Bill Gates Makes First Trip to Israel, Outlines Cooperation Deal

Microsoft founder says Israeli innovation 'critical to future of technology,' meets outstanding students.

Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates, on his first visit to Israel on Wednesday, announced an agreement between his company and the Israeli government to encourage the development of Israeli technology, worth some $1.4 million in the next three years.

"It's no exaggeration to say that the kind of innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of the technology business," Gates said in his announcement.

The agreement came ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Gates was also meeting Wednesday with Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Ehud Olmert and other economic leaders before heading to Jordan.

Gates, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening for his 24-hour visit, is one of the world's richest people and among the most influential philanthropists today.

"I'm certainly excited ... [about] encouraging the success of the companies in Israel," Gates said.

Earlier Wednesday, Gates met with outstanding Israeli technology students, made a presentation on the future of global technology and outlined the latest research by Microsoft.

Microsoft employs more than 400 workers in Israel. However, the company likes to keep its software security development center in Haifa out of the limelight for fear of repercussions in the Arab world.

The founder and managing director of Microsoft Israel, Arie Scope, said Wednesday he expects Gates to invest more in Israel now that he has visited the country.

Gates and his wife Melinda established a charitable foundation in 2000, which is considered the world's largest private foundation. It has contributed more than $27 billion to various relief causes to date.

The coming year is important for Gates, who will be turning 50 this week. The company he founded 30 years ago is facing a major new threat from Google, which recently joined forces with one of Microsoft's main rivals, Sun Microsystems.

Also this year, Microsoft will be releasing new versions of its two biggest bets: the new Windows Vista operating system, which Gates has been personally involved in as the company's chief software architect, and its new games console the Xbox 360 which will compete with the new Sony PlayStation.