Happy 35th, Microsoft. Now What?

No one under the age of 50 can remember sitting in front of a personal computer without Microsoft being somewhere in the mix. Who would have guessed that a scrappy little company founded back in 1975 in Albuquerque by a nerdy Harvard dropout would become one of America’s most fascinating business success stories and would have so much influence over our lives?

To mark Microsoft’s 35th birthday this month, Computerworld looks back at the company’s best, worst, and most memorable moments, and it’s a fun and nostalgic trip for anyone who’s been in the tech world for a while. Were you there when DOS 5.0 came out? DOS 4.0? DOS 3.0? DOS 2.0? DOS 1.0?

Writer Preston Gralla points out that Microsoft’s success was guaranteed once it convinced IBM to pick up MS-DOS (which Microsoft hadn’t even written) as the OS for its brand new Personal Computer back in 1981. The rest, as they say, is history. For the most part it’s been a steady trajectory into the stratosphere, but as we all know, it’s hard to stay atop the mountain once you get there, and over the decades, Microsoft has been beset by one attack after another, most notably the antitrust accusations surrounding its deployment of the Internet Explorer browser within versions of Windows.

It’s funny to look back and realize that although Bill Gates spent years preaching about "information at your fingertips," Microsoft was late to grasp the importance of the Web and has been playing catch up for years while watching companies like Google (just 12 years old) sweep in and make the once dynamic Microsoft look positively stodgy and behind the curve.

Bill Gates has now moved into philanthropic mode, so it’s up to his old friend and manic business partner Steve Ballmer to steer Microsoft’s course into the connected, cloud-based future. The next 35 years promise to be just as interesting as the past 35 have been.

Don Willmott