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What's the Social Impact of Microsoft?

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/14/2009

How has Microsoft changed the world for the better? Inside we give you a complete look at the innovations that put Microsoft on the map in a big way.

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    A Microsoft World

    I like to laugh at all the Vista and PC haters I find out there in the wild. I was building a PC today with two of my friends, and the amount of cool and interesting things I’ve learned in the process more than outweigh the frustrating nights spent trying to figure out why your hard drive isn’t booting. To those who hate the PC, I answer back – nothing else has affected your life in the same way in recent memory.

    Those of you who swear by your Macbooks, Mac today would’ve been nothing without Microsoft. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the way that Apple owes anything to Microsoft, but it wasn’t Apple that managed to finally make the PC a mainstream icon. So, what do we have to owe to Microsoft?

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    The Word Processor

    While Microsoft did not invent the very first word processor, they have invented the world’s most successful one. People today know that Windows and Office go hand-in-hand and the latest iterations of the program blows other alternatives like OpenOffice out of the water.

    Microsoft managed to really market their word processor after 1984 when Macs with true GUIs and then-sophisticated processors could finally handle a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) program.

    Today, Microsoft’s Office program is a game-changer, and one of the company’s largest selling divisions after the Windows OS. The Office word processor has become much more than simply Microsoft’s Word, which is the main word processor. Everything from Powerpoint to Excel to Outlook to Publisher have changed the way we think about editing and viewing documents and presentations on a computer.

    Imagine trying to do a presentation without Powerpoint to back you up. Imagine having to write a paper without the use of Word. Imagine trying to quickly calculate a budget without using Excel. Simply put, while there have been imitators and competitors, Microsoft’s Office is so successful that they even ported a version over to the Mac OSX as a result of consumer demand.

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    The Windows OS

    Much more important than the Office Suite of programs is the Windows OS in terms of everything from Microsoft’s revenue to cultural impact. (Learn more about the various iterations of the Windows OS here.)

    Apple was the first company to make a commercially viable PC, but it wasn’t until Windows that the PC finally entered the public imagination. Apple’s case was similar to the one with the Betamax in the 80s losing the fight to the VHS.

    Simply put, you could install a Windows OS on anything that had an IBM architecture to it. That is to say, you could finally put together your own PC, unlike the self-contained Mac which wasn’t, at that time, nearly as good-looking as it is today. Needless to say, people flocked to the idea. Soon after the advent of the Windows OS, the PC was quickly on its way to becoming a household term.

    Now, over a decade later, we’re still arguing about where Microsoft went right and where they went wrong. And while Vista was a misstep, their newest venture, Windows 7 looks to rightfully regain the throne that they established back in 1995. Everything from the taskbar to the start menu to the Windows Explorer has become a part of common knowledge because of smart marketing by Microsoft.

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    Xbox and Xbox 360

    Microsoft’s Xbox was Microsoft’s first foray into the videogame biz and many analysts proclaimed the move as a bad move for a company that was primarily software based. The original Xbox would’ve failed miserably if not for a little game called Halo that would forever change the industry and console shooters.

    The original Xbox had all the markings of a disaster in the making, and yet it managed to overcome all of it. In particular, it managed to overcome the original bulky controller, the crappy hardware (at least for the first Xbox), and the overall remark that any PC could do the same thing, but better.

    However, the Xbox 360 has been an unprecedented success for the company basically because of its attractive price point and ability to run almost every game released for the PS3. A large hardware failure rate though kept the console from being all that it could be, while the Xbox Live service has shown and paved the way for what future online services need to be like – intuitive, feature-laden, but maybe free the next generation around.

    Today, Xbox has become a household name along with Windows and Office and holds its place in the Microsoft pantheon of ideas that initially didn’t seem to be profitable but ended up being a huge success.

    As you can clearly see by these three examples alone, were it not for Microsoft, your life wouldn’t run the way it does today. Everything software-wise on the PC owes something to Microsoft for having paved the way for future programs.