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It’s an irony that one of the world’s smartest people didn’t even finish college. In 1975 he dropped out of Harvard to form an informal partnership with Paul Allen, “Micro-soft”; they invested all their time in BASIC, the first computer language program written for a personal computer. It wasn’t until November 1976 that Microsoft became official, when it was registered at the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico, and only in 1977 did the partnership between Bill and Paul Allen become official. That’s also when they deliver their second language product, FORTRAN. In 1978, besides launching a third language, COBOL-80, Microsoft goes international by forming a strategic partnership with the founder of ASCII Corporation in Japan. The following year, the company also enters the European market and wins the ICP Million Dollar Award with the 8080 BASIC. This is an important indicative of the growth and acceptance of the PC industry.
Starting with the early 80s, Microsoft starts expanding the product range from languages to operating systems and its first hardware product, the SoftCard, designed for the Apple II users. The newly incorporated business signs a contract with IBM, the first version of MS-DOS being the primary result. Unfortunately, this operating system wasn’t a very good one, requiring its users a thorough knowledge of command syntax.
The company moves into the realm of business with an electronic spreadsheet program, the Multiplan. Also at this time, the Microsoft Local Area Network (MILAN) becomes functional, linking all of Microsoft’s in-house development computers.
1983 is an important year toward the development of a more user-friendly computer. In May the mouse is introduced, in September the Word processing program and in November Windows is announced, an extension of the MS-DOS operating system that provides a graphical operating environment. Windows allows a user to view unrelated application programs simultaneously and it provides the capability to transfer data from one application program to another.
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In the following years the company took a leading role in developing software for Macintosh. The Peripherals Division is also created to complement software product line. IBM chooses XENIX and MS-DOS for its new computer, AT and in 1987 the OS/2 is announced as the first product that resulted from the Joint Development Agreement between IBM and Microsoft. That same year Windows 2.0 is announced; it featured overlapping windows and it supported expanding memory. BookShelf is shipped as the first general purpose application to bring the benefits of CD-ROM technology.
Toward the end of the decade Microsoft announced the SQL Server with Ashton Tate and expanded its partnership with IBM into the 90’s.
The beginning of the new decade brings on the market a third edition of Windows (Windows 3.0) with dramatic performance increase, straightforward integration into corporate computing environments, ease of use and aesthetic appeal. Excel 3.0 for Windows 3.0 also becomes available and a graphical application development system, Visual BASIC, is released on the market along with the Multimedia Edition of Microsoft Works.
In 1992 the company starts advertising by kicking off its first-ever television advertising campaign (entitled “Where do you want to go today?”), to demonstrate the benefits of Windows-based computing to a new, broader audience. Gates is recognized "for his early vision of universal computing at home and in the office, for his technical and business management skills in creating a worldwide technology company, and his contribution to the development of the personal computing industry." Later that same year, Windows 3.1 is announced worldwide.
The next year, Encarta, the first multimedia encyclopedia on a computer, is made available on a single CD-ROM. DOS 6.0 is introduced and new Multimedia titles are unveiled. Microsoft sets a record when the customer base of Windows surges to 25 million, making it the most popular graphical operating system in the world.
What’s next? Something very familiar to us by now: in 1994 Windows ‘95, a fully integrated 32-bit operating system replacing Windows 3.11, Workgroups 3.11, and MS-DOS is announced. The company also completes the acquisition of SoftImage, the leading developer of high-performance 2-D and 3-D computer animation and visualization software.
During the next couple of years Windows ‘95 reached record sales and prices were lowered for the home software products; the company also creates the Interactive Media Division to shift focus towards the Internet. It is during that period that the very familiar Internet Explorer comes out on the market; Explorer is Microsoft’s world wide web browser, and the name for a set of Internet-based technologies that provide browsing, email, collaboration and multimedia. It’s now a four-year old product that has received glowing reviews from end users and the media, harsh criticism from Microsoft’s competitors and the anti-Microsoft crowd. It is being currently used by millions upon millions of users to navigate the World Wide Web, and it has emerged the victor in the long-standing browser wars with Microsoft’s competitor, Netscape Corporation. By the end of 1996, Microsoft set FrontPage as a key component to providing a full range of tools for both Internet and Intranet publishing, realigned platforms groups to address the Internet and announced new technologies that enabled users to create active contents on the web page.
In 1995 Microsoft signed the first contract for supply of a mobile e-mail server with the Swedish cellular operator Europolitan, in 1996 another contract was signed with an undisclosed British cellular operator and in 1997 the efforts the company had been making to launch a mobile Internet finally start to take shape. Throughout the year agreements are made with Motorola, GSM and Ericsson Radio Systems, which all choose ICSA as their Mobile Internet Messaging System. During the next two years, the mobile e-mail is launched, first by Hong Kong Telecom Ltd, followed by a major GSM operator in Europe, France Telecom Mobiles, Europolitan, SingTel Mobile and One2One. The latest in this field is the brand new ICSA 3.5 released on June 30th 2000.
In 25 years since it was launched, Microsoft has gone from 6 to 34,751 employees worldwide; how much more are they going to expand? The answer is not much: on November 5, 1999 judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his preliminary findings and declared Microsoft a monopoly in the computer operating systems market. He rules that the company's actions are ``stifling innovation'' and hurting consumers.
This, however, is not the first time the company has had to deal with a court of law. In 1991 the Federal Trade Commission begun to investigate claims that Microsoft monopolized the market for PC operating systems; this whole matter lasted until July 1994 when Microsoft agreed to change contracts with PC makers and eliminate some restrictions on other software makers, ending the U.S. and European antitrust investigations.
Microsoft’s October 1994 deal to buy Intuit, maker of the personal finance software Quicken, raises further concern about Microsoft's growing influence in the industry since the tentative takeover would be the largest software merger ever. In April 1995 the purchase was blocked by the Justice Department.
In October 1997 Microsoft is sued again by the Justice Department which is accusing the company of violating the 1994 consent decree by forcing computer makers to use its Internet browser as a condition of using its popular
Windows ‘95 operating software. Microsoft agrees to delay shipping
Windows ‘98 for several days while it negotiates with federal government and 20 states in attempt to forestall antitrust lawsuits; the negotiations collapse however and Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general sue Microsoft, charging it illegally thwarted competition to protect and extend its monopoly on software. On June 23, 1999 a three-judge federal appeals panel removes the restrictions that had been imposed on Windows 95 software, saying there was adequate justification to bundle the Internet browser in Windows.
Now, almost a quarter of a century after Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, he is considered one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth of about $50 billion. The good news is that he intends to give 90% of his wealth away while he’s still alive, as he declared to a Washington Post reporter in November 1997. And he has already started giving away: we all know about the Millennium Scholars Program...
But as much as people like to criticize Microsoft and Bill Gates, the one fact that no one can deny is that without him the personal computer industry wouldn’t be at the levels and standards we have today