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How Microsoft's technological and social impacts have changed the world

Microsoft's story is founded on the goal of having a world impact. Under the leadership of its first CEO Bill Gates, and on to his successor, Steve Ballmer, to its current leader Satya Nadella, Microsoft has been an integral part of social change and world affairs.

Nadella defines Microsoft as the "do more" company. Its mission as a platform provider is to equip individuals and businesses with the tools to "do more." Microsoft equipped these entities to achieve their goals and has been a global force that has profoundly affected communities, other companies, and individuals.

A computer on every desk and in every home

Four decades ago, Microsoft Founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen set the ambitious goal of putting a PC on every desk and in every home. Forty years later that goal has been largely realized. Over a billion PCs are now in use in businesses and homes around the world.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates (Image credit: Microsoft)

Ironically, in those early days of computing naysayers mocked the idea of personal home computers. The large enterprise-focused devices that defined what computers were, and what they were useful for, were not something doubters could reconcile as useful tools in homes. This negative perception didn't hinder Microsoft's objective to define personal computing, however.

In a pivotal deal with IBM in 1980, Microsoft created the PC-DOS operating system for a fee of $80,000. Recognizing that other PC makers might attempt to copy it, Microsoft retained the OS's copyrights. Eventually, Microsoft's MS-DOS became the foundation of the Windows OS that propelled the company's personal computing vision around the world. Through partnerships with PC makers, Windows became the dominant PC OS in businesses and homes around the globe. Microsoft grew from a company that employed just 30 people to a multibillion global force that employs 124,000 individuals (opens in new tab) and affects business, social and global change.

PC power to the people

With user-friendly tools like Windows, Office and MS Paint, Microsoft was successful with making computing, something that was remote and foreign to most people, a personal and easy experience. Consumers and businesses also benefitted from the fact that Microsoft's platform became the dev box and target of a massive community of developers who ultimately supplied Windows with 16 million programs.

Microsoft not only put a PC in every home and on every desk but was crucial to defining the relationships between OEMs, platform providers, developers, businesses and consumers that are the foundations of the present age of personal computing. Microsoft mainstreamed personal computing to the extent that PCs are now available in a range of forms and price points. Third-world countries, where there is no or limited electricity, are even provided with durable wind-up PCs.

PCs and Windows have become the fundamental tools that have helped authors write best sellers, artists create masterpieces, musicians craft music, social service and volunteer organizations monitor resources, manufacturers optimize production, banks power ATMs and much more. Their integration in almost every part of our lives has changed our world.

Though the PC market declined after the smartphone's advent, the existence of these "modern mobile PCs", is a testimony of Microsoft's impact on the world and personal computing. Especially since Microsoft's $150 million contribution to Apple in 1997 saved the Cupertino company, enabling it to exist long enough to introduce the world-changing iPhone in 2007.

Business and government the Redmond way

Many of the world's businesses, which drive local and global economies and have intricate relationships with and impact on local and global communities, run on a Microsoft-based IT infrastructure. From Windows Server to Intune device management, to Azure cloud services, to Surface deployment, Office 365 and more, Microsoft is the platform that many large and small businesses around the world run on.

The global scope and the impact of these relationships cannot be overstated. Multibillion-dollar companies rely on the integrity and reliability of Microsoft's tools daily. We have witnessed the impact and costs to businesses when these systems are compromised.

Businesses are not the only high-profile consumers of Microsoft tools. Governments, from local municipalities to agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense to various governments around the world, such as China, rely on Windows and other Microsoft services for smooth operations and security.

It is a testimony to the powerful role Microsoft plays in global affairs that its tools are relied upon by governments around the world.

Head of the class

Despite Google's success in the U.S., Microsoft in Education is still the dominant force in school systems around the world.

To bolster its efforts, Microsoft purchased and integrated the popular game Minecraft into its education strategy. It also created Windows 10 S, which runs only Store apps and is bringing affordable Windows 10 S PCs to elementary and secondary school systems, and the Windows 10 S Surface Laptop to college students. With various management tools like Intune for Education Microsoft has improved administrators abilities to manage and deploy hardware.

With Windows 10 S and Surface Laptop Microsoft takes aim at Apple and Google

Microsoft's goal with its education efforts is to familiarize the next generation of decision-makers and employees with the Microsoft tools that it has established as the drivers of businesses and governments around the world.

A seat at the table

Microsoft's position of global influence gives its leadership a voice on matters of moral consequence and humanitarian concern. The company notably exercised that voice in its stance against the Trump administration in relation to its handling of the events in Charlottesville, Va., where an anti-protester was murdered and others were injured during a white supremacist rally.

More recently, Microsoft President Brad Smith, who recently left the Digital Advisory Committee due to the aforementioned concerns, expressed Microsoft's opposition to the Trump administrations ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This program currently protects 800,000 U.S. immigrants that were brought to the country as children from deportation. Smith expressed the following of the 39 "Dreamers," (as they are called), that Microsoft employs:

In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.

Microsoft's resources have also been employed to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The massive wealth Bill Gates reaped from the company he cofounded has been used to provide education support, health care efforts and other philanthropic global work via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Looking forward

Microsoft is a company built on a dream that has been largely accomplished. Though it has had many misses, including smartphones, Zune, and Microsoft Bob, the company is looking forward. Surface introduced a new PC category, Windows 10 on ARM opens the door to potential telephony-enabled PCs, and Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens position the company to democratize augmented and virtual reality for a future of holographic computing.

Microsoft's influence raises some concerns as well. It's AI-driven camera technology that can recognize, people, places, things, and activities and can act proactively has a profound capacity for abuse by the same governments and entities that currently employ Microsoft services for less nefarious purposes.

Dystopian abuse of Microsoft's powerful AI-driven camera tech is all but inevitible

Additionally, visionaries like Gates, Tesla's Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking have concerns about rouge AI and quantum computing.

What the future holds is uncertain, but one thing is clear: Microsoft has changed the world, and its impact will leave enduring effects long into the future.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

34 Comments
  • And the ad blocker goes back on for this site. Keep publishing articles like this, and it will stay on. Just surprised that you had the balls to not turn off comments this time.
  • Hi nohone, I didn't turn off comments last time. I'm not in charge, I don't make that call. As a matter of face when i was asked I suggested to keep them on hoping to appeal to wholesome discussion. In hindsight given the "unwholesome" commentary I've seen the decision that was made, that was out of my hands, seems to have been the wisest choice. That's unfortunate.
  • Sorry to pin that on you, then and blame does fall on others.
  • We can discuss the topic without trashing each other, or the author. 
  • I believe many of us are sick of politics and political correctness in everything from tech blogs like this, video game blogs, comic books, movies, music, sitcoms, boardgames, ads, restaurants etc, etc, etc and etc.   There is a place for politics but it has become so pervasive that you cannot go to any website and not have politics right in your face.  I quit going to TheVerge and pretty much done with ArsTechnica and also Polygon and still cry over joystiq and I believe many are ready to quit this site as well.  Many when we come to tech blogs expect technology discussions and not political correctness and/politics.     I get it, you have a soapbox -- you might as well then list yourself as SuperPAC for a political organization and be honest about it.  Trying to push a political agenda or view is not what many of us want.   In the end it is your site, but many of us who have been around before it was called Windows Central also have the choice to leave because it is just too much!  Also, when comments get cut off or deleted, you are just saying your view and voice only matters.  At least ArsTechnica allows the comments good or bad.   In the USA the populace has become so divided because of politics.  The Tech Blogs who are far left just add to the division.  The only good thing about the Internet is we have choices and I believe many like myself will simply find someplace else to go which is less political.   Perhaps I am alone in this view but I bet I am not.
  • I would have to agree with nohone on this one.  While I may agree or disagree with the political opionions put forth in articles like this, I would much rather my tech news be apolitical as much as possible.
  • The references to Microsofts actions in rrlation to social issues is relevant to this peice. We are addressing rhe company's impact on the world, communities, socitiies etc. The stances the leadership makes and the reasoms ot makes it are relavant here. Now though the piece linked here does reflect a particular view, the text in this piece simply states what Microsoft or its leadership did in relation to the Trump administration and why they made those decisions as they expressed thier reasoms to be, not my interprestation, not my opininion, not my view - thiers. Again mybopionions are expressed more elsewhere but not here.
  • But your article is so blatantly partisan. In regards to how you described DACA, you merely said the law 'protects 800,000 immigrants who came into the country as children' which is a false description of the law. Illegal =/= legal. That's not Microsoft's writing, it's yours.
  • Actually it wasn't partisan, i simply neglected to add that word, but I assumed its common knowledge that they are the children of parents who illegally entered the country thus inherent purpose of DACA. I have no problem ackniwledging that those children(or then children) were brought here illegally by thirr parents. And I expressed no opinion on the matter one way or another. I simply stated what Microsft's response was. And if yoi follow the link to Brad Smiths statement you'll see that Microsoft had a lot more to say on the matter than the tiny quote about standing by its 39 impacted employees. Also, just so you know, I'm not partisan at all, These tiny little boxes people have for others is counterproductive. No one person, no one party represents my set of values. I see things that conflict with my values and moral beliefs in both major parties.
  • I really do appreciate your responses.  I think we are all just so hypersensitive to politics right now.  I think the problem is that politics gets injected into so many aspects of life now.  We just can't escape it anymore.  I'm old enough to remember a time when that wasn't the case. And I completely agree with you about not being aligned 100% with any political party.  There are good and bad people in both major parties.  Anyway, even if I may not agree with you on many things, I respect your willingness to debate.
  • Well, if you ask the conspiracy theorists, the Bill and Melinda gates foundation is trying to sterilize the world population with their vaccines.  Anyways, I appreciate people like Bill Gates that want to make the world a better place for everyone. It's up to us to make  the world a better place. Glad some of the Billionaire class is helping with social welfare around the world whether through education, health services, or technological advancement.
  • Nice article. And since I have promised Jason I'll comment more, its only fair I write when I like the article as well not just when I don't like it lol. Microsoft has had the greatest impact on social life specially from the part of world I come from i.e. India. No tech company can beat MS in that. No apple with its pile of cash and devices made for richer people of earth has had that much impact. That is the precise reason, I am a huge fan of MS. Without looking at smaller things, Microsoft's a PC at every desk vision has helped billions of kids like me in realizing their dreams and has impacted their lives. Infact, Microsoft Windows PC was my first interaction with a computer that made me fall in love with these devices and the way my life has shaped after just shows MS's impact. I have both bachelors and masters in Computer Engineering and work professionally as xamarin developer. Bill and Melinda's contributions as individual people through foundation are also amazing. They adopted a village near my city in India and they do help a lot of people in poor parts of India. A lot means a lot. They were also given a joint Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award for such contributions. :) Microsoft has always pushed tech for social good, as much as you would practically expect from a multi-billion dollar multi-national company. I am happy, I am a Microsoft fan.
  • Thanks for jumping in Nitish. I appreciate ypur candor, integrity and support. And thanks for sharing your experience and passion🙂!
  • Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens position the company to democratize augmented and virtual reality for a future of holographic computing.
    With a $3000/5000 price tag? Doubt it. You know who is democratizing AR and VR? Check your partner websites in Mobile Nations ;)
  • *Drops the mic*
  • I have a HP and Acer headset for my Windows computer. Google has a piece of cardboard that you put your phone into, has a much lower screen resolution and update frequency, has one screen for both eyes (it makes a huge difference 1 or 2 displays), and you need to hold it to your face with your hands which means you can't use controllers like with Microsoft's version - talk about gorilla arm with Google's product. Apple announced something, but there is nothing available in the forseeable future. Microsoft's solution is shipping today, in use by devs today, will be widely available in non-dev kits a month from now, and from multiple vendors so you can pick and choose which one you want to use. And they are priced starting at $299. What is the price of the Apple headset? Google is charging up to $30, but is a piece of cardboard really worth $30? I have tried the Google version, and no, it does not come anywhere near the HP and Acer headsets that I use and develop for. So please do tell us who is democratizing AR. Apple? Nope, nothing available on shelves yet. Google? Kind of, but at the cost of a much worse experience.
  • "Apple announced something, but there is nothing available in the forseeable future." Apple's soluion runs on their recent hardware, which means that in a couple of weeks when iOS 11 is released they will have in excess of 100 million compatible devices in the field. They are miles ahead of Microsoft.
  • Smartphone AR better then HMD AR? Everyone is behind Microsoft when it comes to HMDs.  Do you know why HTC vive suddenly become a thing when hype was all about occulus? Because HTC had a full system of hardware sales which Facebook did not had. Now when it comes to Microsoft, the OEMs provide them even better chances of selling the Mixed Reality HMDs then that of occulus. Talking about hololens? Then this device is not for anyone for general purpose. It is a Developer edition device! Price does not matter. Those PlayStation and Xbox Dev kits also cost pretty much the same. Talking about  price tag ? Then not even apple can bring the cost of waveguides down to earth.  Trust me, hololens is the one and only device yet. No other HMD is complete package as hololens is. Blaming MS to lose the current Smartphone AR race is right, but that can't be said for Hololens and Mixed Reality Headsets. Developing for a 2D screen AR is far different then developing for HMD AR.  Devs will not learn how natural interaction is done. They will not learn how to manage FOV. Head movement is far more rigours then hand movements. There are no pixels to control the scene.  When apple will launch its first HMD, Microsoft will be be far ahead with next generation of HMD;")
  • Apple, with a Pockemon Go solution is miles ahead of MS? Yeah right!
  • Microsoft has built it's OS to support  AR, VR  from the ground up and many of the various OEM partners are coming to the market with their version that is support by this OS. So I don't know how all of a sudden Apple decide to jump into the market suddenly be miles ahead of Microsoft. Maybe with something simplistic but it won't be even close to the indepthness that Microsoft will be reaching and in real world scenerios. Corporations, Hospitals, NASA, etc. has been working with Microsoft and Apple wasn't even in the picture until just recently.
  • Hi, reomw thanks for commenting. Please follow the link to the excerpt you chose. In that article I talk about Microsofts strategy of democratization. Democratization is making (something) accessible to everyone. If you follow the inline link to the excerpt you chose it leads to an article I wrote last year. (A HoloLens for everyone, Microsoft democratizes HoloLens tech) In that article I highlight on Terry Myersons discussion with Mary Jo Foley on how Microsoft is using HoloLens as an aspirational device partners could emulate. I also focus on how the Mixed Reality platform/APIs (previously Windows Holographic) is the platform built into Windows 10 that developers could access across to create an ecosystem of holographic apps: Democratization. Democratization is not the attempt to sell the $3000/5000 hardware as you incorrectly presumed. It is making the tech available to partners who will use it to make affordable options that are meant to proliforate in the market. Also I've write in great detail on Apples and Googles AR efforts in these articles below and they're right here on WC! Though our sister sites a great the informatiin you reference is right here.😎 Without phone Microsofts AR efforts may be worthless https://m.windowscentral.com/apples-and-googles-smartphone-based-arkit-and-arcore-will-mainstream-augmented-reality A media focused HoloLens could help Microsoft bring AR to consumers: https://m.windowscentral.com/media-focused-hololens-home-may-be-microsofts-ar-bridge-consumers Even without consumer focused HoloLens Microsoft must market AR sooner than later: https://m.windowscentral.com/if-consumer-ready-hololens-ten-years-away-microsoft-must-still-market-ar Can Microsoft keep up with Apple in the race for AR/VR supremacy?: https://m.windowscentral.com/will-apple-mailnstream-augmented-reality-and-beat-microsofts-consumer-hololens Guys please try not to be so quick with the sarcasm. Or at least make sure its founded on solid information so that you dont just look like you're seeking opportunities at snark at the expense of an intelligent repsonse. It comes off as childish and not very well thought through.🙂
  • Again... I don't want to hear any political or social views from any form of corporation. You can almost guarantee there is an agenda behind these money grabbers. Stick to making your products, selling your services, and keeping your agenda riddled "opinion" to yourselves.
  • Where can I find my safe space where there be no politics or opinions.
  • Hi shanneykar: This is an editorial as are virtually all of my pieces. As such they are inherently opinion piecies as are virtually all editorials that you'll find in print or online media. Editorials/Opinion pieices are not the place for you if you want to avoid opinions. I can recommend News and How Tos. Reviews are even opinion-based. Hope that helps!🙂
  • My bad I just want no politics. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions and I like your articles on technology. It's just politics everywhere hard to get by a day without stepping on one. Now more and more in windows central too.
  • I'm not a technical wizard, but social issues is more my speed. I hope corporations recognise their social responsibility and their ability to help make this a better world. They can't get people to jettison their prejudices, but they can set an example. 
  • When a government makes moves to marginalize a large portion of a company's users and/or employees, it is well within the duties of said company to take a stand against that government's actions. It's good business AND good politics.
  • this is exactly why i love Microsoft, 
  • Nice eulogy.
  • I know there's a lot **** going on in the world. And we probably all have an opinion about it. However our reason for visiting the WC site is reading and discussing tech news. I'm not interested in your view on politics, religion, racial issues etc. If you really need to express yourself on those topics there are a lot of other sites. In my opinion the biggest mistake you can make as tech editor is touching above mentioned topics. You're not going to change the world by doing so, you only risk alienating your reader base.
  • thanks for reading. ;-D
  • Microsoft is in a very interesting place, not the least of which being social stances. In general, Doing the Right Thing is always worthwhile and doing the right thing. Our real grievance should be against the federal government and political parties that have kept immigration a political football and weapon to use against each other for so long. BOTH sides have their hands messy in this. That said, promoting change for change's sake is also a futile and destructive practice. It only produces light, heat, and fury, but nothing lasting that withstands the next restless urge for change. As an old dog in the IT world, my observation of Microsoft is that their biggest challenge is they are currently being supplanted in the manner they supplanted IBM, DEC, etc way back: from the bottom up and the inside out. They subverted the entrenched with populism, to turn a political phrase. To that end, support for immigration aligns with their existential organizational purpose. I am fine with this; it's doing/supporting the right thing within their business purpose. From Microsoft's perspective, this all becomes a side note in their history if they can't address their being replaced as a relevant technical presence. IBM is still a fantastically successful business. None of us here really care about them or what their DACA position is. For IBM, it was a computer in every home, on every desk, that they couldn't solve. For Microsoft, a computer in every pocket (wrist, eyeball, etc) and an app for every purpose we didn't know we needed, is the nut they can't crack. Frustratingly, for Microsoft, these are mobile issues, which the company has fumbled like nothing in their history. This is so very similar to IBM of the early 90's. We can go back and forth about the focus and manner of their efforts. Railing against the current president for forcing Congress's hand to pass a genuine law is bandwagoning and me-too-ism. There is much more blame to go around for the poorly crafted policies, laws, enforcement of the past decades than what is before us now. AI is a whole other ball of wax. "I, Robot" from 2004 with Will Smith is a very under rated movie in my opinion. IoT should be included in this line of thought as well.
  • Hahahhahahahhahahah Really? You trust a for profit company to have the interest of the people at heart? Companies are responsible to their board and shareholders and are out to make money. A for profit company has, and always will, have their sights set on how to make the most money, not how to make the best social change. Even if they do social change type stuff in the end it’s to make themselves look good and thus to make money. look at Apple. The Chinese government told them to kill all VPN apps. Apple didn’t stand up for society and say “no that’s wrong and we won’t do it”, rather they buckled and removed the apps from the AppStore. Because ultimately they want to do business in China.
  • What bothers me in this article, is that you are missing the REAL world changer actions from Microsoft :
    Everything related to medical assistance, prostetics, and many support Microsoft gives to entrepreneurs who want to help others. Most of the time Microsoft is acting behind the curtain, but it's there with their R&D, that helps find solutions for disabled people:
    - people who can't speak bc they're paralyzed from top to bottom by detecting eye movement, helping them create fluid transcription into words, sentences and finally VOICE so they can be heard;
    - people who can't see, helping them with AR prostethics, enhancing them sense of vision
    - people who lost a limb, by supporting, helping those with ideas for better and lighter prostetics, better motricity etc
    - enhanced surgical intervention, with enhanced camera, 3D imagery of one's body and organs while doing surgery and many other more important things. You can find this videos all ove Youtube.
    Yes education is important but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg, and all this politics crap is just fuel waiting to be set on fire by detractors.