25 Things You Didnt Know About Microsoft

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25 Things You Didnt Know About Microsoft

by Joe Wilcox Editor, Microsoft WatchMany Facebook users have been tagged by the "25 Things About Me" meme. A few years ago, a similar "five things" tagging moved through the blogosphere. eWEEK editors would tag Microsoft if we realistically expected a response. So we've done our own research and here present our list of 25 things you didn't know about Microsoft. The list is by no means comprehensive (how could it be?), but it is eclectic.

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1. Before Microsoft, There Was Traf-O-Data

Entrepreneurs Paul Allen and Bill Gates formed another business before Microsoft, Traf-O-Data, when they were high school students in Seattle. It was an ambitious and forward-thinking business for its time (early 1970s). Allen and Gates sought to automate the processing of data from state transportation car traffic counters, which produced tapes that were manually read. Together, with University of Washington student Paul Gilbert, the pair produced a computer for automatically processing traffic counter data (we will refrain from making a lame joke about cars and manual versus automatic transmissions). Allen already had moved onto university when the venture produced its first device.

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2. Bill Gates IQ Is Estimated to Be About the Same as Albert Einsteins

That's around 160 (although based on SAT scores, Gates could claim 170). Which genius is the greater measure of success? We figure Einstein's Theory of Relativity will be around longer. Supposedly, Charles Dickens was smarter (IQ of 180). What about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer? Your guess is as good as ours.

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3. The Company Was Almost Named Micro-Soft

Allen and Gates founded Micro-Soft in 1975. A year later, Allen and Gates registered Microsoft in New Mexico. The company moved its offices in 1979 from Albuquerque, N.M., to Bellevue, Wash., and again, to Redmond, Wash., in 1986. The company incorporated in 1981 as Microsoft Inc.

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4. Microsoft Dropped the 'Revenue Bomb' More than 25 Years Ago

Charles Simonyi, who ran Microsoft's applications business in its early heyday, used a concept he called the "revenue bomb" to bring Multiplan to multiple platforms. At the time-the early 1980s-Microsoft evaluated products it planned to develop along an axis against different computing platforms. Microsoft used a "p-code C Compiler" to quickly port Multiplan to most any computing platform. Microsoft wanted the software to quickly gain traction against the popular VisiCalc. But the company later, ah, dropped the bomb, as it proved unnecessary. Even before Microsoft could apply the strategy to other applications, the personal computing market started to rapidly consolidate around just two platforms: IBM PCs (and clones) running MS-DOS and Apple's Macintosh.

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5. What About Bob?

Melinda Gates, then French, worked on ill-fated Microsoft Bob while dating CEO Gates. Melinda French and Bill Gates married in January 1994; Gates introduced the software about a year later. Bob was supposed to be a friendlier user interface for Windows 3.1. But the product flopped, and it was one of Microsoft's biggest product failures ever. Tech folklore has it that Bob would never have been developed or released if not for the Bill and Melinda courtship. We're skeptical. By the way, for all you people hating Clippy, blame Bob.

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6. Windows XP Could Have Been the Air That You Breathe

Microsoft considered many product names for Windows XP. Among the discards: Windows Oxygen, as in O2. Windows O2. We rather like that name better. The XP stood for eXPerience, with Microsoft capitalizing the XP. Microsoft used eXPerience in marketing materials, but the official name was always Windows XP.

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7. Microsoft Kicked SAND in Apples Face

Bill Gates and Charles Simonyi called the Macintosh prototype Steve's Amazing New Device, or SAND. The "Steve" referred to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Apple provided Microsoft the super secret prototype for the purpose of developing applications. Microsoft was Apple's most important early developer, even before the Macintosh launched. Today, Microsoft remains the largest Macintosh developer outside of Apple. Based on retail sales, Microsoft Office is the Mac's most popular third-party application.

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8. Technically, Microsoft Didnt Steal Apples GUI

Apple licensed portions of the GUI to Microsoft for Windows 1.0, begrudgingly perhaps. The companies struck the deal after Apple executives saw Windows 1.0 prototypes that used elements, such as the menu bar, in nearly an identical manner as the Mac operating system. Under terms of the licensing agreement, Microsoft agreed to continue developing Macintosh software. But after Apple execs saw Windows 2.0, which some regarded as a Mac OS knock-off (or rip-off), the company sued Microsoft in early 1988 for copyright infringement. The lawsuit dragged on for years, with the earlier licensing agreement putting court rulings largely in Microsoft's favor. The companies ended the dispute in August 1997, when then interim CEO Steve Jobs settled with Microsoft, which invested $150 million in Apple (non-voting stock) and agreed to produce Microsoft Office for another five years.

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9. Microsoft Research Rivals Some Universities for Ph.D.s.

Microsoft's 18-year-old research division employs about 850 Ph.D.s. They study 55 areas of research, producing 5,100 peer-reviewed papers.

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10. Microsofts Talisman Couldnt Make Magic

During SIGGRAPH 96, Microsoft showed a 3-D film called "Chicken Crossing" to demonstrate a new graphics architecture called Talisman. The architecture was supposed to improve 3-D rendering on PCs. There was some trickery at work as Talisman really created the illusion of 3-D from tiled 2-D images. Microsoft had graphics and gaming ambitions for Talisman, which promised complex rendering on PCs costing hundreds of dollars instead of systems costing many thousands more. "Chicken Crossing" is composed of 7,000 frames, which Microsoft rendered on PCs in real time. But Talisman, unlike the chicken, couldn't get to the other side of the road. Graphics card technology improved faster, rendering Talisman largely unnecessary. Microsoft officially abandoned the project by decade's end.

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11. Microsoft Doesnt Sell Software

You knew that, right? Microsoft licenses software, retaining full ownership rights. So-called buyers of Microsoft software pay for the right to use it. Those rights are revocable. Bill Gates roughly laid the groundwork for the licensing model in February 1976, in "An Open Letter to Hobbyists." He accused: "Most of you steal software," referring to how early developers shared or copied each other's work. There was no open-source concept then, but Gates clearly would have been against it.

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12. Paul Allen and Bill Gates Were Accidental Platform Vendors

When IBM called on the Microsoft founders for an operating system in the early 1980s, they were more interested in porting BASIC to the IBM PC. Microsoft's business was about programming languages, not operating systems. IBM sought to license CP/M from Digital Research but couldn't reach a deal. Allen and Gates agreed to license a CP/M-compatible operating system, which they didn't have. The pair licensed and later bought rights to QDOS (that is, 86-DOS) from Seattle Computer Products. But the deal was more a means to an end, as Microsoft was still focused on programming languages.

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13. Bill Gates Pleaded with Apple to License Mac OS Like MS-DOS

In July 1985, Bill Gates strongly encouraged then Apple CEO John Sculley to license the Mac OS in a similar fashion to MS-DOS. Apple's business model was end-to-end, selling hardware and software. Microsoft licensed MS-DOS to any OEM. Microsoft also hoped to gain something through the licensing of Mac OS user-interface elements (see #9). Gates sent Sculley a long memo offering suggestions on which companies Apple should partner with, including AT&T and Motorola. In the cover letter, Gates entreated Sculley: "I want to help in any way I can with the licensing. Please give me a call." The question: How differently would the computing industry have developed had Sculley taken Gates' advice? Would Apple have been legitimized or marginalized as a competitor?

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14. YouTube Could Have Been Microsofts

About six months before Google's October 2006 YouTube merger announcement, Microsoft passed on a $500 million acquisition opportunity. Google paid $1.6 billion. Two and a half years later, YouTube is the most popular video destination on the Web. If ComScore ranked YouTube as a search engine, it would rank second to Google, whose search share would increase by about a third. Microsoft chose instead to build MSN Soapbox. How's it doing? Let us ask: Have you even heard about Soapbox?

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15. Stock Crisis Trimmed $91 Billion From Microsofts Market Cap

On Sept. 12, 2008, just before Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, Microsoft's market capitalization was $252.18 billion. By comparison, Wal-Mart was $245.52 billion. On the morning of March 27, Microsoft's value had fallen to $161.01 billion. Wal-Mart: $202.79 billion. Few companies have escaped Wall Street's recent bloodbath, not even Microsoft.

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16. Appeals Court Upheld About a Dozen Antitrust Violations Against Microsoft

Microsoft's U.S. antitrust case loss in 2000 only moderately improved a year later. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit may have whittled down the number of violations from 20, but there were plenty enough left to justify U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's remedy: Break up Microsoft. For once, the news media worked for Microsoft. The appellate court removed Jackson for behind-closed-door discussions with reporters writing books on the case. His replacement later encouraged settlement and imposed that settlement as remedy. By the way, the court found that Microsoft legally obtained its monopoly, but that it abused it.

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17. As a Group, Software Pirates Are Microsofts Biggest Competitor

It's not Apple or Linux vendors. Software pirates pit Microsoft products against Microsoft products for lower cost. According to Microsoft, pirated copies make up as much as half of the Office install base. That said, Microsoft also benefits from piracy in emerging markets. Pirated Microsoft software deters adoption of Linux and development of indigenous competing applications. Meanwhile, Microsoft reaps benefits, as third parties develop applications supporting the company's software. Pirates also serve an important marketing role, although no Microsoft executive would likely admit it.

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18. Bill Gates Received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation

President George Bush presented the award in 1992 for Gates accomplishments developing computer languages. Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak received the same award in 1985 for their development of the personal computer.

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19. Microsoft Tried to Conquer the Japanese Computer Market

In the summer of 1983, Microsoft officially launched the MSX computing architecture. The company sought to establish a home computer standard around DOS and BASIC. Microsoft Japan spearheaded the project, which arrived at a crucial juncture in the burgeoning Japanese PC market. OEMs produced low-cost MSX machines, which sold well in Japan, South Korea and some European and South American countries. But MSX was shut out of the large North American computing market, for many reasons, including OEM caution and arrival of the Commodore 128. Architectural limitations and lacking U.S. distribution hobbled MSX as a low-cost home computing/gaming platform. Ironically, Microsoft helped foster piracy of Hollywood movies, to which criminals used MSX machines to apply subtitles to pirated VHS tapes.

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20. Microsoft Employed About 96,000 at the End of 2008

That's up from about 40,000 employees—so more than double—since the close of Microsoft's 2000 fiscal year. The company had three employees and about $16,000 in revenues in 1975. Twenty-five years later, Microsoft revenue reached $23 billion (FY 2000). Revenue topped $60 billion at the end of fiscal 2008.

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21. Microsoft Once Sold Its Own Unix Version

The company licensed a version of Unix from AT&T in 1979, calling its version Xenix. Microsoft then licensed Xenix to other companies, principally SCO, which resold the software. For several years, MS-DOS and Xenix development tracked in parallel development, with the Unix variant contributing positively to MS-DOS. Xenix ran on Intel-based processors and was hugely popular at Microsoft and among universities running Unix. In the late 1980s, Microsoft sold Xenix to SCO, although the software giant continued running the Unix variant for years afterwards. Microsoft favored its partnership with IBM for OS/2, which Microsoft later abandoned for Windows 95.

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22. Microsoft Semi-Regularly Holds a Puzzle Hunt

What's a puzzle hunt? Think group geek treasure hunt, with puzzle-solving leading to the prizes spread out on Microsoft's campus (in Washington and this year also in California). Microsoft holds the event over a weekend, most recently Feb. 28-March 1. The previous team winner contrives the puzzles, which take just about any form. Close to 100 teams and nearly 1,000 players competed in this year's Puzzle Hunt.

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23. ClearType Wasnt a Clear Winner at First

Microsoft announced the font-rendering technology in late 1998 and brought it to market in Microsoft Reader software about 18 months later. But book publisher pricing, rights-protection mechanisms and other factors doomed early e-books, and so Microsoft Reader flopped. ClearType works best on displays with permanently fixed pixels, like those found in some early PDAs and later flat-panel monitors. As flat-panel monitors replaced CRTs, Microsoft extended ClearType to more software products, including Windows. The company also licenses ClearType to third parties.

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24. Microsoft First Developed Word for Unix

That would be for the aforementioned Microsoft Xenix. Microsoft first called the product, released in 1983, Multi-Tool Word. But the software officially launched for MS-DOS and Xenix as Microsoft Word. Charles Simonyi brought concepts from Xerox Bravo, which he developed, to Microsoft Word. While the product didn't sell super well, its typeface formatting was trendsetting for the early 1980s, for both MS-DOS and Xenix and, in 1984, Apple's Macintosh.