're going to discover 10 to 20 times as much knowledge, maybe 100 times as much knowledge, as all of human history has up to this point."