Long before Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg roamed the hallowed halls of Harvard, another budding young entrepreneur — this one from the Seattle area — named Bill Gates found himself roaming those same halls.
Gates — just like Zuckerberg, a techie of the first order — dropped out of Harvard, and in early 1975, he and his friend Paul Allen developed a BASIC language for the then-newly released Altair 8800. They sold the product to MITS Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M., marking the first computer language program for a personal computer.
In 1976, the trade name Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico, and revenues for the first year in operation came in at a whopping $22,496, generated by six employees. In 1986, Microsoft went public, offering shares to the public at $21 per share, and it moved to the corporate campus in Redmond, Wash.
If you have used a computer in perhaps the last, oh, 30 years, you’ve undoubtedly used a Microsoft product — in all likelihood at least its Windows OS or Office applications, which helped to launch, if not revolutionize, the software industry. And that’s just the bare minimum.
Today, Microsoft develops, licenses and supports software products and services, and designs and sells hardware through its five segments — of which Windows and its applications still are the biggest, and most profitable, operation. To crank out all that work, Microsoft relies on more than 90,000 employees.
Microsoft is the largest (by revenue and market cap) software company in the world, with $73 billion in revenues, and a market cap of $250 billion that stands at No. 3 in the U.S. behind Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM). And the stock has returned 12,400% despite languishing a bit during the past five years.
While Microsoft — now under the stewardship of CEO Steve Ballmer — still has its critics and skeptics, for now, it’s a king of Washington state.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he was long AAPL, MSFT and XOM.