Happy birthday, Microsoft! What a long, strange trip it’s been. Forty years old today and 20 years since its biggest hit, Windows 95, Microsoft’s been “e-clipsed”, as the Economist puts it, by Apple as a moneymaker. But with a net income of more than $22 billion as of June 2014, it was still the world’s third most valuable company, according to the Financial Times Global 500, in December 2014, behind Apple (first) and Exxon Mobil (second), but ahead of Google (fourth) and Berkshire Hathaway (fifth).
One and a half billion people use Windows every day, claims Microsoft. That’s more than a third of the world’s estimated seven billion people. Android has more than a billion users, according to IDC. So Windows still leads, though dead beat in smartphones.
More than 1.2 billion people use Office, according to Microsoft.
That’s funny, when you think of it. You can download office suites like LibreOffice for free. So why use Office? As a matter of habit? LibreOffice gets the job done. I know. But Office has been around longer and businesses use it – and so people stick with it. Better the one you know than the one you don’t .
And now you can get Mobile Office for Androids and iPhones for free. Of course, it’s not the same as the paid version. Still, whoever imagined a day when Microsoft would actually give away Office? It’s the world turned upside down in Wintel terms. With its own smartphones lagging behind the iPhones and Androids, it’s giving away Office to show up on their screens.
The tweets and reports marking the birthday are accompanied by a bunch of photos of a younger and nerdier Bill Gates and the early Microsofties who looked like long-haired musicians. They certainly made the cash registers ring as they transformed the world. I remember the launch of Windows 95. That was the Big Bang in home computing when PCs multiplied like baby boomers. The Windows website says in A History of Windows:
On August 24, 1995, Microsoft releases Windows 95, selling a record-setting seven million copies in the first five weeks. It’s the most publicized launch Microsoft has ever taken on. Television commercials feature the Rolling Stones singing “Start Me Up” over images of the new Start button. The press release simply begins: “It’s here.”
I remember the excitement. Windows was hip, pitched by the Rolling Stones, no less.
Hulking desktops then whirred and hummed with 5 GB hard drives. Even a teeny weeny smartphone now has more storage. To recall the Grateful Dead again, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
But, says Bill Gates, we ain’t seen nothing yet. In a birthday letter to Microsoft employees, he wrote:
Early on, Paul Allen and I set the goal of a computer on every desk and in every home. It was a bold idea and a lot of people thought we were out of our minds to imagine it was possible. It is amazing to think about how far computing has come since then, and we can all be proud of the role Microsoft played in that revolution.
Today though, I am thinking much more about Microsoft’s future than its past. I believe computing will evolve faster in the next 10 years than it ever has before. We already live in a multi-platform world, and computing will become even more pervasive. We are nearing the point where computers and robots will be able to see, move, and interact naturally, unlocking many new applications and empowering people even more.