The history of Microsoft

In the first week of April, way back in 1975, Paul Allen and Bill Gates – a pair of geeky buddies who met in high school – created Microsoft. That means, this week, Microsoft turned 46 years old. At that age, Microsoft is now well into middle age.  

Those of us who are also considered middle-aged will know that having a birthday often brings on a time of contemplation – Where have I come from? What have I done with my life? What are my challenges? Have I been a good person? What’s next for me? Since I don’t have a direct line into the Microsoft thought centre, let’s see if we can work out how Microsoft might respond to these questions. 

Where did Microsoft come from?

Before Microsoft was born, the only computers were massive mainframe devices owned by large organisations and used to perform calculations and data management tasks. They were usually the size of a whole room and required a team of IT experts to manage and maintain. Around the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, some tech companies began experimenting with ‘micro computers’ that were still only considered for company use as the cost was prohibitive for individuals. In 1975, the first commercially successful ‘personal computer’ was launched, the Altair 8800. Gates and Allen wrote an interpreter for the BASIC programming language specifically for the Altair 8800 and their company “Micro-soft” was born. The name was a combination of “microcomputer’ and ‘software’ and was later streamlined to “Microsoft”. 

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Original Microsoft logo 

What has Microsoft done with its life?  

From this very humble beginning as a company started by two people, Microsoft has grown into a massive organisation, employing almost 170,000 people worldwide, that has gone on to kick some major goals.  

1981MS-DOS operating system was released 
1983Windows operating system was released 

Microsoft was publicly listed 
Relocated to Redmond, Washington 
1988Launched Microsoft Office 

Launched Windows 95 
Launched Internet Explorer  

Entered the gaming market with the launch of Xbox 
Launched SharePoint 
2003Launched Windows Server 
2005Launched Xbox 360 

Launched Microsoft Bing search engine 
Opened first physical store, in Arizona 
2010Launched Windows Phone 

Launched Office 365  
Acquired Skype 

Entered the hardware market with the launch of Surface tablets  
Acquired Yammer 

Launched Office for iPad/Android 
Acquired Nokia’s devices and services business 
Acquired Mojang, and therefore ownership of Minecraft 

Launched Microsoft Dynamics 365 
Acquired LinkedIn 
2017Launched Teams 

Launched Mixed reality headset 
Acquired GitHub 
2019Launched HoloLens 2 
2021Launched Viva

Microsoft logo 1980-82 

What have been Microsoft’s challenges? 

There is speculation that the relationship between Microsoft’s two founding fathers had begun to cool by the early 1980s and Bill Gates developed a strong relationship with his new hire, Steve Ballmer. In 1983, when the company was just eight years old, Paul Allen left the business. Whilst the official word was that his leaving was amicable and due to him being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and he appears to have been well-paid for his share, we’ll never know the truth behind this move. Whilst he initially beat the disease, he eventually succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2018. Still, as a child from a broken family, Microsoft had to learn to do things differently after Allen left. 

Steve Ballmer went on to work for the company for 34 years, holding many executive positions, eventually becoming CEO in 2000 when Bill Gates stepped aside to focus on his philanthropic work. He was caught off guard by Apple, which was swiftly moving into the mobile market, introducing the iPod (2001), iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010), and Microsoft appeared to flounder for a while. During this period, Microsoft launched Windows Vista, which was found to be clunky, expensive and had restrictive licencing terms. To remedy the situation, Windows 7 was hastily brought to market and perceptions of the business began to change. 

Steve Ballmer was seen as old fashioned, a traditionalist and was generally not popular with staff. It is reported that he was reluctant to approve the development of potentially interesting products without a detailed business justification. In a column in Forbes magazine in 2012, Ballmer was described as “the worst CEO of a large publicly traded American company”, saying he had “steered Microsoft out of some of the fastest growing and most lucrative tech markets (mobile music, headsets and tablets)”.  

Microsoft logo 1982-1987

Has Microsoft been a good corporate citizen? 

Throughout its life, Microsoft has had many run-ins with the law. It has fought several lawsuits around the world accusing the company of monopolisation. As the company grew bigger, its work practices were often perceived to be such that other competitors were pushed out of the market. Most of these lawsuits were settled with payouts or changes in business practices. 

Microsoft has also been accused of overworking employees and having a preference to employ temporary staff instead of offering secure permanent employment with the accompanying employee benefits, leading the company to be referred to as a “Velvet Sweatshop”. In 1993 a US Federal Class Action was brought against Microsoft, representing thousands of current and former employees. The suit was settled for $US97million. 

However, as the company has prospered and Bill Gates interests turned towards sustainability, climate change and global health, Microsoft has begun many programs that contribute to society and the world. In 2016, they donated $US1 billion worth of Cloud services to support 70,000 nonprofit organisations. Since 2012 the company has operated carbon neutrally around the world, aiming to become carbon negative by 2030. Early in 2020, they announced a $US1million donation to support projects that strengthen efforts to monitor the earth’s biodiversity. Later, as the pandemic impacted the global economy, they launched a global initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills required in a Covid19 world. 

They encourage their staff to donate to charities and volunteer time for community projects – and back this up by giving time off to do so. 

Microsoft has increased their focus on accessible software, controllers and inclusive design and believe we all learn through diversity. They support organisations that work to advance diversity and inclusion in the tech industry throughout the world. 

So, like most of us, they may have started out young, fiery and passionate, but they have matured into a more generous and thoughtful way of behaving with hopes to have a positive impact on the community and the earth. Microsoft is now considered a trusted organisation with high ethical standards. 

Microsoft logo 1987 – 2011

What’s next for Microsoft? 

Satya Nadella has been CEO of Microsoft since 2014 and has been credited with successfully changing the entire organisation’s culture during his tenure. He has also steered the company into innovative technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing with the aim of becoming world leader in each of these fields. At the same time, he has made Windows software more compatible with competitor products, such as the Mac and iPad, further entrenching these core products. 

What once was a company that primarily focused on churning out as many sales as possible has morphed into an organisation whose emphasis is on developing incredible new technology and making it accessible to all. 

Microsoft’s mission is now ”to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more” and Satya Nadella himself has said, “You join here, not to be cool, but to make others look cool.” 

This shift towards empowering others and improving the customer experience accelerated in 2020 with the outbreak of the global pandemic. More technologies were introduced to enable developers, implementors and IT and business leaders access to the tools that they need to manage the urgent digital transformation required.  

In the next few years, a focus on remote collaboration and video conferencing will continue as the world transitions towards a hybrid working model, but added into the mix has been employee experience, wellbeing and a renewed spotlight on security, privacy and compliance. 

Apple and Microsoft have long been two of the biggest companies in the world, regularly swapping the leadership position. Currently, Microsoft is the leader with a value of $US1.8trillion! 

There’s no way Microsoft is planning an early retirement, the future is actually looking incredibly bright for Microsoft. Not only do they hold a stable of successful core products including computers, operating systems, servers, phones, applications, business solutions, development tools, games and more – they have massive resources to allow dabbling in mixed and virtual reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence and all kinds of futuristic technologies we haven’t even thought of yet. 

And we at Engage Squared will continue to partner with them and support businesses in utilising these technologies as they evolve.

Happy birthday Microsoft!

Microsoft logo 2012-present 

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