Microsoft was founded in 1975 by Harvard College dropout Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen. In the 47 years of its existence, Microsoft has become one of the biggest tech companies in the world, and is responsible for developing first the MS-DOS operating system, and later the Windows operating system for which it became famous. The evolution of Microsoft, through several generations of development of the Windows OS, from Windows 1 in 1985 to the latest Windows 11, this suite of office applications is arguably the biggest contributor to the explosion of the market for personal computers since the late 1980s. It made working on a computer simpler than ever before, as its predecessor, MS-DOS still required the user to manually input commands to navigate their system. As a company, Microsoft started primarily as a producer of software, but is now equally well known for the hardware – computers, and devices – it manufactures. Today, Microsoft is one of the most recognisable brands in the world and is one of the most well-established and trusted international manufacturers of software, IT solutions, desktops, notebooks, laptops, and 2-in-1 computers.
Evolution of Microsoft: 1980-2022
The Evolution of Microsoft and the Explosion of the Personal PC Market
Breaking Ground with MS-DOS
The Firm Establishment of Windows as the Standard OS Globally
The Age of Touchscreen Functionality
The Start of the Globally Connected, Commercialised Version of the Internet
Universal Connectivity Created the Need for Portable Computers
Microsoft Enters the Laptop Market
Enter Microsoft 95 and the First Generation of Surface Portable Computers
Integration with Windows 11 and Beyond
Your Window To The World Thanks To The Evolution of Microsoft
From the earliest operating systems to the arrival of the cloud and the shift away from the traditional desktop, Microsoft has been at the forefront of digital transformation for more than 40 years. The company played an integral role in the development of ICT, which has been accelerating at an astonishing pace since the early 1980s to where we are currently, connected globally using a single protocol – the internet – and working on advanced devices with abilities that have transformed practically every aspect of human society.
Most people in the labour market today can't even imagine a time when people worked with pen and paper, dictated documents to be typed out on a typewriter, in files stored in huge filing cabinets, with the only real piece of technology on the desk being the telephone. Computers, laptops, super-fast communication, all your documents typed and saved on a centralised drive, easily accessible, modifiable, and shareable, working and collaborating from anywhere on the globe – ICT has become so universal and has been woven so inextricably into our everyday lives that the vast majority of us simply cannot imagine life without our various devices and the connections they make possible.
The first personal computer was the Altair, which was manufactured by a small company called MITS in 1974 but was considered something for computer hobbyists with limited commercial appeal. This limited commercial appeal related to the lack of an operating system that anyone could use, as well as the very limited computational ability – it was in essence really a counting machine of sorts and many at the time predicted that computers would never become widely used or practical devices suited for multiple types of users. The first generations of personal computers were so limited and represented such an unimaginable conceptualisation of living and working, that the majority of people considered them a passing fad for a fringe group of enthusiasts. Some of the first personal computers that were developed came with a 5" screen – compare that to where we are now with 86" digitally connected screens that can stream video, conversations, meetings, and music smoothly and without interruption, in high definition, lifelike colours and image quality so good, you might as well be standing right in front of whatever object or person is displayed on the screen.
The first edition of Windows was in fact only a General User Interface (GUI) extension to the MS-DOS operating system used by IBM at the time. Initially, MS-DOS was developed by Gates and Allen as an operating system for IBM computers that worked through a series of typable commands to operate the computer and open programs. When the Windows 1 add-on came along in 1985, it introduced the mouse as a navigational tool instead of typable commands.
Although few people realised it at the time, Windows 1 paired with the mouse interface device was the key that unlocked the massive growth in the personal computer market. It made computers much easier to use, and anyone could operate them as it simply required the user to point and click, as opposed to knowing and remembering a bunch of commands that needed to be typed.
The first version of Windows that required a hard drive to be launched – Windows 3 – was introduced in 1990, and was the first version to enjoy widespread success. It was the first OS that was considered a serious challenger to Apple’s Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga GUIs. Windows 3 enabled the user to use the Windows interface that ran on the MS-DOS programs, removing the need to use MS-DOS commands completely and making multi-tasking on a computer possible for the first time.
The true breakthrough, which cemented Microsoft as the global leader in OS, software, and application development was Windows 95, closely followed by Windows XP and then Windows Vista. It introduced the concept of “plug and play” where you didn’t need to have a qualification in computer science to simply hook up a peripheral: You simply attached the peripheral device, and the computer will look for and find the appropriate drivers for it – and voila!
From the year 2000 onwards, Microsoft released several versions of Windows, with some of them representing a low point in the company’s history. Windows ME and later Windows 2000 were widely criticised for glitches, bugs, and a lack of any genuinely innovative features to distinguish them from Windows 95. Windows XP had such a pronounced lack of any kind of security system that it became a virtual candy shop for cyber attackers and hackers. Despite this, Windows kept the XP OS as a flagship product, continuing to work on it to improve security, functionality, and usability. Six years later, XP was replaced by Windows Vista, which, in its attempts to address the problems users reported with XP, became an even greater white elephant to Microsoft. In its attempts to ramp up security, it passed the responsibility of installing and allowing certain changes to the computer to the user, with the result that so many popups for permissions started making users just click “yes” to everything, which of course defeated the whole purpose of increased security.
After going through several versions of the operating system, Microsoft released Windows 8 in 2012 which supported the revolutionary new technology of touchscreens as a way to interface with your device. Windows 10 – despite being the ninth version of Windows – was designed to unify all Windows platforms across multiple devices, representing the culmination of the evolution of Microsoft to include Windows phones and tablets, with universal apps that could be downloaded from Windows Store and run on all Windows devices.
The Unified Protocol Networking Research that resulted in the internet we know today, had been ongoing since the 1960s, starting and evolving mainly as a way to connect different networks – mainly for defense purposes – through what was called “packet switching” between connected but independent networks. This initial foray into connectivity had to undergo approximately 30 years of research and development before a set of protocols, that could connect any network to other networks, became commercially viable systems. Before these universal protocols were developed, only networks with certain characteristics could interface with each other. With the arrival of unified protocols such as the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), UDP/IP (User Datagram Protocol/Internet Protocol), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), and FTP (File Transfer Protocol), all users connected to a network could interact, share, and communicate with users on any other network that ran any of these protocols. This was in 1991, the official birth date of the commercially applied world wide web.
The giant leap forward in ICT sparked an era of fierce competition between Big Tech companies to create machines that, through the user-friendly interface made possible by the mouse and touchscreen, could easily access the internet, send and receive messages, make transferable files, or “packets” more and more compact so as to be transmitted with ease, and find information without leaving their desks. This competition led to the development of individual “domains” that could be purchased and populated by any company or individual, indexing and search engines (such as Google and Yahoo) to organise this vast amount of data had to be developed, and at a hardware level, increased processing speeds, greater amounts of memory. faster switching between applications (RAM), and more robust security systems became necessary to support the functions made accessible by the world wide web for users the average user.
The advent of the universally accessible internet created a new need in the market: Portable computers. The goal was to have the same capacities as a desktop computer, but in a much smaller device that could be unplugged, transported anywhere, and plugged in – displaying your own desktop interface as it would be on your large and heavy desktop computer. The race to produce such portable devices was on, and although the first portable laptops had been in development since the 1980s, the advent of the internet alongside the multi-functionality and broader market access made possible by the Windows range of operating systems required a fundamental rethink of the components and capacities a laptop – or portable computer – would need to have to function as fully and effectively as those that were housed in a large, rectangular box. Screens needed to become lighter and thinner, processing chips needed to become smaller and smaller, hard disk drives had to become more compact – in fact, all the components needed to make a computer a computer had to shrink drastically in size to fit into a machine at least five times smaller than the traditional tower desktops we were used to.
Compared to other manufacturers of computer hardware, Microsoft entered the laptop market quite late, launching its first generation of Surface laptops in 2017, compared to other makers such as Apple – first PowerBook in 1991– and IBMs ThinkPad in 1992. It is useful to point out though that Microsoft was firstly and foremostly a producer of software and operating systems, hardware was not their target market. With the introduction of the 1st generation of Surface laptops, Microsoft entered the hardware manufacturing terrain, a terrain that had been reliant on operating systems – such as Windows 95 and Windows 7 – designed and produced by Microsoft itself.
Windows 95 was easily Microsoft’s most successful release yet, selling a record-breaking 7 million copies in the first five weeks. It was the operating system that updated business, especially for ease of use of this amazing new frontier: the Internet. Before long, almost every company was connected to the internet – and most of them were using Windows 95 to do it.
Windows 7, which followed over 13 years later in 2009 was as popular as Windows 95 before it. The internet, now enjoying widespread business adoption, had initiated the same changes that have led to Windows 10, Windows 11, and cloud computing today. The personal desktop was gradually being replaced by more portable devices; people used multiple devices to interact with technology and touch screen technology was just starting to develop.
Windows 7 was the platform that first started to introduce businesses to the potential that these changes offered. It offered a simple interface that interacted better with third-party devices than its earlier alternatives and laid the roots for the cloud-based digital infrastructures, including Windows 10 and 11, which are now transforming the market once again.
Currently, the Windows 365, Windows 10, and Windows 11 operating systems allow organisations to save time and money with the streamlined deployment of software and connectivity abilities applicable to different employees across their networks, modern device management through centralised monitoring and security, and built-in, cloud-powered security with connected experiences.
The world is more connected than ever before. This has led to practically every sector of society relying on advanced and reliable technology to perform their most important functions. Since its inception, the evolution of Microsoft has been a crucial driver of the digital transformation of the globe. The Surface range has evolved into a variety of devices, from desktops to portables, from which you can choose the device that best suits your needs, both for work and for home. From crystal-clear video calls to responsive touch screen displays for easy and accurate input, Microsoft’s ultra-light and versatile 2-in-1 business laptops adapt to the ways you work. Surface devices run all Windows-friendly desktop software, including Office 365, Windows 10, and now Windows 11.