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.
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.
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
Jan. 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
Jan. 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)