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Microsoft is a software company founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen and headquartered in Redmond, Washington. Its main product has been operating systems for personal computers based on Intel microprocessors. Microsoft also has an applications division with a focus on business software, including word processor, database, spreadsheet and email applications. It has the majority market share of the PC operating system market and its Xbox series of consoles has a fairly large share of the video game console market, except in Japan. Other ventures are in software development (Visual Studio and .NET), servers (Windows Server), cloud services (Windows Azure), telecommunications (Skype), phones (Windows Phone), embedded hardware (POS Machines, handhelds), peripherals (Keyboards, Mice, Headsets, etc.) and basic scientific research (No really). They have formerly owned half of MSNBC before their share was sold to NBC Universal.
There are some groups that argue that Microsoft has unfairly abused its market position.
Microsoft's business strategy consists mostly of leveraging to try and minimize user defections to non-Microsoft software. For instance, Microsoft heavily relied upon the anti-competitive bullshitting tactic, "Embrace, extend and extinguish." It has also entered into restrictive contracts with computer manufacturers requiring their operating systems to be installed on any computer sold by the manufacturers, and allowing Microsoft to specify which OS. This led to Vista, known for being a technical and critical disaster, being installed on many new machines where the customer would have preferred Windows XP. The rapid release of the widely successful Windows 7 alleviated much of these concerns, while Windows 8 is adopting a more rapid upgrade system, with the first incremental upgrade one year after release.
Microsoft offers very substantial discounts to corporate clients for OSs and applications. Many of these contracts prohibit non-Microsoft products from being used by the company, even where that product may provide a better result. There have been continuing conflicts between competitors and Microsoft about information on OS calls required by applications to run efficiently.
Microsoft has used its market position to simply take (See EEE above) or duplicate a product and include it with new operating systems; they have frequently lost court cases and been compelled to pay for those products. Internet Explorer was such a product, originating as a version of the first web browser, Mosaic; it was so deeply embedded in the Windows OS that it was impossible to remove completely. In later versions of Windows, it is still impossible to completely remove because the engine (Trident) is available for use by other programs openly and it's absence can cause those programs to fail.
Historically, Microsoft's main competition was Apple. The difference in hardware and relatively low volumes meant that Apple hardware was not a viable market for a DOS or Windows version. Apple recently blinked and went with an Intel processor architecture. Many Apple machines now will dual boot Windows and the native Apple operating system. Apple initially had an advantage in the graphics market, but with the state of hardware and DirectX over OpenGL, it's typically a push, unless you bring costs into the equation.
In the operating system market only Apple's Mac OS X and the free Linux are putting up a fight — the former being a certified variant of Unix and the latter an uncertified variant — and there are of course different versions of Unix and Unix-like operating systems and a few word processing/typesetting systems but these typically run on special hardware, for example the IBM RISC system running IBM's version of UNIX.
Microsoft also competes in other areas, like with Google (search, ads, mail, web browsing, phone/tablet software and cloud storage), Apple (phone/tablet software), Oracle (Java vs. .NET and cloud computing), FOSS (on virtually every front), Sony and Nintendo (video games).
While his business practices make him a complete oddball, since taking a more minor role at Microsoft he has begun the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation dedicated to charity around the world. As the world's largest private foundation it promotes agriculture, sanitation, vaccines and education to the world with crazy amounts of funding.
The previous CEO of Microsoft oversaw what was considered a downturn of Microsoft's place in the market. By failing to adapt quickly enough in certain areas (Mobile Development, for example), Microsoft lost market share in pretty much every category. Thank God he's gone, and now spends his time running the mostly harmless Los Angeles Clippers.
Before you ask "Who?" this guy was the head of server and tools division before being thrust into the CEO role. If there's one thing he's good at, it's making money. He's educated as a computer scientist and businessman, which should prove an interesting turn in Microsoft.
- The Wikipedia article, if you were looking for a more detailed article about the company.
- Microsoft does develop software for Apple's Mac OS and Microsoft Office for Mac is pretty popular.
- Via the Darwin (not to be confused with Charles) codebase, which is certified as Unix by The Open Group, which holds the
- Internal Microsoft emails were divulged during antitrust hearings and revealed Gates to be involved with usability at the lowest level: Full text: An epic Bill Gates e-mail rant
- Cocaine is a hell of a drug.