The IT Certification Resource Center

Featured Deal

Get CompTIA, Cisco, or Microsoft training courses free for a week.
Learn More ❯

A brief history of Microsoft Office

Microsoft’s office productivity suite was launched 25 years ago this month, arthritis and went on to reshape business and the software industry.

This month, Microsoft is celebrating the 2 anniversary of the debut of its immensely popular office productivity suite, Microsoft Office. The core programs that made up the first version of Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) existed as separate applications as far back as the early 1980s. It wasn’t until 1989, however, that Microsoft bundled these programs together into the product called Microsoft Office 1.0 (for Macintosh, that is; the first Windows version would follow a year later).


When MS Office for Windows was released in 1990, its chief competitors were both industry giants: WordPerfect (for word processing), and Lotus 1-2-3 (for spreadsheets). Both of these products already had dominant market positions when Microsoft Office was launched.


Microsoft Office quickly gained on the competition, however — businesses liked the idea of having their primary workstation apps come from a single software company, which hinted at greater integration between critical applications. More to the point, many of these businesses were using PCs powered by Microsoft Windows (running over MS-DOS), giving Microsoft Office even more perceived integration sparkle.


It also helped that Office was friendlier to the growing number of mouse-centric PC users of the early 1990s. The clickability factor made it more appealing than other programs, such as WordPerfect, which were often heavily keyboard-driven.


Companies also liked the idea of dealing with a single software vendor, which provided simpler software licensing and support contracts. This convenient arrangement would generate billions of dollars in Office-related revenue for Microsoft over the next two decades, and would effectively bury Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and all other comers.


Microsoft Office expanded from the original “Big Three” apps as new versions of the suite were released. A basic e-mail client, Microsoft Mail, was added not long after the debut of Office 1.0. Microsoft Access, a simple but powerful database management system, made its debut in 1993 as part of Office Professional 3.0.


Other Office apps were developed and added to the Office bundle over the years, or were made available as add-ons:


● Outlook, a beefed up personal information manager and e-mail client
● OneNote, a virtual notebook system
● Publisher, a mid-level desktop publishing app
● Project, a project management program
● Visio, a flowchart and diagram creation app


Today, Microsoft Office is reported to have more than a billion users worldwide. Office is available through retail, traditional volume licensing for businesses, and as Software as a Service (SaaS) in the form of Office 365. Microsoft is still actively developing versions of Office for the Mac. And, in March 2014, a version of Office for Apple’s iPad was launched.