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A Brief History of Microsoft Office

written by: John Hewitt•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 1/28/2009

How did Microsoft Office become the must-have application suite for international business? Learn more after the jump. It might seem like a foregone conclusion in hindsight, but it took innovation and excellent market positioning at a crucial time during the information revolution.

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    Another Decade With the Office Suite

    It's trendy to complain about Microsoft Office, but all things considered, it's one of the best things to come around for office productivity since the introduction of the copy machine. The individual applications that make up the software suite predated the package itself, but selling all the programs as a part of a value pack was both a stroke of marketing genius and a clever way to encourage employers to train their employees in a wider variety of Microsoft programs. As the development of the Office suite progressed, more of the programs began to work better together, with embedding and other value added features making it so that buying the products standalone became relatively rare.

    The history of Microsoft Office began with the first Windows version of Office, 3.0, packaged in both Windows 3.11 and a Macintosh OS version, released in 1992. It was one of the first Microsoft products to come out on both CD-ROM and on floppy disk, adding to the convenience of the package. This helped to differentiate it from its primary competitors of the time. It included Word 2.0, Excel 4.0 Powerpoint 3.0 and Microsoft Mail, the early version of Outlook.

    Earlier versions of office had been released for both MS-DOS in 1990 and Macintosh OS in 1989.

    The Office Suite was really only made possible by the large scale of Microsoft as a company relative to their competitors on the market. Other companies may have been able to produce standalone applications that may have been marginally better at certain tasks than the ones Microsoft had to offer, but only they could offer package deals of many different applications to institutional clients. This helped to solidify their market dominance which persists today.

    The most substantial changes in the Office suite happened in 1995, released to coincide with Windows 95, which was the most powerful and stable graphical Microsoft operating system released to date. It was then that the Office functionality and design philosophy became more solidified, and most of the later versions are far more similar to it than they are any of the ones released previous to that.

    The current edition, 2007 - which released alongside the controversial Windows Vista - was billed by Microsoft as the most significant leap forward for the company since 1995. It is rather feature-rich, but most users for most of the applications will likely stick to most of the core functions established by Microsoft in the mid-90s.

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    Version History

    • 1992 - Office 3.0
    • 1994 - Office 4.0
    • 1994 - Office 4.3
    • 1994 - Office for NT 4.2
    • 1995 - Office 95
    • 1998 - Office 97
    • 1999 - Office 2000
    • 2001 - Office XP
    • 2003 - Office 2003
    • 2007 - Office 2007