Microsoft Corporation is the largest computer software producer in the world, headquartered in the Seattle, Washington suburb of Redmond. The company was founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen to develop and sell BASIC interpreters.
In 1983, Microsoft was able to leverage a contract with IBM to produce a BASIC for the IBM PC into a contract to provide an OS for the IBM PC. Microsoft then bought the rights to use Tim Patterson's Seattle DOS on the PC and released it via IBM as Microsoft DOS (MSDOS). MSDOS was very successful. Microsoft then developed a wide variety of software products including Operating Systems; Language Compilers and Interpreters; Word Processors; Spreadsheets; etc. Some were successful. Some weren't. The best known products are Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and a series of server Operating Systems and Products generally referred to as NT although the product changed to Windows 2000, and then to the most recent release, Windows XP.
Microsoft also produces Microsoft Office for the Apple Macintosh, arguably the most important set of programs on the Mac. Microsoft also owns a small portion of Apple, having invested $400 million in the company in 1997; since then every new Macintosh ships with Internet Explorer as the default web browser.
Some of Microsoft's products, particularly Outlook (a mail reader) and Internet Information Server (an HTTP server or webserver), and its operating systems, have received much criticism from computer security experts because they have been victims of so many worms, viruses and other exploits. The company has defended its products by arguing that as the largest software company, their products are subject to more attacks, which is true in some cases but certainly not in the case of IIS, since it holds only a minority share. Security experts believe the problem is due to fundamental design decisions that were made in favor of usability rather than security. Usability experts dispute this, saying Microsoft software is weak on that front too.
Recently the corporation seems to be taking security issues more seriously, but it remains to be seen how successful they will be at securing their software.
Microsoft also has been involved in designing and selling hardware products where they deem it will expand their software business. An early example is the Microsoft Mouse which enabled a simple Xerox-Star, Apple-Macintosh input interface to the Windows operating system. Later models sport scrolling wheels, extra buttons, LED motion detectors and other features.
In late 2001, envying the multi-billion dollar game console market dominated by Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft will be releasing its own proprietary game console called XBox. If successful, the console and attendant game software will further fuel the huge annual revenues enjoyed by the giant software company.
Microsoft has been convicted by a USA court for abusing its monopoly in the desktop operating systems market in the same country. See: Microsoft antitrust case
Microsoft .NET initiative
The .NET initiative is a major effort by Microsoft to ease the development of applications which use the internet as well as to facilitate installation problems often called 'DLL-hell' (version conflicts of differenct components). See Common Language Infrastructure.