Microsoft is the world's leading producer of computer software. Microsoft was incorporated in 1981, but the company's roots go back at least as far as 1975, when the first commercially available personal computer appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics. The Altair 8800, as it was called, was a rudimentary system, but it found a market for home-based computers that in turn created a new demand: software to use with them. Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen immediately saw the potential. Gates contacted the company that made the Altair, MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems), and offered to write a program for the new computer. Gates and Allen created an interpreter for BASIC, then a mainframe programming language, for use with the Altair. MITS hired both Gates and Allen in 1975, but by 1976 they had left to devote more time to their own fledgling company, Microsoft (from microcomputer and software).
Microsoft's major breakthrough occurred in 1981 when they furnished an operating system for IBM's first major entry into personal computers. Called PC-DOS by IBM, Microsoft also marketed its own version, MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System). The early 1980s saw both IBM's and Microsoft's fortunes soar: Microsoft dominated the software market, just as IBM dominated the personal computer market where the computers of almost any maker of PCs other than Apple became known as "IBM-compatible" clones (based on microchips from Intel). In 1983, Microsoft introduced the first Windows operating system. Heavily influenced by Apple's existing graphical user interface, Windows was more user-friendly than DOS.
Of Microsoft's succession of Windows operating systems, Vista is the most recent. The company's office applications - Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint - have been similarly successful. In recent years, Microsoft has increasingly turned its attention to the Internet and the World Wide Web. Its Web browser, Internet Explorer, has become dominant. Microsoft's latest business strategy, known as .NET, is a Web services-based approach to addressing the needs of business and consumer markets. One of the aims of .NET is to make all aspects of computing increasingly Web browser-oriented.
Since the mid-1990s, Microsoft has faced antitrust charges and other legal challenges to its marketing practices. In spite of these, Microsoft seems likely to remain one of the most formidable and influential providers of information technology products. Microsoft's corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington oversee offices in over 60 countries worldwide. Microsoft (MSFT) is publicly traded on the Nasdaq.