US corporation, one of the world's largest software suppliers, based in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975. Its first major product was a version of BASIC, written for the first personal computer, the MITS Altair, in 1975, and adopted by most of the desktop computer industry. Through MS-DOS, written for IBM, Windows, and related applications such as Microsoft Office, it increased its hold on the personal computer market. The company also diversified into reference media, Web services, cable channels, gaming consoles, and hardware.
In 1980, when it had a staff of 40, Microsoft was contracted to produce a BASIC and DOS (disk operating system) for IBM's first mass market microcomputer, the IBM PC. With the success of the IBM PC, Microsoft grew rapidly to 6,000 staff and a turnover of $1 billion in 1990, when it launched Windows 3, a hugely successful graphical user interface for DOS.
In 1995 Microsoft released its radically new interface, Windows 95, and began to focus on computer networking and the then emerging World Wide Web. In 2001, in a new direction for the company, Microsoft released the Xbox games console. In the same year, a new operating system, Windows XP, was released, followed by a new version of Windows, Windows Vista, in 2007, which was itself replaced in 2009 by Windows 7.
A key product for the company is Microsoft Office, which has also seen several release versions including a significantly new ‘Ribbon’ interface in Microsoft Office 2007. In 2009, Microsoft replaced its Live Search service with a new search engine called Bing, widely seen as an attempt to compete with Google.
The operations, services, and products provided by Microsoft are diverse and extensive. At the business level, the company also produces the Windows Live range of products and services; network server technology; software development tools; database management systems; Exchange e-mail services; and tools to support small businesses. Microsoft also certifies the professional development and training of engineers, trainers, and developers. The company has interests in cable TV and computer games development but its attempts to enter the mobile phone market have been less successful; in 2009 it released its new Windows Phone operating system. Its Windows Embedded Compact operating system provides the platform for embedded computing devices.
Until 2000, Bill Gates was the company's chief executive. He stepped down in order to spend more time on developing new technologies, becoming ‘chief software architect’, but remaining Microsoft's chair. Steve Ballmer, the company's president since 1998, became chief executive. In 2008, Bill Gates retired from his role as chief software architect.
Federal investigations A US federal probe into charges that Microsoft was engaging in anticompetitive behaviour was carried out in 1990–93, from which date the US Justice Department launched its own investigations. Under a settlement reached in 1994, Microsoft agreed to end the uncompetitive practice of ‘per processor’ pricing, whereby PC manufacturers paid a fee for each machine produced irrespective of the software to be installed. In 1997, the Justice Department again accused Microsoft of anticompetitive behaviour by tying the installation of Windows 95 to the installation of Microsoft's free Web browser, Internet Explorer. In June 1998, an appeal court ruled that Microsoft was quite within its rights to combine its Internet browser with its operating system, but this judgement was overturned in April 2000. Further rulings, appeals, and reversals of rulings followed, including a ruling that the company should be split into two companies, one developing the Windows family of operating systems, and the other concentrating on applications software. In 2001 this ruling was reversed, but the appeals court accepted the finding that Microsoft was a monopoly, and sent the case to a new judge to find an acceptable solution. In September 2001, the US government said it would no longer seek the break-up of Microsoft, but the Supreme Court rejected a plea by Microsoft to reverse the ruling that the software giant had broken antitrust laws.
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