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).
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates steps aside as chief executive and promotes company president Steve Ballmer to the position. Gates would stay on as “chief software architect” until June of 2008 before finally giving up day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft. Gates is still Microsoft’s chairman of the board.
The “Friday the 13th” virus strikes hundreds of IBM computers in Britain. This is one of the most famous early examples of a computer virus making headlines. Over twenty years later, while other companies have systems that are practically immune to virues, Microsoft still hasn’t been able to develop a solution to prevent viruses from infecting their systems.
Playfully nicknamed “Zune 2K” day after Y2K day, owners of Microsoft Zune devices began reporting that their devices had malfunctioned and refused to boot up. The problem turned out to be a “a bug in the internal clock driver related to the way the device handles a leap year,” as described by Microsoft. The problem would fix itself on Jan 1, 2009 if users let the battery run down and then reset the device on that day. Certainly, the publicity from this gaffe couldn’t have helped the perception of the Zune in the marketplace, as by this time Apple’s iPhone had started its dominant rise. Microsoft said it would issue a bugfix for the device so that this problem wouldn’t re-occur in 2012, but by that time, Microsoft had already killed the Zune line of devices so I’m not sure if the problem was ever actually fixed.