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Bill Gates is issuing his first annual public letter, but don't expect him to write about the company he founded, or the 5,000 layoffs announced by Microsoft this week. Gates is still chairman at Microsoft, but he now works full time on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and that's the focus of his 11-page letter. It's due out Monday. Earlier today, I asked Bill Gates what made him take to the keyboard?

Mr. BILL GATES (Chairman, Microsoft): Well, my friend Warren Buffett encouraged me to share in a frank way where things are going well, what I was excited about, how I was finding the foundation world, and also talk about the setbacks, you know, be frank in the way that somebody coming from the business world would be used to about what wasn't going well. And when he said that, I got very excited that I could start a dialogue, you know, let people send back email, and frame things for people who care about these issues. But it's always daunting to get in and say, you know, what's going on with AIDS, what's going on with polio, you know, share my view of where the advances have come and my basic optimism that the additional resources going into these things are going to lead to some brilliant successes.

NORRIS: Some are comparing your letter to the Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie's letter to urge or even shame America's captains of industry to share their wealth. Did you read his letter before you wrote yours, and is shame something that you're trying to use here?

Mr. GATES: I, certainly, have read all the Carnegie things. Warren Buffett shared with me the Gospel of Wealth a long time ago, before I even had much wealth. And I agree with his philosophy. You know, people of talent should try and get their money back to society while they're still alive. And what I'd like to share with people is not shame but rather that - how exciting it can be and how - if you picked a few things where you really get to know them, that you can have a huge impact.

NORRIS: You talk in your letter about AIDS and the effort to develop a vaccine for AIDS and a microbicide, a gel that women can use to protect themselves. And you compare the rush to develop these things to the time that you were at Microsoft when your company was involved in very fierce competition. In this case, I'm wondering if the foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is part of the hold-up. that perhaps people might be less inclined to commit money because they think that Bill and Melinda Gates are already pouring their fortune into the effort.

Mr. GATES: Well, fortunately, people are being more generous. There's a group called IAVI, the International AIDS for Vaccines, that does AIDS vaccine research, that's got more private donors to come along. And I think as we make scientific progress and people see the success coming along, that makes them more interested in being involved. So, by increasing the visibility of the issues, we've had the effect we'd hoped for, which is that people really do care about these deaths.

NORRIS: I'm curious about your thoughts on the timing of your departure - just before the global economy collapsed. Is that a good thing, perhaps, that maybe you dodged this disaster? Do you wish that you were still at the helm of Microsoft to help shepherd the company past the storm? I mean, some look at what happened this week with the first major layoffs announced by the company, 5,000 people given pink slips and assume that the company's best days might be behind it.

Mr. GATES: Well, Microsoft's best days are certainly ahead because the research and products and customer connections they have and the strength of leadership, starting with Steve Ballmer. It's definitely not immune to this huge downturn that's taking place and, you know, Steve is doing the right things. I, you know, I don't think I would do it any differently or any better, so, you know, I picked a time. I announced it several years in advance, and I always knew that the company would have all sorts of twists and turns that they'd take on and do well with without my being there full time.

NORRIS: Biggest challenge for you in the next year?

Mr. GATES: Well, you know, making sure that the crisis doesn't distract our partners from these critical, long-term goals, and getting the success stories out so that the momentum continues.

NORRIS: Mr. Gates, it's good to talk to you again. Thanks so much for making time for us.

Mr. GATES: Thank you.

NORRIS: Bill Gates is the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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