April 20, 1998
During the COMDEX Spring ’98 and Windows World shows in Chicago, a public demonstration of the soon-to-be released Windows 98 goes awry when Bill Gates’ assistant causes the operating system to crash after plugging in a scanner. Instead of showing the plug-and-play capabilities they were trying to demonstrate, a “Blue Screen of Death” is visible by the entire audience which immediately erupts in laughter. After several seconds, Bill Gates famously responded, “That must be why we’re not shipping Windows 98 yet.”
Ironically, the assistant, Chris Capossela, has moved up the executive ranks at Microsoft, recently being promoted to the position of Senior Vice President, Consumer Channels and Central Marketing Group. For Microsoft’s sake, hopefully he’ll present a much better marketing image then he did that fateful day!
April 6, 1992
Microsoft releases Windows 3.1, priced at $149.00, selling three million copies over the next two months. Windows 3.1 added multimedia extensions allowing support for sound cards, MIDI, and CD Audio, Super VGA (800 x 600) monitors, and increased the speed of modem it would support to 9600 bps. For many of us that were into computers back in the day, it was the first version of Windows we actually used, as previous versions were still gaining consumer acceptance and Windows 95 wasn’t released until 3 years later.
April 4, 1975
Microsoft is founded as a partnership between Bill Gates, age 19, and Paul Allen, age 22, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The company is founded to develop BASIC for the MITS Altair 8800. MITS is headquartered in Albuquerque so Gates and Allen move there from Boston to launch their company. Eventually they decide to move Microsoft to the Seattle, Washington area, where both men were from originally and met in high school.
April 2, 1980
Microsoft announces its first hardware product, the Z80 SoftCard. The SoftCard is a microprocessor that plugs into the Apple II personal computer allowing it to run programs written for the CP/M operating system. CP/M was a very popular OS for early personal computers along with much of the software written for it. In particular, the word processor WordStar is so popular that people will purchase the SoftCard and a companion “80-column card” just to run it on the Apple II. At one point, the SoftCard product will bring in about half of Microsoft’s total revenue. It will be discontinued in 1986 as CP/M’s popularity waned.
March 31, 1995
Microsoft releases their epically ill-fated software package, “Bob“, whose name will forever live in infamy. Given the tide of popularity and visibility Microsoft was riding on the way to releasing Windows 95 later that year, Bob was the first highly visible flop from Microsoft. Future flops from Microsoft included Windows ME, the Zune, and Windows Vista to name a few. While Bob was “killed” only a year later, many of the ideas that went into Bob were salvaged by Microsoft, most notably the “Clippy” assistant, which was perhaps as equally as derided by computer users. Read this excellent write-up on the history of Bob.
March 27, 1976
Bill Gates gives the opening address at the First Annual World Altair Computer Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gates was still a student at Harvard but along with Paul Allen helped develop the version of the BASIC language sold with the Altair computer.
March 17, 1988
Apple Computer famously sues Microsoft Corporation for copyright infringement in its Windows operating system. Apple eventually lost the lawsuit in 1995.
March 13, 1986
Ten years after the company’s founding, Microsoft Corporation stock goes public at $21 per share. The stock, which eventually closed at $27.75 a share, peaked at $29.25 a share shortly after the opening. It is said that the rising value of Microsoft stock has made an estimated 4 billionaires and 12,000 millionaires of Microsoft employees.
February 17, 2000
Microsoft introduces the latest version of the Windows NT line of operating systems, Windows 2000. While Windows 2000 did bring plug and play to the Windows NT line, it was targeted to the business market and not the consumer. It was not until Windows XP that Microsoft merged the NT line with the Windows 95/98 line. Unfortunately, Microsoft unleashed Windows ME upon unsuspecting consumers in the meantime. Sigh.
February 3, 1986
The term “vaporware” is first used by Philip Elmer-DeWitt in a TIME magazine article. The term is now commonly used to describe software that has been long announced but hasn’t actually been released. At the time, many experts believed Microsoft was guilty of using vaporware announcements to keep customers from purchasing software from other companies (by convincing them that a Microsoft version was just around the corner).