Microsoft

Microsoft Microsoft
 
While it’s hard to imagine in today’s always-connected world, in 1975, most people’s idea of cutting-edge consumer technology was playing Pong on their living room television or having an 8-track tape deck in their car. But Paul could see more — much more — was coming. What he saw was the groundwork being laid for numerous technological developments that would transform the lives of billions in just a few decades. That’s why he and his childhood friend Bill Gates started Microsoft (originally called Micro-Soft, for “microprocessors” and “software”) in April of that year.  
Paul Allen and Bill Gates began their journey at the Teletype in the computer room of Lakeside School, where they were given a BASIC manual and a few starter problems and "let loose" in the lab. Image Copyright, Lakeside School.
 
Paul Allen and Bill Gates began their journey at the Teletype in the computer room of Lakeside School, where they were given a BASIC manual and a few starter problems and "let loose" in the lab. Image Copyright, Lakeside School.
Paul first met Bill at Seattle’s Lakeside School in 1968 when they were teenagers. Both shared a love of computers and used the school’s teletype terminal to hone their programming skills. Not long after meeting, they learned a nearby company, Computer Center Corporation (C-Cubed), had leased a new PDP-10 mainframe computer and needed people to help debug its new operating system. Through a connection at Lakeside, the pair were able to negotiate an agreement where, despite their young ages, they received free, unlimited access in exchange for trying to crash the machine. The two were ecstatic and would ride the bus over after school, often cutting gym class so they could arrive sooner. “We were on the road to becoming hackers, in the original, non-felonious sense of the term: fanatical programmers who stretched themselves to the limit,” Paul said.  

Paul’s passion for programming only grew, but unfortunately it came at the expense of paying less attention to other academic areas. He and Bill were even once caught sneaking into the computer labs at the University of Washington. 

While his parents were concerned with his slipping grades, there was no slowing him down. He and Bill would go “dumpster diving” in C-Cubed’s garbage to find discarded printouts with source code for the machine’s operating system — an area Paul saw as the “Holy Grail” of software, which he knew he could use to unlock the machine’s potential. He was awestruck by the tightly written elegance on those printed pages. And he knew if it was something he was going to emulate, he’d need to become fluent in assembly code, the lower-level language that spoke directly to the computer. So he spent weeks poring over hundreds of pages of manuals until, as a schoolmate described, Paul could “read assembly code the way other people read novels.” 
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Artifacts from the Microsoft early years Artifacts from the Microsoft early years
Paul graduated from Lakeside and went on to attend Washington State University while Bill, two years younger, finished his time at Lakeside, then enrolled at Harvard. Paul dropped out of WSU to take a job as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston where he and Bill continued to work together on side projects. That all changed in December of 1974 when an issue of Popular Electronics highlighted a new computer called the Altair 8800. Paul knew the time to act was at hand — the first affordable personal computer was about to arrive. But what it needed was an operating system, so Bill and Paul nervously contacted the machine’s manufacturer, Ed Roberts.

Although they hadn’t written a line of code, they bluffed and told him they’d gotten the BASIC programming language to run on the Altair and wanted to demo it for him. Roberts agreed and, after eight weeks of programming, when their BASIC interpreter was complete, Paul flew to Albuquerque to meet with Roberts. The flight was uneventful until, right before landing, Paul realized he’d forgotten to write the bootstrap loader, so he grabbed a steno pad and hurriedly scribbled it in longhand. When it finally came time to demo the software, Paul began typing while Roberts and his partner, Bill Yates, looked on anxiously. As he hit “run” the printer jumped to life. Roberts and Yates were flabbergasted. Then Paul typed “PRINT 2+2” and the machine responded by printing out the number 4. Never had the printing of one digit been so monumental; from that moment on, Paul and Bill’s lives would never be the same. They started Microsoft together, on April 4, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Roberts’ and Yates’ company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), was their first customer.
Paul's early Microsoft business card.
The title page from Microsoft's first product BASIC.
 
Paul's early Microsoft business card.
The title page from Microsoft's first product BASIC.
“I expect the personal computer to become the kind of thing that people carry with them, a companion that takes notes, does accounting, gives reminders, handles a thousand personal tasks.”
— Paul G. Allen, Personal Computing, 1977
Growth came quickly for the new company. By the end of 1978, Microsoft had 13 employees and its first international office was founded in Japan. Then, in January of 1979, it moved to Bellevue, Washington, a suburb east of Seattle where Paul oversaw Microsoft’s technical operations. The company’s famous, pivotal moment came in 1980 when IBM contacted Microsoft about providing the operating system for their “Project Chess” device — the code name for what would become IBM’s personal computer. Led by Paul, the company was able to deliver on IBM’s lofty demands and aggressive timetable. MS-DOS was born and Microsoft’s future was established. As Paul put it, “Before DOS, Microsoft was an important software company. After DOS, it was the essential one.” 
Paul at Microsoft in the early 1980s.
 
Paul at Microsoft in the early 1980s.
Other companies began to license MS-DOS and Paul remained with Microsoft as Executive Vice President of Research and New Product Development where he continued to iterate and improve the software until resigning in February of 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma the previous fall. Paul also served on the Microsoft board between June 1981 and April 1985 as well as between May 1990 and November, 2000. After that, he served as senior strategy advisor to the company’s executives. He and Bill remained friends until the end of Paul’s life.

In the decades since it was started, the impact Microsoft has had on the lives of people around the world is immeasurable. Satya Nadella, its current executive chairman and CEO describes Paul’s contributions to the company by saying: 

“Paul Allen’s contributions to our company, our industry, and to our community are indispensable. As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences, and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world. I have learned so much from him – his inquisitiveness, curiosity, and push for high standards are something that will continue to inspire me and all of us at Microsoft.” 
Paul Allen and Bill Gates, 1981.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates recreate their iconic photo at the Living Computers Museum in 2013.
 
Paul Allen and Bill Gates, 1981.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates recreate their iconic photo at the Living Computers Museum in 2013.
Additional
Stories
Seattle Seahawks
Pacific Northwest
Seahawks
 
Paul purchased the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise in 1997, and since then the team has gone on to make three Super Bowl appearances.
Space
Exploration
Space
 
Paul pursued making space more accessible in ways that would fuel space innovation — including SpaceShipOne, the Allen Telescope Array, and Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane by wingspan.
Great Elephant Census
Exploration
Great Elephant
Census
The Great Elephant Census was a massive undertaking to survey the remaining savanna elephants across the African continent. Results of this survey shocked the world into action.
Allen Institutes
Science
Allen
Institutes
The Allen Institute and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence lead cutting-edge science and making groundbreaking discoveries in bioscience and artificial intelligence research.
Tech for Good
Science
Tech for
Good
Paul believed technology could be leveraged to protect our planet, wildlife, and resources, and improve the lives of people everywhere.
MoPOP
Creativity
MoPOP
 
The Museum of Pop Culture opened in 2000 and over the years evolved into a hands-on museum experience celebrating all forms of popular culture and creative expression.