While Microsoft is everywhere and has been around for what seems like forever, there are lots of things about Bill Gates and his company you probably don’t know. We all know that college dropouts Gates and Allen formed Microsoft back in 1976, and used it to sell an operating system known as MS-DOS to IBM, making them rich. As MS-DOS morphed in Windows in 1985, Microsoft and its products became ubiquitous, powering about 19 out of every 20 home computers, and supplying apps for its own and other operating systems. In 1996, it teamed up with NBC to start MSNBC, an all-news basic cable TV channel, and in 2001 came the Xbox, Microsoft’s foray into video-game consoles.
But aside from what you know about the Redmond, Washington-based behemoth, there’s also plenty you might not.
1. Bill Gates has been arrested three times
Back in 1975, when Gates was just 19 years old, he was pulled over for speeding and arrested for driving without a license. Two years later, he ran a red light and was again arrested for driving without a license. And finally, in 1989, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated — but at least by then he had gotten his license. While the arrests don’t seem to have hurt him much, I’d hate to have to pay his auto insurance bill.
2. Bill Gates is bad at naming things
Gates and partner Paul Allen’s first foray into computer companies was called Traf-0-Data. Wiser heads prevailed, though, and it was replaced by Micro-Soft. The company removed the hyphen in 1981 becoming Microsoft. And its signature product, MS-DOS (Micro-Soft Digital Operating System) — which it bought for $25,000 in 1980, months after they had signed a contract to supply it to IBM — was originally called the Quirky and Dirty Operating System (QDOS?).
3. Bill Gates hacked his way into the computer business
In high school, Gates found a way to make his school computer put him in the classes with the most girls. Flush with early success, he and Allen then hacked the system for extra time and games. When the company who made the program — Computer Center Corporation — found out what he had done, they first banned the pair, but then hired Gates to find “bugs and weaknesses” in their system. He had gone from part-time hacker to professional programmer without any penalty.
4. Microsoft wasn’t on the internet until 1993
Oddly, Microsoft did not have its own dedicated web site until 1993. Microsoft users had dozens of sites, mostly forums, to discuss the company and its products, but there was no official site until Microsoft bought a fan site hosted on CompuServe in 1993. Of course, now Microsoft.com is one of the world’s most visited web sites with an Alexa rank of 39th worldwide and millions of views daily.
5. The Xbox was almost a Sega
Back in 2000, Microsoft was eager to get into the video game console market. With Gates out of the loop, the company was very close to acquiring Sega, whose Genesis console had been immensely popular. But when Gates found out, he personally examined the Genesis, decided it could never compete with what Sony had, and scrapped the deal. Microsoft then decided to develop its own console, the Xbox, and Sega is now a D-list game developer with less annual revenue than Gates has spare change in his pockets.
6. Going with Apple won’t set you free of Microsoft
When Microsoft came out with its Office suite in 1989, it was actually released for Apple’s Macintosh operating system before Windows. And even though the two companies were at each other’s throats at the time, Apple users actually had a higher rate of adoption of Microsoft applications and programs than Windows users at the time. Still, it’s hard to find Internet Explorer on any computer any more.
7. If you want to work for Microsoft, you’d better like M&M’s
It’s a company tradition that Microsoft employees bring a bag of M&M’s to their workplace on the anniversary of their hire date. And the tradition also states that the employee has to bring at least one pound of candy for every year they have worked for Microsoft. So ten-year veterans have to bring ten pounds of M&M’s. With about 110,000 employees, that’s a lot of candy.
8. Windows almost wasn’t Windows
When Microsoft developed Windows 1.0 from MS-DOS to compete with Apple’s Macintosh in the 1980s, Gates wanted to call it “Interface Manager.” He was vehement on the point because, as he said at the time, “that’s what it does.” But when the operating system was introduced to Microsoft’s marketing department, its chief Rowland Hanson noticed that the engineers kept using the word “windows” over and over again. After much persuasion, Hanson managed to convince Gates to change the product’s name.
9. Windows is not legally a Macintosh copy
Apple had tried to sue Microsoft over how closely Windows resembled Macintosh since 1983. They key issue was over drop-down menus. Instead of giving in, Gates launched a novel defense. Instead of denying Windows was a copy, he claimed that both operating systems were copies of something both Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs had seen at Xerox. The two companies sorted things out in 1997 when Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple, keeping it alive.
10. Microsoft has more PhDs than most universities
Microsoft isn’t just smart at acquiring things, it’s just plain smart. Much of that intelligence comes from the 850 PhD holder it employs. And it actively supports and sponsors new PhD applicants. When these brainy recruits arrive, they are allowed access to Microsoft’s $9 billion (yeah, $9 billion, or about the entire worth of companies like Twitter) research budget.
11. Microsoft passed on buying YouTube, really regrets it
Back in 2006, Microsoft had a chance to buy the fledgling YouTube video-hosting site for $500 million. Six months after they passed, upstart rival Google bought the now-enormously popular site for $1.65 billion. It’s estimated worth now is a ridiculous $45.7 billion. And now the mighty Microsoft has to post its videos on YouTube just like the rest of us.
12. But many Microsoft acquisitions have worked out
Of the 150 or so companies Microsoft has acquired, many of them have paid great dividends. Hotmail, now called Outlook, has grown from 8 million to 420 million users since it was purchased by Microsoft in 1997. Skype, the free video-calling service purchased by Microsoft in 2011, continues to grow by leaps and bounds. And the recent acquisition of Nokia’s cellphone business, now called Microsoft Mobile, is showing signs of becoming another huge hit.
13. Microsoft was probably the greatest investment ever
The small but dedicated group that became Microsoft started out in 1977 with a seed of just $16,000 in the bank. Fast-forward a bit and the company’s equity in 2013 was $78.94 billion. To put that in perspective, if you had invested just $100 in Microsoft (sorry, Micro-Soft) at the beginning, it would have been worth a cool $493 million in 2013. Not a bad job for a bunch of nerdy college dropouts with bad hair.