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Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, that develops, manufactures, licenses, supports and sells computer software, consumer electronics and personal computers and services. Its best known software products are the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, Microsoft Officeoffice suite and Internet Explorer web browser. Its flagship hardware products are Xbox game console and the Microsoft Surface series of tablets. It is the world's largest software maker measured by revenues.[4] It is also one of the world's most valuable companies.[5]

Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on April 4, 1975 to develop and sell BASIC interpreters for Altair 8800. It rose to dominate the personal computer operating system market with MS-DOS in the mid-1980s, followed by the Microsoft Windows. The company's 1986 initial public offering, and subsequent rise in its share price, created an estimated three billionaires and 12,000 millionaires from Microsoft employees. Since the 1990s, it has increasingly diversified from the operating system market and has made a number of corporate acquisitions. In May 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype Technologies for $8.5 billion in its largest acquisition to date.[6]

As of 2013, Microsoft is market dominant in both the IBM PC-compatible operating system and office software suite markets (the latter with Microsoft Office). The company also produces a wide range of other software for desktops and servers, and is active in areas including internet search (with Bing), the video game industry (with the Xbox, Xbox 360 andXbox One consoles), the digital services market (through MSN), and mobile phones (via the Windows Phone OS). In June 2012, Microsoft entered the personal computer production market for the first time, with the launch of the Microsoft Surface, a line of tablet computers.

Microsoft's current CEO is Steve Ballmer, who is set to retire within twelve months after August 2013.[7]

              

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Paul Allen and Bill Gates, childhood friends with a passion in computer programming, were seeking to make a successful business utilizing their shared skills. In 1972 they founded their first company named Traf-O-Data, which offered a rudimentary computer that tracked and analyzed automobile traffic data. Allen went on to pursue a degree in computer science at the University of Washington, later dropping out of school to work at Honeywell. Gates began studies at Harvard.[10] The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronicsfeatured Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems's (MITS) Altair 8800 microcomputer. Allen noticed that they could program aBASIC interpreter for the device; after a call from Gates claiming to have a working interpreter, MITS requested a demonstration. Since they didn't actually have one, Allen worked on a simulator for the Altair while Gates developed the interpreter. Although they developed the interpreter on a simulator and not the actual device, the interpreter worked flawlessly when they demonstrated the interpreter to MITS in Albuquerque, New Mexico in March 1975; MITS agreed to distribute it, marketing it as Altair BASIC.[8]:108, 112–114 They officially established Microsoft on April 4, 1975, with Gates as the CEO.[11] Allen came up with the original name of "Micro-Soft," the combination of the words microcomputer and software, as recounted in a 1995 Fortune magazine article. In August 1977 the company formed an agreement with ASCII Magazine in Japan, resulting in its first international office, "ASCII Microsoft".[12] The company moved to a new home in Bellevue, Washington in January 1979.[11]

Microsoft entered the OS business in 1980 with its own version of Unix, called Xenix.[13] However, it was MS-DOS that solidified the company's dominance. After negotiations with Digital Research failed, IBM awarded a contract to Microsoft in November 1980 to provide a version of the CP/M OS, which was set to be used in the upcoming IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC).[14]For this deal, Microsoft purchased a CP/M clone called 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products, branding it as MS-DOS, which IBM rebranded to PC DOS. Following the release of the IBM PC in August 1981, Microsoft retained ownership of MS-DOS. Since IBM copyrighted the IBM PC BIOS, other companies had to reverse engineer it in order for non-IBM hardware to run as IBM PC compatibles, but no such restriction applied to the operating systems. Due to various factors, such as MS-DOS's available software selection, Microsoft eventually became the leading PC operating systems vendor.[9][15]:210 The company expanded into new markets with the release of the Microsoft Mouse in 1983, as well as a publishing division named Microsoft Press.[8]:232 Paul Allen resigned from Microsoft in February.