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Monday, September 04, 2006

Microsoft History

Microsoft History

Microsoft Company 15 September 1975

Hobbyists became entrepreneurs - some more successfully than others. Personal computers proliferated, with no standards and no preconceived notions of what these new machines could be or could do. It was an adventure shared by a virtual handful of enthusiasts...

World's First Minicomputer to Rival Commercial Models

While Hobbyists around the USA were trying to figure out how to piece together systems from parts found in electronics shops, MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) of Albuquerque, New Mexico, announced the MITS Altair 8800 on the cover of the 1st January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics.

The MITS Altair inspired a new generation of technology enthusiasts, including Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who were among the first of these early hobbyists to realize that the key to the future of personal computing lay in the unlimited potential of software.

"This is it!" says Paul Allen, waving a copy of Popular Electronics in his hand. "it's about to begin!" On the cover is a mockup of the MITS Altair, the first personal computer.

Dr. John G. Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz developed the BASIC language at Dartmouth in 1964. BASIC stood for "Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code". Their objective: to create a simplified computer language for teaching students how to program. Gates and Allen recognized that the compact design of BASIC made it ideal for the limitations of the first personal computers, which had extremely restricted memory and processing power.

Allen, employed by Honeywell and his friend Bill Gates, a sophomore at Harvard, immediately set out to adapt BASIC for the machine, working in marathon 24-hour sessions.

Using the Altair's published specifications, Gates and Allen created a simulator on a DEC PDP-10 computer that allowed it to emulate the MITS machine. Working day and night, they created the first version of MICROSOFT BASIC for the Altair

Jan 2, Bill Gates and Paul Allen complete BASIC

Allen is going to deliver it to MITS president Ed Roberts in Albuquerque. Realizing he didn't have a way to load it into the computer, Paul Allen hand assembled a loader program for BASIC at 30,000 feet in the air, on the flight to New Mexico. Even though it had never been tested on an actual machine, it ran perfectly on the very first try.

They license BASIC to their first customer, MITS of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the manufacturer of the Altair 8800 personal computer. This is the first computer language program written for a personal computer.

Jan 3, Paul Allen joins MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) as Director of Software. , and Gates follows him later that year to form an informal partnership called Micro-soft, complete with hyphen.

The "MITS Mobile" travels through the western United States demonstrating the Altair and "Micro-soft" BASIC. It also unwittingly distributes copies of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time (i.e., pirated) BASIC.

March 7, The MITS Altair newsletter, Computer Notes, declares, "Altair BASIC -- Up and Running."

July 1, Bill Gates' and Paul Allen's BASIC officially ships as version 2.0 in both 4K and 8K editions.

July 22, Paul Allen and Bill Gates sign a licensing agreement with MITS regarding the BASIC Interpreter. Microsoft is not yet an official partnership. In fact, the name has not even been chosen.

Nov 29, In a letter to Paul Allen, Bill Gates uses the name "Micro-soft" to refer to their (60/40)(3) Partnership. This is the earliest known written reference.

Homebrew Computer Club meets for the first time (in Gordon French's garage) in Menlo Park, California.

The Computer Mart opens on Madison Avenue in New York. Zilog Z-80 chip is introduced.


Revenues: $16,005
Employees: 3 (Allen, Gates, and Ric Weiland)
MITS promotes Altair BASIC, the computer language developed by Gates and Allen for the Altair computer. Hobbyists are ecstatic, despite the fact that, even with BASIC, there is little you can actually do with the Altair.
The "MITS Mobile" travels through the western United States demonstrating the Altair and "Micro-soft" BASIC. It also unwittingly distributes copies of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time (i.e., pirated) BASIC.


Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak announce the Apple I personal computer, for only $666.66! (2) A price high but affordable for someone really wanting to buy his own computer.

Shugart introduces the 5.25-inch floppy disk drive at $390. Three computer magazines arrive: BYTE, Computer Graphics & Art, and Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia.

April Fools!
Apple Computer is formed with the introduction of the Apple I on April Fool's day 1976. Out of the garage and into the history books, Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak build the first single circuit board PC complete with video interface and 8K of RAM and a keyboard. The system incorporated some cost saving components including the MOS Technologies 6502 processor and dynamic RAM. Various potential investors were shown the prototype Apple I which was mounted on a piece of plywood with all components visible. A computer hobbyist group; the Homebrew Computer Club based in Palo Alto, California previewed one of the prototypes and its innovative features. A local computer dealer owner who agreed to sell the units required that they were assembled which was not the norm for customers buying computers at the time. Once displayed in his store, almost all the Apple I systems sold in the next ten months. 200 Apple I systems were built before the introduction of the Apple II. Jobs and Wozniak continued building systems out of their garage for two years before the move to the current Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

March 27, Twenty-year old Bill Gates gives the opening address at the First Annual World Altair Computer Convention (WACC) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

July 1, Microsoft refines and enhances BASIC to sell to other customers including DTC, General Electric, NCR, and Citibank.

November 1, Paul Allen resigns from MITS to join Microsoft full time.

November 26, The tradename "Microsoft" is registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico "to identify computer programs for use in automatic data processing systems; pre-programming processing systems; and data processing services including computer programming services." The application says that the name has been in continuous use since November 12, 1975.

Microsoft develops its first ad campaign, called "The Legend of Micro-Kid."

MS Albuquerque Although still an informal partnership, Microsoft moves to its first real offices in One Park Central Tower in Albuquerque. Gates returns to Harvard for the spring term, but finds time to direct Microsoft in its efforts to license BASIC to General Electric, NCR, Citibank, and others.

February 3, Bill Gates is one of the first programmers to raise the issue of software piracy. In his "An Open Letter to Hobbyists," first published in MITS newsletter "Computer Notes" and later in several other newsletters and magazines), Gates accuses hobbyists of stealing software and thus preventing "...good software from being written." "If you are STILL using Altair BASIC 1.1, you have a copy that was stolen in March 1975!"
He prophetically concludes with the line, "...Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software."


Revenues: $22,496
Employees: 7
MITS sponsors the World Altair Computer Convention (WACC) in Albuquerque, for Altair owners, dealers, programmers, and anyone interested in microcomputers. The convention features a 20-year-old as the keynote speaker: Bill Gates.

Microsoft develops its first ad campaign, called "The Legend of Micro-Kid."

Microsoft History

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