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Timeline: From BASIC to beyond Bob

Microsoft has had mostly ups and some downs in its 22 years of software.

7 min read
  Bill Gates and Paul Allen port the BASIC computer language and license it to their first customer, MITS, maker of the Altair 8800 personal computer.   IBM unveils its Personal Computer. IBM's PC uses the 16-bit operating system, MS-DOS 1.0.  Microsoft introduces Microsoft Word for MS-DOS 1.0.

NOVEMBER  The company adds an extension to MS-DOS dubbed Windows.

  In its first annual report, Microsoft breaks down its business revenues into three areas: systems and languages (53 percent), applications (37 percent), and hardware and books (10 percent). The company also establishes a research and development group to pursue CD-ROM technologies.  Microsoft announces Windows 2.0. Although the company touted the upgrade's better performance and support for expanded memory hardware, a PC Week editorial would later say that Microsoft "is going to have to pull off a marketing miracle to convince a majority of its customers that they should use the new version of Windows."

OCTOBER  The first so-called Windows application, Microsoft Excel, is introduced.

  The company ships Microsoft Bookshelf on CD-ROM.   Microsoft forms a multimedia division to develop and market consumer products.  With much fanfare involving the company's "information at your fingertips" philosophy, Microsoft ships Windows 3.0, a version that it says is easier to use and offers "dramatic" performance increases.  The company announces Microsoft Visual Basic, a graphical application development tool for Windows 3.0.  Microsoft ships Windows 3.1. More than 1 million advance orders are placed worldwide. Apple Computer contends in a lawsuit that Windows copies certain features of the Macintosh Finder. The suit will be dismissed in 1993.  The 10th anniversary of Microsoft Word. Dataquest says the application has more than 10 million users worldwide.

MARCH  Microsoft ships Encarta, which it bills as the first multimedia encyclopedia on a CD-ROM. The company announces other multimedia titles, including Microsoft Dinosaurs and Multimedia Mozart: The Dissonant Quartet.

APRIL   The company says the Windows installed base tops 25 million.

MAY  CEO Bill Gates green-lights the Marvel project, the code name for the Microsoft Network online service.

Microsoft says it will release Windows NT, a network operating system for client-server computing, within 60 days.

NOVEMBER  Microsoft targets corporate computing with Windows for Workgroups 3.11. It features support for Novell NetWare and NT, as well as remote access capabilities.

  Microsoft commits 500 people to its advanced technology group, devoted to next-generation platforms, mobile computing, voice technologies, interactive television, and video on demand.

JUNE  Microsoft unveils its video server technology, code-named Tiger. VP Craig Mundie reportedly says that hardware as basic as a "$2,000 computer" will be able to serve up to 100 streams of video while providing users with play, fast-forward, and rewind functions. Testing is scheduled for the first quarter of 1995.

  Bill Gates takes the wraps off Bob, Microsoft's first "social interface" product, at the Consumer Electronics Show. Bob uses "guides" to help new computer users.

MAY  A merger with Intuit is called off amid antitrust concerns from the Justice Department.

AUGUST  Microsoft ships Windows 95 as well as the first iteration of Internet Explorer. By the end of the month, the company estimates that it has sold more than 1 million copies of Windows 95. It also launches the Microsoft Network proprietary online service to compete with America Online and CompuServe.

NOVEMBER  The Microsoft Network reports more than 525,000 customers. The company releases Internet Explorer 2.0 for Windows 95. The browser supports Secure Transaction Technology as well as multimedia and 3D graphics.

DECEMBER  Microsoft announces it is ready to "embrace and extend" the Internet. Bill Gates says the Net will be part of everything the company does. He says MSN will be "a critical part" of its overall strategy and that the company will "continue to invest significantly in enhancing service and content offerings."

Microsoft and NBC create MSNBC, a news and information cable channel and Web site. MSN will also incorporate NBC Desktop Video, an information service for businesses.

  One year after the release of Bob, the company has sold fewer than 300,000 copies. Microsoft slashes the price by almost 50 percent and says it will probably upgrade Bob by the fourth quarter of 1996. It doesn't. In a 1997 interview, CTO Nathan Myhrvold would say of the project: "It was an interesting experiment, and the financial results are such that you'd have to call it an experiment."

FEBRUARY  The MSN development tool, code-named Blackbird, becomes Internet Studio, sort of a Swiss Army knife toolset for Web development. The company announces an interactive media division for developing and marketing media products. The new division includes MSN, games, and children's titles. Microsoft also creates an Internet platforms and tools division.

MARCH  Microsoft licenses Java, Sun Microsystems' programming language, and announces its own ActiveX Web technologies.

MAY  According to a marketing plan obtained by the EE Times, Microsoft works to bring PCs into the interactive TV equation, saying "ITV is not dead but will naturally evolve out of current Internet technologies." The Tiger video technology becomes the Microsoft Media Server.

JUNE  Microsoft announces its intranet strategy, vowing to simplify application development and administration. Michael Kinsley's Slate lands on the Web.

JULY  MSNBC launches, delivering 14 hours of daily cable content. Microsoft managers say Internet Studio will hit beta testing in the fall. VP Bob Muglia says "we made some pretty serious mistakes about overpromoting Blackbird before it was ready."

AUGUST  Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 3.0; Netscape answers with Navigator 3.0 a week later.

SEPTEMBER  Microsoft announces its online city guide project, code-named Cityscape. Rollouts for the first cities are slated for the first quarter of 1997.

The company prepares a "greenhouse" program to create original content called the Microsoft Multimedia Productions. The beta testing program for the service is expanded to an estimated 100,000 users.

Two years after abandoning WinPad, its first software attempt at the handheld computer market, Microsoft shows off a version of its Windows 95 operating system for consumer devices called Windows CE. The company believes that CE will catch on as the Internet expands the possibilities for small, wireless devices such as smart phones and personal organizers. The company also ships Version 4.0 of NT.

OCTOBER  Microsoft opens the doors of Expedia, an online travel service. Adventure-travel site Mungo Park arrives shortly after.

The company announces that its BackOffice suite of server software will incorporate intranet and Internet technologies known as Normandy. Microsoft had hinted that its Tiger media server would be added to Normandy.

NOVEMBER  Merchant Server ships after two months of beta tests. Part of the BackOffice suite, the software lets vendors build and run online storefronts.

Microsoft officially launches Windows CE at Comdex in Las Vegas. The CE operating system includes a personal information manager, "pocket" versions of Word and Excel, and an email client.

DECEMBER  MSN is relaunched, with 3.5 million CD-ROMs distributed to potential customers. The company devotes $100 million to a marketing campaign for the "TV-like" online service.

Internet Studio becomes Visual InterDev, which had already lost almost all resemblance to its predecessor, Blackbird. Visual InterDev is intended for building large-scale, server-side Web applications and is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 1997.

  MS says it will ship software development kits that will spur development of "hybrid" programming to be viewed on computers or televisions, transmitted to subscribers via satellite. The software is to be ready by the end of the year.

Slate scraps plans to start charging subscription fees of $19.95 a year per reader; regular readership is estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 people.

CarPoint, a Web site devoted to buying cars, launches on MSN.

The company announces it will build support for DVD into future generations of Windows.

FEBRUARY  German hackers show off an ActiveX control that can make unauthorized bank transfers from accounts managed by Intuit's Quicken financial software. In addition, a security hole is found in Internet Information Server 3.0 that could potentially expose passwords or other private information.

In what could be another experiment, Microsoft unveiled an "edutainment" effort that comes in the form of a plush, purple Barney dinosaur doll that can be hooked up to a PC or TV.

The company also discloses the final feature set for its Visual Basic 5.0.

MARCH  Three security holes in Internet Explorer are found by university students. The glitches pushed back the first public beta test of the next version of the browser, IE 4.0. Explorer 4.0 will be blended in with the Windows 95 and NT operating systems. The company hires a security consulting service to look for bugs.

The company also discovers a security hole in the server-side components of its Web page authoring tool, FrontPage. The bug could let unauthorized users alter Web pages on a site. The company prepares fixes for the security problems.

Microsoft grants its first public peek at the next-generation version of Windows 95, code-named Memphis. Memphis will integrate Internet Explorer as the main interface for network-related technologies.

Microsoft introduces a new standard for "push" technology, called channel definition format.

The company says it will make its own electronic "wallet" software. Sidewalk, Microsoft's series of online city guides, launches April 3 in Seattle.