June 7, 2000
United States District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson orders the breakup of Microsoft into two companies: one that will develop operating systems and one that will develop other applications. Microsoft immediately announces that it will file an appeal of the judgment. What would have been a monumental event in the history of the technology industry never actually happens, however. The ruling is overturned just over a year later. Microsoft will be sanctioned, but it stays one company.
May 27, 1988
Microsoft releases 2 versions of Windows 2.1 – One for 286 computers and one for 386 computers. Do you remember this version of Windows? No? Not many people do. It wasn’t until version 3 that Windows had any sort of appreciable user base.
May 26, 1995
Realizing his company had missed the boat in estimating the impact and popularity of the Internet, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates issues a memo titled, “The Internet Tidal Wave,” which signaled the company’s focus on the global network. In the memo, Gates declared that the Internet was the “most important single development” since the IBM personal computer — a development that he was assigning “the highest level of importance.” Still, it is curious why it took someone who was regarded as a technology “innovator” so long to realize this.
May 18, 1998
The United States Justice Department and the Attorneys Generals of twenty states plus the District of Columbia file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. The case focuses on Microsoft’s integration of the Internet Explorer web browser into its Windows 98 operating system. The trial becomes one of the most famous events in tech history, eventually resulting in a settlement between the DOJ and Microsoft. In fact, the sanctions levied against Microsoft only recently ended in May of 2011, almost exactly 13 years after the suit was filed.
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.