10 surprising facts about Microsoft

With the release of Windows 10 coming almost exactly 20 years after Microsoft introduced Windows 95, now is as good a time as ever to look at Microsoft's broad impact on the tech industry, particularly the lesser-known facts.

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40 years of Microsoft

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Windows 95, the seminal Windows release which firmly cemented Microsoft's position as the market leader in desktop computing. Microsoft, though, has a storied history which stretches all the way back to 1975. During the company's 40-year existence, it's been a part of every major computing revolution, even if it sometimes came to the game a little bit late. While there are many aspects of the Microsoft story which are well known, here are 10 interesting and surprising facts about the company which you may not have been aware of.

microsoft campus building

Microsoft was founded in New Mexico

Though Microsoft is currently headquartered in and has become essentially synonymous with Redmond, Washington, the company was actually founded in New Mexico back in April 1975. It wouldn't be until 1986 that the company moved to Redmond.

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The Windows XP background may be the most viewed photo in history

We've all seen it — the Windows XP background. Titled "Bliss," the photo itself was taken in Sonoma County, California, by Charles O'Rear. Taken in 1996, Microsoft paid O'Rear a pretty penny for the rights to the photo, ultimately making it the default background in Windows XP. It's since been suggested that "Bliss" may very well be the most viewed photo in the history of the world. Not only did Microsoft have a commanding 90%-plus share of the desktop market at the time of XP's release, but XP remained in use by a majority of Windows users for years on end.

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Microsoft spent hundreds of millions of dollars advertising Windows 95

It wasn't until Windows 95 was released in August 1995 that Microsoft truly became a dominant force in desktop computing. With an advertising budget that some peg as high as $300 million, Microsoft's Windows 95 launch event was an exercise in excess. The launch itself featured Jay Leno cracking wise, a Rolling Stones theme song, and all sorts of other extravagant gestures. Though perhaps a bit over the top, the payoff was immense. Over the next 10 years or so, Microsoft's annual revenue climbed by more than five times.

The Windows 95 startup sound was created by Brian Eno

Again, with Microsoft going all out for Windows 95, it only made sense that they would contract out the OS's startup chime to a music legend, a role filled by Brian Eno. In describing the framework under which the startup sound was created, Eno said in 1996:

"The thing from the agency said, 'We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,' this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said 'and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long.'" 

Before coming up with the winning sound, Eno said that he had 84 pieces to choose from.

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Microsoft beat Apple to the smartphone market by seven years

While the iPhone undoubtedly crafted the modern-day smartphone market as we know it today, it wasn't the first company to come out with a smartphone. Somewhat surprisingly, Microsoft was busy putting Windows mobile on PDAs and smartphones as early as 2000, a good seven years before the iPhone was released. Perhaps this disappointing experience, could explain why Steve Ballmer was famously so dismissive of the iPhone upon its unveiling.

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Bill Gates wanted to call Windows 1.0 'Interface Manager'

The computing world might look a lot different today if Bill Gates followed his gut and named Windows 1.0 'Interface Manager.' As the story goes, Gates had the good sense to abandon his preferred name and instead go with Windows.

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Microsoft's first piece of hardware was the Microsoft Mouse in 1983

Though Microsoft made its billions on software, the company wasn't completely averse to hardware. In fact, the company's first ever hardware product — the Microsoft Mouse — dates all the way back to 1983. Notably, this even pre-dates Apple's foray into the world of mice. In what would become a defining feature of Windows mice, the Microsoft Mouse featured two hardware buttons. A design masterpiece this was not.

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Microsoft almost purchased Sega

Before developing and releasing the Xbox, Microsoft was very close to acquiring Sega in an effort to take on Sony's Playstation. At the time, Sega's Dreamcast console was extremely popular and Microsoft thought that could serve as a strategic point of attack. But as it would turn out, Bill Gates didn't ultimately believe that Sega had what it took to truly take on Sony.

Steve Ballmer once starred in a bizarre commercial for Windows 1.0

Former Microsoft CEO and current LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was involved with Microsoft almost from the very beginning. A Harvard attendee just like Bill Gates, Ballmer graduated with a degree in math, which makes the salesman-y video below all the more surprising.

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Microsoft may have spearheaded the notion of free software discs

Remember when AOL flooded the market with CD Roms and floppy disks back in the mid-to-late 90s? Well, Microsoft utilized that same idea way back in 1983. To help market the 1983 launch of Windows 1.0, Microsoft bundled free demos of the software in PC World Magazine.