What were the key drivers of Microsoft's massive success in the '90s? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Brad Silverberg, SVP at Microsoft 1990-99, on Quora:

Microsoft enabled and capitalized on the massive growth of the PC in the '90s. Microsoft provided a standard software platform, which brought life to powerful, inexpensive hardware from hundreds of vendors all over the world. The sun never set on the PC empire. Microsoft drove and benefited from the transition from DOS-based PC to graphical UI's--with Windows and with the best graphical apps (Word, Excel, etc.). That inflection point was Microsoft's key opening. It drove the virtuous cycle of an easy-to-use, consumer-oriented OS (Windows 3.x and 95) which led to millions of users, which led to more applications, which led to more PC manufacturers shipping more computers with Windows, which led to more users, and so on. It then broadened its business from desktops and individual users to enterprises and IT, complementing the consumer oriented Windows 3.x/95 with Windows NT, NT Server, and the enterprise server apps like Exchange and Active Directory.

One of the unsung heroes of Microsoft's success in establishing Windows is the role Visual Basic played. As companies were making the transition to graphical computing, VB made it so companies with modest app development abilities could easily develop many of their standard form based applications, like order entry. Today of course people use HTML but back then VB did incredible missionary work for Windows. Windows had the apps and the dev tools, which were a major reason for its winning in the market.

In the '90s the company had a view that it did whatever it could to make its customers successful, and its own success would be a byproduct of its customers' success. By customers, I mean end users; IT managers who deployed and supported Windows, companies that developed apps for Windows, both those for sale to third parties and for their own internal use, hardware manufacturers that developed Windows PCs and devices, service organizations that would devise solutions based on Windows and Office, and so on.

Once you get that virtuous cycle going, it's a beautiful thing.

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