What Is Microsoft and How Is It Different From Other Technology Companies?

Microsoft is one of the largest and most influential technology companies in the world. Its best-known software is the Windows line of operating systems, its Office suite of productivity applications and its Edge web browser. It also produces hardware including the Xbox series of gaming consoles and its Surface line of touchscreen personal computers.

The company was founded on 4 April 1975 by Harvard College dropout Bill Gates and his childhood friend Paul Allen. The pair teamed up to write BASIC software for the Altair 8800 microcomputer, which was used in schools at the time. By the end of the decade, Microsoft had signed a contract with IBM to provide its DOS operating system on IBM PCs. This enabled the company to earn a significant royalty fee for every IBM PC sold.

Microsoft’s fortunes grew significantly in the 1990s, as it released increasingly feature-rich versions of Windows and its office software suite. Its success with desktop computers enabled it to make inroads into mobile devices, beginning with the release of the first Xbox console in 2001. However, the company missed out on the smartphone wave and didn’t catch up with competitors like Apple and Google until it made a big push into cloud computing through its Azure platform in 2011.

In 2022, Microsoft is one of the top four most valuable United States companies by market cap, and one of the biggest global technology corporations. It’s an international conglomerate with subsidiaries around the globe, and its products touch millions of people in nearly every country. It runs one of the top cloud computing services in Azure, maintains Windows 11, is the developer of the Office suite of business software and makes its Surface line of touchscreen laptops and tablets. It’s also the parent company of Xbox, Bing search and Skype.

The CEO of the company since 2014 is Satya Nadella, who has transformed Microsoft into an innovator after years of defensiveness. He did so by encouraging an existential moment at the company and making strategic changes to make it think more like a startup.

Investors have rewarded this approach, as Microsoft’s stock has more than doubled in value under Nadella’s tenure. The company’s most prominent shareholders include Vanguard Group Inc., which owns 8.4% of the total shares, and BlackRock Inc., which owns 5.2%. Other top holders include State Street Corp., which holds 2.5%, and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., with 2.2%. The company is a publicly traded entity, and its shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and other major global markets. It is listed under the ticker symbol MSFT.

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