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Microsoft Turns 46: A Look Back on Some of its Key Milestones

April 5 marks the 46th birthday of the most influential software vendor in the history of personal computing. Microsoft, founded in 1975, is one of the most successful tech companies in history, with a market capitalization of just over $1 trillion. Headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is a household name whose products are used by hundreds of millions of people every day, and its logo is one of the most recognized around the world.

It has a long and storied history, from its innovative beginnings as the developer of the BASIC language and striking early success with IBM, to the authoring of universal business software, manufacturing of high-performance computing devices and investments in cloud computing, AI and new technologies.

Looking Back

The company that would eventually become Microsoft was first founded by childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 4, 1975 as Micro-Soft.

Both Gates and Allen were avid computer geeks in an age when access to computers was hard to come by. They even skipped high school classes to live and breathe in their school’s computer room. Eventually, they hacked the school’s computer and were caught, but instead of being expelled, they were offered unlimited computer time in exchange for helping to improve the school computer’s performance.

In 1973, Gates left Seattle to attend Harvard University as a pre-law student. However, Gates’ first love never left him as he spent most of his time in Harvard’s computer center, where he kept improving his programming skills. Soon Allen moved to Boston as well, working as a programmer and pressuring Gates to leave Harvard so they could work together full time on their projects. Gates was uncertain of what to do, but fate stepped in.

In January 1975, Allen read an article in Popular Electronics magazine about the Altair 8800 microcomputer and showed it to Gates, who called MITS, makers of the Altair, and offered his and Allen’s services to write a version of the new BASIC programming language for the Altair.

After eight weeks, Allen and Gates demonstrated their program to MITS, which agreed to distribute and market the product under the name Altair BASIC. The deal inspired Gates and Allen to form their own software company. Thus, Microsoft was started on April 4, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico—the home of MITS—with Gates as the first CEO.

On July 29, 1975, Gates used the name “Micro-Soft”—which had been suggested by Allen—in a letter to Allen referring to their partnership. The name, a portmanteau of “microcomputer” and “software,” was registered with the New Mexico secretary of state on Nov. 26, 1976.

In August 1977, less than a year later, the company opened its first international office. The branch, located in Japan, was called ASCII Microsoft. In 1979, the company moved to Bellevue, Washington, and two years later it incorporated under the name Microsoft Inc. Gates was president of the company and chairman of the board, and Allen was executive vice president.

Microsoft’s first operating system product to be publicly released was a version of Unix called Xenix, released in 1980. Xenix was later used as the basis for Microsoft’s first word processor Multi-Tool Word, a predecessor to Microsoft Word.

Microsoft’s first successful operating system was MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System), which was written for IBM in 1981 and based on computer programmer Tim Paterson’s QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System). In the deal of the century, Gates licensed MS-DOS to IBM but retained the rights to the software. As a result, Gates made a fortune for Microsoft, which had become a major soft vendor.

Also in 1983, Microsoft’s crowning achievement was released. The Microsoft Windows operating system had a novel graphical user interface and a multitasking environment for IBM computers. In 1986, the company went public. The success meant that Gates became a billionaire at age 31.

1989 marked the release of Microsoft Office, a software package that, as the name describes, is a collection of programs for use in an office. Still used today, it includes a word processor, spreadsheet, mail program, business presentation software, and more. In August 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 and the web browser Internet Explorer 1.0.

In 2001, Microsoft introduced its first gaming unit, the Xbox system. Xbox faced stiff competition from Sony’s PlayStation, and eventually, Microsoft discontinued the original Xbox in favor of later versions. In 2005, Microsoft released the Xbox 360 gaming console, which was a success.

In 2012, Microsoft made its first foray into the computing hardware market with the announcement of Surface tablets that ran Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro.

The Redmond, Washington Company has also diversified its services and expanded its markets. Today, Microsoft offers operating systems for computers, servers, phones, intelligent gadgets, as well as productivity applications, business solution apps, management and development tools, games, and many more.

Since 2014, under the leadership of current CEO India-born, Satya Nadella, Microsoft has is focusing on innovative technologies, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, trying to become a leader in every field. Nadella is also credited for successfully changing the culture of the entire organization.

 

Microsoft’s contribution is too large in business, society and our personal lives to list here in entirety, but we’ve pulled together a set of highlights throughout the decades to celebrate its birthday.

Key Timelines

April 4, 1975: 46 years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S, Bill Gates and Paul Allen establish Microsoft as Micro-Soft.

Jan. 1, 1979         Microsoft moves from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Bellevue, Washington

June 25, 1981     Microsoft incorporates

Aug. 12, 1981     IBM introduces its personal computer with Microsoft’s 16-bit operating system, MS-DOS 1.0

Feb. 26, 1986      Microsoft moves to corporate campus in Redmond, Washington

March 13, 1986  Microsoft stock goes public

Aug. 1, 1989        Microsoft introduces earliest version of Office suite of productivity applications

May 22, 1990      Microsoft launches Windows 3.0

Aug. 24, 1995     Microsoft launches Windows 95

Dec. 7, 1995        Bill Gates outlines Microsoft’s commitment to supporting and enhancing the Internet

June 25, 1998     Microsoft launches Windows 98

Jan. 13, 2000       Steve Ballmer named president and chief executive officer for Microsoft

Feb. 17, 2000      Microsoft launches Windows 2000

June 22, 2000     Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer outline Microsoft’s .NET strategy for Web services

May 31, 2001      Microsoft launches Office XP

Oct. 25, 2001      Microsoft launches Windows XP

Nov. 15, 2001     Microsoft launches Xbox

Jan. 15, 2002       Bill Gates outlines Microsoft’s commitment to Trustworthy Computing

April 24, 2003     Microsoft launches Windows Server 2003

Oct. 21, 2003      Microsoft launches Microsoft Office System

July 20, 2004       Microsoft announces plans to return up to $75 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks

Nov. 22, 2005     Microsoft launches Xbox 360

July 20, 2006       Microsoft announces a new US$20 billion tender offer and authorizes an additional share-repurchase program of up to $20 billion over five years

Windows 7Jan. 30, 2007       Microsoft launches Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office System to consumers worldwide

Feb. 27, 2008      Microsoft launches Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008

June 27, 2008     Bill Gates transitions from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to spend more time on his work at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

June 3, 2009       Microsoft launches Bing decision engine

Oct. 22, 2009      Microsoft launches Windows 7; opens first physical store in Scottsdale, Arizona

June 15, 2010     Microsoft launches general availability of Office 2010

Nov. 10, 2010     Microsoft launches Windows Phone 7

Nov. 17, 2010     Microsoft announces availability of Microsoft Lync

June 28, 2011     Microsoft launches Office 365

Oct. 13, 2011      Microsoft closes its acquisition of Skype

June 25, 2012     Microsoft acquires Yammer

Sept. 4, 2012      Microsoft launches Windows Server 2012

Sept. 12, 2012    Microsoft launches Visual Studio 2012

Oct. 18, 2012      Microsoft employee giving tops US$1 billion

Oct. 23, 2012      Microsoft introduces new entertainment experience from Xbox

Oct. 26, 2012      Microsoft launches Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface

Jan. 29, 2013       Microsoft launches Office 2013, expands Office 365

Feb. 18, 2013      Microsoft launches Outlook.com

May 21, 2013      Microsoft unveils Xbox One

July 11, 2013       “Microsoft One” reorganization realigns company to enable innovation at great speed, efficiency

Sept. 3, 2013      Microsoft announces decision to acquire Nokia’s devices and services business, license Nokia’s patents and mapping services

Oct. 17, 2013      Microsoft launches Windows 8.1

Oct. 22, 2013      Microsoft launches Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2

Nov. 22, 2013     Microsoft launches Xbox One

Feb. 4, 2014        Satya Nadella named chief executive officer for Microsoft

March 27, 2014  Microsoft launches Office for iPad

April 25, 2014     Microsoft completes acquisition of Nokia Devices and Services business

June 20, 2014     Microsoft launches Surface Pro 3

Sept. 15, 2014    Minecraft to join Microsoft announcement

Nov. 6, 2014       Microsoft announces Office apps for Android tablets

May 5, 2015        Microsoft releases Surface 3

July 29, 2015       Microsoft launches Windows 10

Sept. 22, 2015    Microsoft launches Office 2016

Oct. 6, 2015         Microsoft announces Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Microsoft Band 2, Lumia 950 and Lumia 95 XL

Oct. 26, 2015      Microsoft opens flagship store in New York City

Nov. 12, 2015     Microsoft opens flagship store in Sydney, Australia

IaaSJan. 19, 2016       Microsoft Philanthropies announces $1B in donations putting Microsoft Cloud to work for the public good

June 1, 2016       Microsoft launches SQL Server 2016

July 6, 2016         Microsoft introduces Microsoft Dynamics 365

Sept. 29, 2016    Microsoft forms what is now the Technology + Research Group

Oct. 18, 2016      Microsoft researchers achieve human parity in conversational speech recognition

Oct. 26, 2016      Microsoft introduces Surface Studio, Surface Dial, new Surface Book and Windows 10 Creators Update

Dec. 8, 2016        Microsoft completes acquisition of LinkedIn

March 7, 2017    Microsoft releases Visual Studio 2017

March 17, 2017  Microsoft Teams rolls out to Office 365 customers worldwide

May 2, 2017        Microsoft introduces new technology for education, including Windows 10 S, new Surface Laptop and Microsoft Teams for classrooms

May 23, 2017      Microsoft announces Windows 10 China Government Edition and the new Surface Pro

June 14, 2017     Surface Laptop and new Surface Pro available in 25 markets worldwide

Sept. 21, 2017    Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius complete “Marea,” the highest-capacity subsea cable to cross the Atlantic Ocean

Oct. 17, 2017      Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and Mixed Reality Headsets become available; Surface Book 2 announced

Nov. 6, 2017       Microsoft launches Xbox One X

Nov. 28, 2017     Microsoft announces major Redmond campus renovation

Dec. 5, 2017        Microsoft breaks ground on new sustainable Silicon Valley campus

Feb. 22, 2018      Microsoft opens new campus in Dublin, Ireland

May 15, 2018      Microsoft announces Surface Hub 2

May 16, 2018      Microsoft unveils Xbox Adaptive Controller

Aug. 2, 2018        Surface Go becomes available

Oct. 26, 2018      Microsoft completes GitHub acquisition

Jan. 16, 2019       Microsoft announces $500 million commitment to advance affordable housing in Puget Sound region

Feb. 24, 2019      Microsoft introduces HoloLens 2

July 11, 2019       Microsoft opens flagship store in London

Oct. 2, 2019         Microsoft announces five Surface products for late 2019, plus two new dual-screen devices, Surface Neo and Surface Duo, coming in late 2020

Dec. 12, 2019      Microsoft announces Xbox Series X, coming in late 2020

Jan. 16, 2020       Microsoft announces plan to become carbon negative by 2030

On March 13, 2020, Gates announced that he is leaving the board of directors of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway in order to focus more on his philanthropic efforts.

March 30, 2020  Microsoft introduces new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscriptions

April 15, 2020     Microsoft announces plan to help protect biodiversity of the world’s ecosystems

May 6, 2020        Microsoft introduces Surface Go 2, Surface Book 3, Surface Headphones 2 and Surface Earbuds

June 30, 2020     Microsoft commits to helping 25 million people acquire new digital skills

Sept. 21, 2020    Microsoft announces it will replenish more water than it consumes by 2030

Sept. 21, 2020   Microsoft announces plans to acquire ZeniMax Media and its game publisher, Bethesda Softworks

Oct. 1, 2020         Microsoft introduces Surface Laptop Go

Oct. 20, 2020      Microsoft introduces Azure Space

Jan. 11, 2021       Microsoft introduces Surface Pro 7+ for Business

(With inputs from the book Techtonic Shift: A Brief History Of Computing And The Web by Sohini Bagchi)

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