Microsoft has grown from its humble beginnings in the fledgling microcomputer software industry of the 1970s to become one of the world's largest and most influential technology companies.

Its history mirrors the evolution of the tech landscape, from the rise of personal computing to the mobile era and cloud services.

What follows is a detailed timeline of Microsoft's history over nearly 50 years.

1975-1994: THE EARLY YEARS

Young Bill Gates founding Microsoft
© History Oasis

1975 — Founding of Microsoft

Childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They develop a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800, considered the first personal computer.

This launches Microsoft into the new microcomputer software industry.

1978 — International Expansion

Microsoft opens its first international office in Japan under the name "ASCII Microsoft."

1980 — 86-DOS

Microsoft licenses an operating system called 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products, which IBM later rebrands as PC-DOS when they choose it for the IBM PC.

This OS laid the foundations for MS-DOS and Microsoft's rise.

1981 — Microsoft Incorporation

Microsoft incorporates in its home state of Washington.

Bill Gates becomes president and chairman of the board, Paul Allen executive VP.

1983 — Word

Microsoft announces Multi-Tool Word, later renamed Microsoft Word, the company's first word processor.

The Microsoft Mouse is also released, their first hardware product.

1985 — Graphical Interface

Microsoft releases the first version of Windows, originally a graphical user interface to run on top of MS-DOS.

1986 — Redmond

Microsoft moves headquarters from Albuquerque to Redmond, Washington.

1987 — Excel

Microsoft releases first version of OS/2 with IBM.

Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software is also launched.

1989 — Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is launched as a software suite, bundling Word, Excel and other productivity applications.

1990 — Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 released, featuring a new user interface.

It sells over 100,000 copies in 2 weeks, cementing Windows as the standard OS.

1991 — Visual Basic

Microsoft launches Visual Basic programming language and development environment.

1992 — Windows 3.1

Microsoft releases Windows 3.1, selling over 3 million copies in first 2 months, plus Windows for Workgroups 3.1 adds networking features.  

1993 — Encarta

Microsoft introduces Microsoft Access database management software and Encarta interactive encyclopedia.

1994 — MSN

Microsoft launches MSN online network and internet service.

Bill Gates becomes Chief Software Architect.

1995-2007: RAPID GROWTH

Windows taking over the world
© History Oasis

1995 — Windows 95

Microsoft releases Windows 95, a major commercial success selling over 1 million copies in 4 days.

This established Microsoft firmly in the consumer software market.

1996 — MSNBC

Microsoft launches MSNBC, a 24-hour cable news channel, as a joint venture with NBC.

Also forms DreamWorks Interactive video game studio with DreamWorks SKG.

1997 — Apple Investment

Microsoft invests $150 million in Apple Computers, which were struggling at the time, in an effort to preserve competition.

1998 — Internet Explorer

Microsoft releases Windows 98 to consumers, adding Internet Explorer integration and other new features.

Windows becomes the dominant consumer OS.

1999 — Monopoly

U.S. Dept. of Justice rules Microsoft a monopoly.

This begins years of legal battles with regulators and anti-trust cases against Microsoft.

2000 — Xbox

Microsoft launches original Xbox video game console, competing with Sony PlayStation and Nintendo.

Windows ME released.

2001 — Windows XP

Windows XP is released, unifying consumer and business Windows products under the Windows NT kernel.

First version to require product activation.

2002 — .NET

Microsoft launches .NET development framework and Visual Studio .NET to target enterprise application development.

2004 — Antitrust in the EU

Windows XP Media Center Edition launched for multimedia PCs.

European Union begins antitrust case against Microsoft.

2005 — Xbox 360

Xbox 360 game console is launched, competing with PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles.

2006 — Azure

Microsoft launches Azure, originally named Windows Azure, as a cloud platform to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

2007 — Windows Vista

Windows Vista released after years of development, but faced reception issues.

Windows 7 launched 2 years later to replace Vista.


Bill Gates in the modern Era
© History Oasis

2008 — Yahoo

Microsoft attempts to acquire Yahoo's search engine business to better compete with Google, but the bid is rejected and withdrawn.

2010 — Windows Phone

Microsoft releases Windows Phone mobile operating system to compete with iOS and Android.  

2011 — Skype

Microsoft purchases Skype Technologies for $8.5 billion to support their software and cloud-based communications.

2012 — Surface

Microsoft releases the Surface tablet computer, their first major entry into manufacturing PC hardware.

2013 — Satya Nadella

Steve Ballmer steps down as CEO, Satya Nadella takes over and shifts focus to cloud and enterprise.

2014 — Nokia

Microsoft acquires Nokia's mobile phone business to boost Windows Phone platform.

2015 — Windows 10

Microsoft launches Windows 10, skipping Windows 9. Windows 10 emphasizes cloud integration.

2016 — Linux Foundation

Microsoft joins Linux Foundation, begins adding Linux support after years of viewing it as a competitor.

2017 — LinkedIn

Microsoft acquires professional networking platform LinkedIn for for $26 billion.

2018 — GitHub

Microsoft acquires GitHub code repository platform for $7.5 billion, showing commitment to open source.

2019 — Most Valuable Publicly Traded Company

Microsoft surpasses Apple and Amazon to again become the most valuable publicly traded U.S. company.

2020 — ZeniMax Media

Microsoft acquires ZeniMax Media and its Fallout and Elder Scrolls studios for $7.5 billion, expanding Xbox gaming business.

2021 — $2 Trillion

Microsoft's valuation tops $2 trillion on growth of cloud services and gaming divisions.

2023 — Activision Blizzard

Microsoft acquires gaming giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, becoming a mega-publisher in gaming entertainment.