Many believe that Microsoft has always been a company limited to software, and especially operating systems. It is true that the Redmond giant has excelled mainly in those two worlds, but This does not mean that he has not taken his first steps in the world of hardware where, in fact, it has reaped more than one success at different times.
I know what you’re thinking, that Microsoft and its adventures in the world of hardware date from a recent time, and that Surface was his first experience in that sector. Well, the truth is that you are wrong, the Redmond giant launched its first hardware product in 1980, and this was very curious, because it was about an expansion card known as the Z80 SoftCard and was designed for use with the Apple II.
The Z80 SoftCard hit the market on April 2, 1980, it was the idea of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and had a processor 8-bit Zilog Z80 running at 2,041 MHz, It didn’t have onboard RAM though. The original Apple II had a MOS Technology 6502 processor running at 1 MHz, so the improvement offered by this expansion card was clear in terms of power, but especially in terms of compatibility.
The Apple II enjoyed great popularity, but it had a major problem, and that is that it was not compatible with many important professional programs in the business world of that time. Paul Allen knew how to take advantage of the situation and shaped the Z80 SoftCard, which once mounted on said PC allowed you to move all programs compatible with Intel 8080 processorsand also opened the doors to software MS BASIC and the CP/M operating system.
The Z80 SoftCard was hugely successful, even though its launch price was relatively high ($349), so much so that at the time it came to represent almost 50% of Microsoft’s annual revenue. With this in mind, Microsoft understandably decided to develop an upgraded version that featured 16KB of onboard RAM, and also released new models with 64KB of onboard RAM that were compatible with the Apple IIe and Apple III.
That expansion card allowed you to use very popular programs of the time on the Apple II, like WordStar, which was the star word processor in the early 1980s, and which allowed working with up to 40 columns of text. Apple offered at that time an expansion card that expanded the working possibilities to 80 columns of text.
The Redmond Giant continued betting on the expansion card market until 1988, date in which Microsoft began to focus more on software and the development of Windows, its well-known operating system. It’s been a long time since then, but you know that Microsoft has gone from being a software giant to a tech giant operating in many industries, including cloud computing, AI, software, game consoles, and video games and hardware.