How Microsoft rose to rule the PC world

Microsoft is finally launching Windows 10 on July 29th, and there’s no better time to talk a walk down memory lane with the company that changed computing forever.

Through this series of photos of both Microsoft’s team and its innovative software, take a look back at Microsoft’s first 25 years, from Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque all the way through Gates’ resignation from the CEO job in 2000.

This is the history of Microsoft in photos.

The birth of Microsoft

Microsoft was founded on April 4th, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico by two childhood friends with an interest in computers -- Washington State University dropout Paul Allen (left) and Harvard dropout Bill Gates (right

Finding a place to work

This inauspicious building was Microsoft's first headquarters in Albuquerque. They stayed here from 1975 to 1979, when they then moved to Bellevue, Washington, as they had too much trouble finding employees willing to move to New Mexico.

The actual first computer built by the duo that would become Microsoft

Fun fact: Microsoft wasn't actually their first company. The original Gates/Allen collaboration was Traf-O-Data in 1972, a computer to read information from city traffic counters and feed it to traffic engineers. It was only moderately successful, but it paved the way for Microsoft.

Microsoft's first product

Microsoft's first product ever was a version of the programming language BASIC for the Altair 8800 'microcomputer,' released in 1975 -- one of the earliest versions of what we now know as the personal computer, or the PC. Allen and Gates got the idea after reading about the machine in Popular Mechanics magazine.

The story behind the classic Bill Gates mugshot

Microsoft continued in the BASIC market for a while, growing slowly but steadily. It was during this time, circa 1977, that Bill Gates got pulled over for a traffic violation, resulting in this classic mugshot.

The company grows

By 1978, the Microsoft team was

By 1978, Microsoft was an eleven-person company. This picture often gets passed around with the caption 'Would you have invested?' Because, well, look at them.


In 1980, not long after Microsoft moved to Washington, IBM needed someone to make an operating system for its forthcoming IBM PC. Microsoft stepped in with the text-based MS-DOS, or the Microsoft Disk Operating System -- which, funnily enough, it didn't develop itself, instead buying the licence to the technology from a computer manufacturer called Seattle Computer Works. The IBM PC would go on to rule the market, and Microsoft made the operating system for it.

Windows 1.0

In 1985, not long before the IPO, Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released. It was originally intended as a graphical interface for the text-based MS-DOS to make it easier for people to use.

The first billion in annual sales

Windows 2.0, released in 1987, was a relatively minor update. But the best was yet to come: Windows 3.0 would be the operating system that would make Microsoft a household name. In 1990, Microsoft became the first software company to do $US1 billion in annual sales.

Minesweeper and Solitaire

1990's much-gussied-up Windows 3.0, followed by 1992's Windows 3.1, was a massive hit, selling two million copies in the first two years. Windows 3.0 was also the first appearance of Windows classic games like Minesweeper and Solitaire.

Microsoft Office hits the market

Microsoft Office 4.0, running on Windows 3.1

But Windows 3.0 wasn't the only Microsoft product launch of 1990: The first version of Microsoft Office came out around the same time, marking the first time the world was introduced to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel -- kicking off a dynasty that's run continuously for the last 26 years.

The golden years and the Gates/Jobs rivalry

Steve Jobs, left, and Bill Gates, right, circa 1991.

At this point, Microsoft was the de facto king of personal computers. IBM set the standard for PC compatibility, and Microsoft Windows ran on all of them. The only competition was with Apple, whose Macintosh line of computers had a comparatively small but loyal fanbase. While they'd become friends later down the road, Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs were bitter business rivals.

Windows 95

Bill Gates announces Windows 95.

Windows 95 was a tremendous overhaul to the operating system, and had a ton of hype leading up to its August 24, 1995 release. People even threw barbecues and parties to commemorate the launch (seriously). The commercials features the Rolling Stones' 'Start Me Up' to highlight the new operating system's then-revolutionary Start button.

The 'Internet Tidal Wave'

Gates had identified the Internet as a coming source of much change in the market in his famous 'Internet Tidal Wave' memo to staff, and saw Windows 95 as a grand entrance to the market. It included a trial of The Microsoft Network, an Internet service and competitor to AOL. The Internet Explorer web browser would come later, in a Windows 95 update.

Legal woes

Bill Gates gives his deposition during the landmark United States v. Microsoft case.

Those Internet initiatives got Microsoft into some hot water -- in 1998, the United States Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit saying that by packaging a web browser and Internet Service Provider in with Windows 95, it was risking becoming a monopoly. Ultimately, Microsoft was required to share some of its code with third-party developers, and submit itself to scrutiny, but there were little other long-term consequences.

Ballmer becomes President of Microsoft

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, in an Austin Powers parody made for Microsoft employees.

In 1998, two things happened: Microsoft released Windows 98, a small update to the operating system that added more Internet-enabled features. And Steve Ballmer, Gates' old classmate, was appointed President of Microsoft.

MSNBC and the shrinking of Windows

The late '90s saw Microsoft expand in a lot of different directions. In 1996, Microsoft and NBC launched MSNBC, a joint news venture that's still with us today. It also released Windows CE, a version of the operating system meant for personal digital assistants and other tiny computers -- more than a decade before the iPhone.

Gates takes a step back, and Ballmer becomes CEO

On January 13, 2000, Gates handed the CEO role to Ballmer, taking instead the new title of 'Chief Software Architect.'

The Ballmer era

Ballmer would go on to lead the company from 2000 to 2014, a time would see great change -- the resurgence of Apple, the rise of Google, and the fall of the PC would all have drastic effects on the company.

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