Microsoft Corporation is the largest company in the world dedicated to creating computer software. Microsoft develops and sells a wide variety of software products to businesses and consumers and has subsidiary offices in more than 60 countries. The company’s operating systems for personal computers are the most widely used in the world. Microsoft has its headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
Microsoft’s other well-known products include Word, a word processor; Excel, a spreadsheet program; Access, a database program; and PowerPoint, a program for making business presentations. These programs are sold separately and as part of Office, an integrated software suite. The company also makes software applications for a wide variety of server products for businesses. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) allows users to browse the World Wide Web. Microsoft produces the Xbox game console and software games that run on the console. Among the company’s other products are reference applications; financial software; programming languages for software developers; input devices, such as pointing devices and keyboards; software for personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cellular telephones; handwriting-recognition software; software for creating Web pages; and computer-related books. Microsoft operates the Microsoft Network (MSN), a collection of news, travel, financial, entertainment, and information Web sites. Microsoft and NBC Universal jointly operate the MSNBC Web site, one of the most popular all-news sites on the Internet.
Microsoft was founded in 1975 by William H. Gates III and Paul Allen. The pair had teamed up in high school through their hobby of programming on the original PDP-10 computer from the Digital Equipment Corporation. In 1975 Popular Electronics magazine featured a cover story about the Altair 8800, the first personal computer (PC). The article inspired Gates and Allen to develop a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair. They licensed the software to Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), the Altair’s manufacturer, and formed Microsoft (originally Micro-soft) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to develop versions of BASIC for other computer companies.
Microsoft’s early customers included fledgling hardware firms such as Apple Inc., maker of the Apple II computer; Commodore, maker of the PET computer; and Tandy Corporation, maker of the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. In 1977 Microsoft shipped its second language product, Microsoft Fortran, and it soon released versions of BASIC for the 8080 and 8086 .
In 1985 Microsoft released Windows, an operating system that extended the features of MS-DOS and employed a graphical user interface. Windows 2.0, released in 1987, improved performance and offered a new visual appearance. In 1990 Microsoft released a more powerful version, Windows 3.0, which was followed by Windows 3.1 and 3.11. These versions, which came preinstalled on most new personal computers, rapidly became the most widely used operating systems. In 1990 Microsoft became the first personal-computer software company to record $1 billion in annual sales.
As Microsoft’s dominance grew in the market for personal-computer operating systems, the company was accused of monopolistic business practices. In 1990 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began investigating Microsoft for alleged anticompetitive practices, but it was unable to reach a decision and dropped the case. The United States Department of Justice continued the probe.
In 1991 Microsoft and IBM ended a decade of collaboration when they went separate ways on the next generation of operating systems for PCs. IBM chose to pursue the OS/2 operating system (first released in 1987), which until then had been a joint venture with Microsoft. Microsoft chose to evolve its Windows operating system into increasingly powerful systems. In 1993 Apple lost a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Microsoft that claimed Windows illegally copied the design of the Macintosh’s graphical interface. An appellate court later upheld the ruling.
In 1993 Microsoft released Windows NT, an operating system for business environments. In 1994 the company and the Justice Department reached an agreement that called for Microsoft to change the way its operating system software was sold and licensed to computer manufacturers. In 1995 the company released Windows 95, which featured a simplified interface, multitasking, and other improvements.
An estimated 7 million copies of Windows 95 were sold worldwide within seven weeks of its release. The company also released its web browser, Internet Explorer, with the Windows 95 Plus! Pack in August 1995 and subsequent Windows versions.
In the mid-90s, Microsoft began to expand its product line into computer networking and the World Wide Web. On August 24, 1995, it launched a major online service, MSN (Microsoft Network), as a direct competitor to AOL. MSN became an umbrella service for Microsoft’s online services. The company continued to branch out into new markets in 1996, starting with a joint venture with NBC to create a new 24/7 cable news station, MSNBC. Microsoft entered the personal digital assistant (PDA) market in November with Windows CE 1.0, a new built-from-scratch version of their flagship operating system, specifically designed to run on low-memory, low-performance machines, such as handhelds and other small computers. Later in 1997, Internet Explorer 4.0 was released for both Mac OS and Windows, marking the beginning of the takeover of the browser market from rival Netscape. In October, the Justice Department filed a motion in the Federal District Court in which they stated that Microsoft had violated an agreement signed in 1994, and asked the court to stop the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows.
The year 1998 was significant in Microsoft’s history, with Bill Gates appointing Steve Ballmer as president of Microsoft but remaining as Chair and CEO himself. The company released Windows 98, an update to Windows 95 that incorporated a number of Internet-focused features and support for new types of devices. On April 3, 2000, a judgment was handed down in the case of United States v. Microsoft, calling the company an “abusive monopoly” and forcing the company to split into two separate units. Part of this ruling was later overturned by a federal appeals court, and eventually settled with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001.In 2001, Microsoft released Windows XP, the first version that encompassed the features of both its business and home product lines. XP introduced a new graphical user interface, the first such change since Windows 95. Later, with the release of the Xbox Microsoft entered the multi-billion-dollar game console market dominated by Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft encountered more turmoil in March 2004 when antitrust legal action was brought against it by the European Union for abusing its market dominance (see European Union Microsoft antitrust case), eventually resulting in a judgement to produce new versions of its Windows XP platform—called Windows XP Home Edition N and Windows XP Professional N—that did not include its Windows Media Player.In 2006, Bill Gates announced a two year transition period from his role as Chief Software Architect, which would be taken by Ray Ozzie, and planned to remain the company’s chairman, head of the Board of Directors and act as an adviser on key projects. As of December 2007, Windows Vista, released in January 2007, is Microsoft’s latest operating system. Microsoft Office 2007 was released at the same time; its “Ribbon” user interface is a significant departure from its predecessors. On 1st February, 2008, Microsoft made an unsolicited bid to purchase the fully diluted outstanding shares of Yahoo for up to $44.6 billion, though this offer was later rejected on February 10. Microsoft is not privately haggling with Yahoo over the software maker’s rejected $31-per-share buyout offer for the Internet pioneer, Bill Gates said on February 19, 2008. Microsoft Corp. told on February 21, 2008 it will share more information about its products and technology. The company wants to make it easier for developers to create software that works with its products.