Thinking about Ed Roberts, who died last week, reminded me of the best story he ever told me about Bill Gates and Paul Allen, explaining why Gates was always richer than Allen and why that differential may not have been fair. Here’s the short version:

There was a time when Paul Allen, not Bill Gates, was the boss at Microsoft. When it came time to visit Albuquerque to demonstrate that first BASIC interpreter to the folks at MiTS, Allen made the trip, not Gates. It was Paul Allen, not Gates, who was later offered the job as head of software for MiTS — a job I have in the past characterized as the single most expensive position in the history of employment because accepting that job meant that Allen got only 36 percent of Microsoft’s founder shares, compared to Bill Gates’ 64 percent.

There’s an irony in that stock differential, and it is that Gates argued he was working 100 percent for Microsoft while Allen was working for both Microsoft and MiTS, Microsoft’s only customer, and therefore deserved less stock because of his divided duties. The irony is that shortly after they divided the shares, Gates went to MiTS founder Ed Roberts asking for a job, too, which Roberts gave him, paying $10 per hour. A more aggressive Paul Allen would have demanded a share adjustment at that point, but the real Paul Allen let it slide.

“I made out okay, ” he told me when I asked about it, years later.

And while I have you on the line, if you are into Open Source software and live in the southeast or will be passing-through, please meet me at POSSCON 2010, the Palmetto Open Source Software Conference April 15-17 in Columbia, SC.  I’ll be the keynote speaker on April 15th and promise to shock and awe you with my amazing insight and bad grammar.