Creating a revolution bit by byte.
With more than 100,000 employees worldwide and annual sales of more than $85.3 billion, Microsoft is truly an American success story. Headquartered in Redmond, Washington their line of flagship products, from the various releases of Windows and Internet Explorer to the Office suite of productivity tools, can be found on an estimated 95% of all personal computers.
Chances are good that you know the names Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of the multi-billion dollar company. But you may have never heard of Traf-O-Data, their first attempt at starting a business. The company created a computer system that read the data from roadway traffic counters in order to automate reporting. The idea never really caught on and Traf-O-Data closed its doors after a few thousand dollars in sales.
Undeterred, the two twenty-somethings cast about for the next big thing. They found it in a 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. The magazine had a feature on the new Altair 8800 computer and Gates boldly contacted its maker to let them know that his team was working on a BASIC program to run on it. In truth, they didn’t have any such thing, but the president of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems didn’t know that at the time. They landed the project.
In November of that year, Gates and Allen started their company, Micro-Soft. A year later, the hyphen was gone and a legend was born. Not overnight, of course. But, pretty close. The company made $16,000 its first year but by 1978, sales had soared to $1 million with the release of their new computer languages, FORTAN and COBOL.
The company’s big break was yet to come. IBM was in the process of creating its first personal computer and asked Microsoft to develop the language for it. The result was MS-DOS which was sold to IBM in a non-exclusive arrangement that would serve as the foundation of a computing empire.
A string of new products soon came online, including Word 1.0, which along with its companions PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook, went on to capture the vast majority of the productivity market. Working closely with Apple on the first Macs, the company saw the future in graphical user interfaces for computers. Windows, released in 1985, was their answer.
It was hardly an overnight success. But with time, Windows caught on and the latest incarnation of Windows, Windows 10, offers users a revolutionary interface that could be applied across the spectrum of computing products, from smart phones and tablets, such as the company’s Surface, to laptops and desktops.
Along the way the company continued to expand into new ventures, joining forces with the NBC network to form MSNBC and launching the Xbox video game system.
Gates and Allen certainly weren’t one hit wonders. Bill and his wife Melinda went on to establish the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, funding a range of global health and wellness initiatives. Allen has been involved in numerous business ventures and civic projects, including owning and operating the Seattle Seahawks, building the Museum of Pop Culture and redeveloping the South Lake Union area through his company, Vulcan.