First off, we can’t talk Microsoft without acknowledging what was truly their first acquisition, MS-DOS. In 1980, after not being able to reach a license agreement with a competitor, IBM tasked Microsoft with developing or licensing an operating system for their upcoming IBM 5150 Personal Computer. Microsoft had already been hired to write the BASIC programming language for the PC, but now they had asked for them to provide the OS to go with it.
No sweat, said Microsoft… DOS, which was developed as QDOS (Quick-and-Dirty Operating System) and originally launched as 86-DOS the company Seattle Computer Products. 86-DOS had been written by Tim Paterson — the owner and operator of Seattle Computer Products, in just six weeks’ time. So rather than re-invent the wheel Microsoft paid Tim Paterson just $75,000 in the summer of 1981 for version 1.10 of 86-DOS.
Upon receiving PC-DOS in July, Microsoft simply renamed it to MS-DOS 1.10 and handed it off to IBM in August of 1981, who decided to license it for distribution in November of the same year. From 1981 until 1993, IBM utilized a branded version of MS-DOS on their systems, known as PC DOS… and while IBM offered alternative operating systems for its PCs throughout the years, Microsoft’s licensed version of MS-DOS was sold on more than 9 out of every 10 IBM PCs sold — thus cementing Microsoft’s place in history as a software behemoth.
Microsoft had been around for five years before being award the operating system contract by IMB, and while they may have survived or even thrived without the PC-DOS eal — there is no denying that their successful sales pitch to IBM changed the trajectory of the company, and the world forever.
- 1987, Microsoft acquired Forethought, which had a little know presentation program that would later be known as Microsoft PowerPoint
- 1997, Microsoft acquired Hotmail.com as an integral part of their push for MSN.com leading up to the release of Windows XP
- 2000, Microsoft acquired the Visio Corporation whose diagraming program was rebranded as Microsoft Visio
- 2002, Microsoft purchased Navision for their ERP (enterprise resource planning) technologies which kicked off a new division of the company, Microsoft Business Solutions which has lead us to what we now call Microsoft Dynamics
- 2007–2008, in escalated efforts to keep pace with Google’s massive ad revenue, Microsoft acquired aQuantive and its subsidiaries which included Avenue A/Razorefish, followed quickly by Fast Search and Transfer
- 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype and created a new division of the company to house the chat and VOIP solution, a move that was surprising to some due to the technology behind Skype (Delphi)
- 2012, acquired Yammer, an enterprise social networking service used for private communication within organizations
- 2013, acquired Nokia in a last ditch effort by then CEO Steve Ballmer to save Microsoft in the competitive mobile space
- 2014, acquired Minecraft and its parent company for $2.5 Billion, shocking the world
- A move that has already paid for itself ten-fold
- 2016, acquired business social networking platform LinkedIn
There is no denying that there has been a fundamental shift by Microsoft in their recent acquisitions under star CEO Satya Nadella. It seems that the company has shifted focus to brands and technologies that fit with their existing vision, and bolster their current product and services lineup rather than acquiring outright new technologies.
- LinkedIn has gone on to expand its reach by acquiring:
- Connectifier, a machine learning technology in 2016 for business leads generation
- Elearning juggernaut Lynda.com in 2018 for “LinkedIn Learning”
- Glint, an employee improvement and engagement platform
- FlipGrid, an education, collaboration and video platform was acquired in mid-2018 in an effort to add further value to Microsoft’s education stack of Office 365, Minecraft, Kodu programming language, and partnerships with the likes of Code.org and Kano Computers
- This also ties into their 2016 acquisition of Teacher Gaming, a provider of interactive educational software
- GitHub was purchased in late 2018, and raised eyebrows across the world as open source defenders were shocked that their mecca had been hijacked by the evil empire
- Microsoft surprised the world when they began offering some premium services for free, including the coveted private Git Repos
- GitHub also shows that Microsoft’s recent open source plays, like becoming a Premium Sponsor of the Open Source, open sourcing many of their products, moving their repos to GitHub and the shift to open source in Azure are no marketing moves — they are in it for the long haul
“We are all-in on Open Source, and that is what really brings us together with GitHub. And we’re going to operate it as an open platform for any language, any framework, any platform … providing developers with a SaaS Service.” Satya Nadella, CEO
- AI — Recently Microsoft has acquired conversational AI company XOXOCO, visual AI service Lobe, industrial AI platform Bonsai, conversational AI technology from Semantic Machines and AI from Maluuba
- Game Studios — In recent years, Microsoft has continued to acquire prestigious and talented game studios to show their long-term commitment to the Xbox platform and gaming in general
- 2018 — Obsidian Entertainment, inXile Entertainment, Playground Games, Compulsion Games, Undead Labs, and Ninja Theory
- They have also acquired in recent years Beam (now Mixer) video game streaming, Simplygon 3D graphics optimization, AltspaceVR virtual reality and Playfab gaming backend service
“I think one of the deepest values at Microsoft Research and at other labs, is creativity, creation, coming up with new ideas that have never been thought of before. Combining two sort-of well-known ideas into a whole new innovative combination that leads to a whole new concept…” — Dr. Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow
Microsoft sees the world heading to a developer-centric organism, where developers no longer exist in the bubble of technology, but they live and work and breath across all aspects of our society — including education. They know as technologies continue to evolve, we humans and the companies we work in will continue to struggle to keep pace with the rapid change — and in an effort to both lead the market, and to prepare us all — they are focusing on acquisitions to bolster their already strong platforms. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, they just add the newer and better wheels to their already fine-tuned machine.
Microsoft Research and product development in general has always included taking two decent ideas and merging them together to make a great idea… and that is where I think Microsoft puts a focus on its recent acquisition strategy. Fill gaps and holes in their service, to bolster their services and platforms overall.
Going back, it all is really about “DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS!”
… and I for one, think that we all owe Big Steve an apology. Until next time, enjoy this parting track from YouTube user Bad Squirrel -