In the last article I delved into the 25-year history of Amazon – from humble beginnings to a present-day monster of a company.   I thought I’d continue on this theme with a look into the history of another large tech company – this time Microsoft.

Founded on April 4th, 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, both were students at the time and decided to leave and start their own business together.   This decision worked out well for Gates, who, by the age of 31 became the youngest billionaire ever at the time.  By 1995 he became the world’s richest man with a net worth of $12.9 Billion!

Back in 1975, personal computers were still pretty rare.  Large computers were found in businesses, but desktop computers were still in their inception.   Hobbyists were building their own computers, but they were complex to program and operate.

The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics featured an article about a company called Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) and their new Altair 8800 computer.   This article got Allen thinking about how they could write a BASIC interpreter for the new computer.   BASIC was a computer language which made it easier for anyone to write programs.   Being an “interpreter” meant it could take a fairly human language and convert it to the necessary machine language.   This was crucial to MITS, as having a BASIC interpreter meant they could market the Altair to a larger audience.

Gates called MITS to announce they had a running BASIC interpreter who immediately requested a demo.   Great, however they didn’t “actually” have anything working yet!   They didn’t have an Altair to work on, so while Allen worked on a simulator, Gates got to work on building the interpreter.   In March 1975 they demoed the Interpreter to MITS in Albuquerque, New Mexico where it worked perfectly!   Quite an achievement as this was the first time it had been tested on a real Altair!   MITS immediately agreed to distribute the Interpreter as Altair BASIC.

Moving on to 1980, Microsoft entered the Operating System market.   An Operating System (OS) is the underlying software which looks after the running of a computer.   It ties everything together and makes sure that any running programs get access to any resources they need and don’t interfere with each other.

IBM desperately needed an OS for their Personal Computer (PC) after talks with Digital Research had failed.   Microsoft purchased 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products and rebranded it as MS-DOS.   They licensed this to IBM who then in turn rebranded it IBM-DOS!     The IBM PC became an instant hit and every machine shipped with a copy.   It was such a hit that other manufacturers reverse engineered the IBM-PC and came out with IBM compatibles.  Luckily for Microsoft they retained the rights to MS-DOS and could sell to the growing market of compatibles as well as to IBM!

These compatible computers angered IBM who wanted to control the PC market.   They started work on the PS/2 which was to be a proprietary computer that couldn’t be copied.   As they needed an OS, they once again worked with Microsoft to develop OS/2 – an advanced graphical system which would only work on the PS/2.    Little known to IBM, Microsoft was simultaneously working on their own “graphical” OS (using a lot of the same code) which would later become known as Windows.   If you haven’t used Windows, you probably haven’t used a computer!    Windows 1.0 was released on November 20th, 1985 and today is still going strong with Windows 10.

A year later in 1986 Microsoft went public at $21 a share, raising $61 million.   If you’d bought one share back in 1986, you could’ve sold it for $15,000 in 2017 with a gain of 71,000%!

Today, Microsoft is famous for software applications such as Windows and Office, but also hardware such as the Xbox gaming console.   With an annual revenue of over $110 billion, they’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings.

Unfortunately, Allen passed away in 2018.   Gates is now a philanthropist and is putting his wealth towards projects such as trying to eradicate Malaria.    With a net wealth of $95.4 billion, he’s the second richest person behind Jeff Bezos.   In 2009, Gates and Warren Buffet founded “The Giving Pledge” foundation, where they and other billionaires have pledged to give at least half of their wealth to philanthropy.   So hopefully all those sales of Windows will end up helping good causes!