It wasn’t too far back in the past that I came to know that Microsoft was an amalgamation of two words: Micro-computers and software. Someone from Microsoft tweeted that, making me go back to check out the history of a company that started as a partnership and became one of the huge business empires. This article on the History of Microsoft: Company To Corporation comes with a PPT file.
History Of Microsoft Linked To History Of Micro-Computers
While discussing the history of this mega-corporation, we also talk of how it obtained the support of micro-computer manufacturing companies (present-day OEMs). The history of both Microsoft and Micro-Computers are intertwined. Both cannot be seen in isolation to get a complete picture. The story starts from 1975 and continues till 2012, where time has again placed both Microsoft and OEMs at a point that needs to be observed a little finely. While Microsoft has made its decision, the OEMs are yet to decide on the roads to tread.
1975: History of Microsoft Corporation – How It All Began
Two students – one in Harvard and one in Washington State – had more than the average eye for details in the world of computers. One was born into a business family and learned the tricks of business early in his life, while the other was a sharp programmer. The first product of their partnership was Microsoft BASIC.
Paul Allen is said to have approached Bill Gates for the creation of a partnership venture that would deal in computer software. Bill, being a geek and a college dropout plus businessman, accepted the offer and even as they were working on sundry programs. MITS Altair 8080 was released to the computer market. This was a starting point for the Microsoft partnership venture. They created a special edition of BASIC programming language that would run easily on MITS Altair and contacted Altair. Altair agreed to ship BASIC with their PCs, and Microsoft got the much-required base in the computer software market.
1976: Inception of Micro-Soft
Soon after Altair started shipping the first high-level language for Altair, the MS BASIC, with its new products, Paul and Bill got their partnership venture registered as Micro-Soft (notice the hyphen within). The very next year, 1977, saw the re-registration of Micro-Soft as Microsoft Corporation – with Bill as President and Paul as Vice President of the company.
Altair 8080 is said to be the spark that created the micro-computer revolution. Even though it was designed for a bunch of computer hobbyists, it sold more than a thousand pieces in just a month – based on adverts carried in popular magazines such as “Popular Electronics” and “Radio Electronics”. With the popularity of the micro-computer Altair 8080, grew the popularity of Microsoft.
1981: The Creation of Microsoft DOS
Those were the days when Disk Operating System or DOS for short, were being used to talk to the computer hardware. There were many versions of DOS in the market, each one native to one or more micro-computer companies. Among them was the QDOS – Quick and Dirty Operating System by Seattle Computer products or 86-DOS as it was built for Intel 8086, a slower but cheaper processor.
This is where IBM comes into the picture. It wanted a better operating system for its new lane of micro-computers. As it could not reach a settlement with Seattle Computer Products that had its own line of micro-computers, it contacted Microsoft to see if they can create one for them. They did. They obtained the license of 86-DOS and converted it into Personal Computers Operating System or PC-DOS that later became MS-DOS and is continued to date as an add-on to the Windows operating system.
This also led to – probably, the first – lawsuit against Microsoft. Seattle Computer Products claimed Microsoft had concealed its relations with IBM to procure the license of QDOS at a lower price and they won the lawsuit. By then, Microsoft was already successfully selling MS-DOS not only to IBM but to other manufacturers also.
The advent of Graphical User Interface & Windows
Already, there were graphic UI-based programs running on the MS-DOS line of operating systems. Apple had entered the market with affordable GUI-based software. To counter them, PC OEM needed something better. Microsoft came up with Windows line of operating systems that were, originally, an add-on to MS-DOS (which now, is an add-on to Windows!) until Windows 98 but worked more like a full operating system from Windows 95 onwards. The history of the Windows operating system is well known and most of you might have grown up using the early versions so I will not be covering it here.
Back To 1981 – Windows vs PC-DOS
The Microsoft Corporation, already founded in 1976/77, was a success with different PC OEMs being part of a permanent clientele of Microsoft. With Windows 10, PC makers get a surprise as the operating system employs a completely different user interface that requires special hardware for proper usage of all the features. Though it runs well on normal PCs, such a system would be missing out on many features. This sent off a signal that the OEMs had to change and enhance their products if they are to continue using Microsoft products.
This is quite like the time – the year 1981 – when PCs had to move forward but at the same time, had to maintain compatibility with the past: to allow smoother transitions at the end-user part (Ref: PC DOS).
If I am not wrong, several microcomputer manufacturing companies closed down as they could not keep up with the changing scenario of operating systems and also because bigger players entered into the market with better designs. MITS, Pertec, PCC, Wang, and many others populate this list.
It is worthwhile to mention here that many other Microsoft products now have already migrated to what was called the Metro UI – with simple looks providing for more screen space and controls appearing only when users need them. But since Windows 8 is a complete operating system and what may be termed as the “future of computing”, there is a feeling that Microsoft might have hurt its OEM partners – temporarily at least – who have been supporting it, and in the process, became dependent on the company.
Windows & OEMs – End Of PC Era?
Many technology gurus call it the post-PC era, meaning the time of desktops has ended. In my opinion, however, it is too early to call it off. There are certain organizations experimenting with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Such practices – while promoting portable computers, tablets, phones, etc – are also a risk to any organization. I am not going into details of how those companies intend to handle the security issues. We would rather focus on what Microsoft is doing and how is it going to affect the PC manufacturers.
If the PC makers wish to go with Windows (probably, the successive operating systems from Microsoft will use Windows as a base), they have to go back and redesign the PCs. Windows is more like – one size fits all: Desktops, Tablets, and Phones!
There is no doubt that portable computers are the future. The only question is – was it required to be this quick? If PC makers were to go on to ship Windows 8 with regular desktops, they would have missed out on many features of the operating system, and demand for such computers would be have been almost non-existent. Naturally, the basic design of desktops had to be changed – and changed they have – as can be seen from the many cool new Windows 8 hardware being launched today.
I do not think organizations will move to more portable computers in every division – considering the security risks. Desktops are here to stay and will stay for a considerable period of time. The Post-PC era has to wait until some system of scanning dockable devices for sensitive information before they are detached from servers comes up. That is just an example. The technology could be anything to prevent people from smuggling company databases outside. Right now, most organizations do not allow even pen drives inside.
Anyway, coming back to the OEM and Windows 8, some of them (ACER, for example) came up with desktops that are easier to use with touch features. Others are to follow suit. The list includes IBM too, which was among the first PC kits makers that shot Microsoft to fame. With the release of Surface, Microsoft’s own portable computer designed for Windows, there are already speculations if the software corporation would enter the hardware market actively. If it does, that would be a washout for other PC makers because people will always prefer both hardware and software from the same manufacturer.
The end question is: Where do these PC makers stand, post Window 8 release? Will all of them be quick enough to adapt, or will some of them fade away into history as was the case with MITS and others who were dependent on Microsoft, but could not cater to the needs of end-users. As of now, it is hard to imagine an entire organization using networked tablets and smartphones. The market segment for such devices is still in its infancy.
No doubt, Windows OS is a turning point in the history of computing as was the MS-DOS. The only thing that remains to be seen and given thought is whether all OEM’s can survive this change and how soon the different business organizations adapt to it.
I wrap up my discussion on The History of Microsoft – Company to Corporation with PPT and link to notes file below. Would like to listen to your thoughts at this point when it looks more like history is repeating itself! Do check the presentation for a better idea of this argument.
Download: PDF containing Slide Notes.