Bill Gates' 30-year career at Microsoft has had many highs and lows. We've charted the most important developments from Microsoft's beginnings to the present day.

1975

Bill Gates, then 19, and 22-year-old boyhood friend Paul Allen found Micro-Soft in Albuquerque, initially to create a version of the Basic programming language for the Altair 8800 personal computer.

The formation of the business continues a partnership from their school days in Seattle that several years earlier had produced a computerised traffic-counting machine, called Traf-O-Data and based on the Intel 8008 microprocessor. Gates and Allen later drop the hyphen, then move Microsoft to the Seattle area in 1979 and officially incorporate it in 1981.

1976

Gates writes his famous 'Open Letter to Hobbyists', accusing them of pirating Micro-Soft's Altair Basic.

"As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software," he writes. The letter concludes: "Nothing would please me more than being able to hire 10 programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software."

1981

IBM introduces its first PC, an 8088-based system running Microsoft's 16-bit MS-DOS 1.0 operating system. Microsoft didn't develop the software itself; it bought the rights to the technology from a company called Seattle Computer Products, which originally marketed the OS under the name Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS).

1983

Microsoft announces Windows, initially as an extension of MS-DOS giving the software a graphical operating environment. But starting something of a tradition, Windows wouldn't be ready to ship until...

1985

The company finally releases Windows 1.0, two years and 10 days after the initial announcement. Gates initially wanted to call the product Interface Manager but was talked out of it. Even Microsoft acknowledges that neither Windows 1.0 nor Windows 2.0, which followed in 1987, really set the world on fire. But they did get the attention of executives at what was then called Apple Computer who noticed some similarities between Windows and Apple's operating systems.

1988

Apple files Apple Computer Inc vs Microsoft Corporation, a copyright infringement lawsuit aimed at stopping Microsoft as well as HP from using graphical user interface features that Apple claimed were copied from its Lisa and Macintosh operating systems.

A federal judge threw out most of the claims four years later. But the lawsuit was a harbinger of things to come for Microsoft.

1989

Microsoft introduces the initial version of its Office application suite ironically, for the Macintosh, with a Windows version not following until the next year. Office still dominates the desktop apps market today, but online rivals such as Google Docs and free office suites such as OpenOffice.org are starting to pose some threat to its hegemony.

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  1. The highs and lows of Bill Gates' time at Microsoft
  2. What happened in the 1990s
  3. From 2000 to the present day

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft Spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion

Bill Gates' 30-year career at Microsoft has had many highs and lows. We've charted the most important developments from Microsoft's beginnings to present day

1990

Microsoft launches Windows 3.0 and goes on to sell 10 million copies within two years, establishing Windows as the dominant PC operating system. This was also the year when the development deal between Microsoft and IBM for the OS/2 operating system fell apart - big surprise, considering the sudden success of Windows 3.0. Just three years earlier, Microsoft had announced OS/2 as its planned successor to DOS and Windows.

1994

Gates becomes the wealthiest person in America, according to Forbes magazine, which a year later proclaims him the richest individual in the world. Gates retained both of those distinctions until this year, when he lost them to investor friend Warren Buffett. But Forbes said that Gates' net worth still increased $2bn over the magazine's 2007 estimate, to a total of $58bn as of February 11.

1995

Microsoft misses the first stop of the Internet Express. Trying to jump aboard the fast-moving online train, Gates writes a let's-get-going internal memo that is headed 'The Internet Tidal Wave' and proclaims that the net "is the single most important development to come along since the IBM PC".

Microsoft quickly launches Internet Explorer, using Mosaic web browser technology licensed from Spyglass.

Also in 1995, Microsoft with great fanfare releases Windows 95, codenamed Chicago, using the Rolling Stones song Start Me Up as the centerpiece of its marketing campaign for the operating system, which added the Start button to Windows.

While not exclusively 32-bit, the new OS marked a shift to PCs based on Intel's 32-bit 80386 chip, although Gates apparently wasn't impressed by that processor at first. Windows 95 also sounded the deathknell for OS/2, although IBM continued to update and market the latter operating system until 2005.

1996

The so-called browser wars ensue between Microsoft and Netscape Communications. Netscape was by far the market leader when IE made its debut; by the end of 1998, Microsoft had taken over the top spot, thanks to its bundling of IE with Windows. That practice would have some legal consequences, though...

1998

The US Department of Justice and 20 states file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that the company had abused its monopoly power in the operating system and web browser markets, in particular, by bunding IE with Windows.

In late 2001, the DoJ and Microsoft reached a settlement that imposed restrictions on the company's business practices but didn't require more onerous steps, such as unbundling the browser from the OS.

The case, which remains open for tracking Microsoft's compliance with the consent decree, also spawned a slew of other legal actions, including class-action lawsuits in numerous states; private antitrust suits against Microsoft by vendors including Sun Microsystems and Novell and investigations of the software vendor by antitrust regulators in various countries.

NEXT PAGE: From 2000 to the present day

  1. The highs and lows of Bill Gates' time at Microsoft
  2. What happened in the 1990s
  3. From 2000 to the present day

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft Spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion

Bill Gates' 30-year career at Microsoft has had many highs and lows. We've charted the most important developments from Microsoft's beginnings to the present day

2000

Microsoft details its .Net strategy for developing web services that can be shared between different applications. Meanwhile, Gates passes the CEO baton to Steve Ballmer and becomes chief software architect, while continuing as chairman.

Also, Gates and his wife, Melinda, found the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which becomes the world's largest charitable foundation thanks to donations from Gates and, later, Buffett.

2002

With Microsoft being pilloried for security flaws in its products, Gates issues an internal memo announcing a new Trustworthy Computing initiative. Among the steps he orders: shutting down Windows development for 10 weeks to train software engineers on how to write more secure code. The company also delays the release of Windows Server 2003 for about a year to do more security checks on the operating system.

2004

Following a five-year antitrust investigation, the European Commission fines Microsoft €497m (£414m) and orders it to offer a version of Windows without its own media player software.

Microsoft appealed the ruling in 2006, but the decision was upheld by a European court last year. This February, the EC fined Microsoft another €899m (£749m), triggering another appeal by the company.

2005

Gates announces a plan to offer more of Microsoft's software functionality over the internet, via online services dubbed Windows Live and Office Live. The web-based offerings, which Microsoft begins launching in early 2006, are the centerpieces of the company's effort to take on software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors.

But Microsoft's strategy, called 'Software+Services', is a hybrid approach designed to protect its Windows and Office franchises, not a full SaaS model.

2006

Microsoft announces that Gates will retire from his day-to-day job at the company at the end of June 2008 to devote more time to his philanthropic work, although he will continue as the software vendor's chairman. Gates downplays his role in product development during his time as chief software architect.

"Any view that the innovation [at Microsoft] comes primarily from me reflects the notion that there has been an overfocus on my contribution," he says.

2007

Windows Vista and Office 2007 are released to consumers, after being made available to enterprise users in late 2006. While Microsoft claims otherwise, Vista increasingly is seen as a loser for the company, and the software giant already is talking up its replacement, known for now as Windows 7.

2008

Microsoft tries but fails to buy Yahoo to help it counter online competition from Google The takeover bid leads Yahoo to sign an online advertising deal with Google that Microsoft is expected to try to block. Meanwhile, Gates embarks on something of a farewell tour, giving his final keynote speeches as a Microsoft employee at events such as the 2008 International CES.

  1. The highs and lows of Bill Gates' time at Microsoft
  2. What happened in the 1990s
  3. From 2000 to the present day

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft Spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion