By Harry McCracken | Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm
Gizmodo, which published a fun series of stories about 1979 tech last week, has followed up with a post by a guy who was there: a retired tech exec named Bill Gates. Gates says that Microsoft was still in the process of figuring out that the BASIC programming language was going to be important in 1979, which surprised me. By 1979, Microsoft had been doing BASIC for four years, and a lot of us had already cut our computing teeth on various forms of Microsoft BASIC.
The conventional wisdom usually seems to be that it was the debut of MS-DOS on the IBM PC in 1981 that made Microsoft into a monolith, but I’ve never bought it. The PC industry may have been tiny in the mid-to-late 1970s, but Microsoft was already smack dab in its middle, thanks to Gates and Paul Allen’s incredible prescience in realizing that computers would be everywhere and they had a chance to get Microsoft software onto virtually all of them. I’ve often thought that even if Digital Research or some other company had ended up being the primary supplier of operating systems for the IBM PC, Microsoft might have ended up as a gigantic company–just through some other route.