In circles outside of Redmond, Washington a person can go a while without hearing positive comments about the planet's leading operating system manufacturer, Microsoft. This company famous for having the world's richest man as their founder has released so much software and technology that it's inevitable the occasional problem will arise with a product. It's these bumps that users and techies alike typically spend most time focused on. Then there's the debate between open source vs. closed design or Technology for the sake of knowledge vs. technology as a vehicle to profits.

Meanwhile Macintosh (another corporate juggernaut) has spentmillions of marketing dollars to characterize the PC embodied through Microsoft, as being both uncool and ultimately unreliable. In the web development world both developers and designer alike often rebuke this company for consistently releasing a browser that doesn't adhere to w3c standards, CSS specifications and has a clearly inferior JavaScript engine to the open sourced (browser) counterpart known as Firefox.

Whether it's system lockups, blue screens of death, term papers lost or simple confusion regarding how to operate a product, most computer users have some reluctance about loving Microsoft. I have heard this company described as an evil empire, a claim not helped by the numerous international anti-trust lawsuits or even more numerous lawsuits over patent rights that the apparently top notch Microsoft legal team has dealt with over the last two decades.

Really what's not to love?

The other side of this coin is that Microsoft has brought us so many incredible things that perhaps we are failing to see those trees through the forest. Browsing the Microsoft Developer Network, I discovered approximately 235 software products in existence under this company's brand. The most popular Microsoft products are Windows Vista, Outlook or Visual Studio. There are many lesser known, yet still huge products such as Sharepoint, MS Project or Visio. There are more obscure products, such as Groove 2007, ProClarity, Point of Sale, Robotics Studio, or Small Business Server. While Google Earth is currently more popular, Microsoft blazed the way for satellite imaging years before with Virtual Earth in conjunction with their then exciting-at-the-time Terraserver.

Regardless of the multitude of markets Microsoft manages to dominate; Windows operating system is where it all begins and ends. Here are some of the high points in that journey.

Windows 95This piece of software is arguably the most prolific application ever released. Computers were in use for nearly 40 years prior to the arrival of that flag logo flying across of a background of cloud covered blue skies. Without Windows 95' it's entirely possible the technology revolution would have never occurred. The Internet might have never caught on and PC's in the home could still be the stuff of science fiction. Possibly some one else could have played that role. But would the outcome have been the same?

Windows 98, Windows NTIt's fair to mention Windows 98' because it was a substantial upgrade to it's predecessor.The stability and improved performance really did make it a treat to install 98' back in the day.During this time, Unix users were fond of comparing their favorite operating system's reliability to that of the world's most popular, and even the most die-hard 'nix users, though grudgingly, will typically admit Windows NT was a rock solid operating system which was tough to crash.
Windows XP
In my opinion the greatest operating system to date released by Microsoft. They took the successful elements of Windows NT and applied a slick veneer to it. Best of all, they finally delivered on their long time promise of true plug and play, which is a prolific accomplishment in the technology universe.

This feature is something younger computer user's will completely take for granted, but it wasn't so long ago that setting up a new computer meant undergoing an arduous process of installing drivers, dealing with resource conflicts, discovering poorly documented incompatibilities, and compounding frustration.

Soak up that sweet goodness which is plug and play and next time you are having a beer pour a little on the curb for those fellows at Microsoft who made such a thing reality.

(You may notice I did not mention Windows Vista. Personally I am not sold on it's advantages over XP.)

In conclusion, for all it's warts Microsoft is an extremely integral part of this industry that I love and have dedicated most of my adult life to. Regardless of their motivations people such as Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have fought their way onto that corporate Mount Olympus and thereby advanced global technology in the process. Though I may not be a fan of Internet Explorer - I do still respect, admire and appreciate the company that created it. What are your thoughts on Microsoft? Revered or Relived?