Fairly early on, Gates recognized the Internet would have a profound impact on society. In his "Internet Tidal Wave" memo from 1995 he famously described the Internet as the "most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981."
Riding the internet tidal wave
It was natural then that Windows 95 came bundled with Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer. For many consumers (due to 95's incredible market penetration), IE was their introduction to the World Wide Web.
With a 95% usage share during its peak, IE is one of the most broadly used applications Microsoft has ever produced. It won't be remembered for its usability, but it will go down in history for helping to bring the internet to everyone.
Xbox marks the spot
If Internet Explorer fueled the Internet's rocket in the late 90's, Microsoft's first gaming console, Xbox, would send it into orbit in the new millennium.
While not the first platform to introduce online gaming, Xbox, like many a Gates product, made it a part of the zeitgeist. It was the first home console to give gamers a built-in Ethernet port and a dedicated cross-game networking platform. This platform, called Xbox Live, pushed demand for an Internet fast enough to play Xbox games, and eventually pulled America out of the dial-up age and into the broadband era. As the YouTube's, Netflix's and Hulu's of the world feast on high-speed Internet, this was a technological turn with powerful economic consequences.
The world doesn't need another lawyer
Operating systems and the Internet and are not Bill Gates inventions, but his vision of what they could do – and who they were for – spawned the technological ecosystem that we have today.
Yes, Apple gets the design awards, but it's Microsoft that's made technology something your grandfather can and wants to use.
So what kind of world would we be living in if Bill Gates had become a lawyer? No one can say for sure, but no doubt it would be slower and smaller – and full of people sitting through commercials on live TV.