Quick: Name some of the mostly widely used portmanteaus of the past 40 years.
You might think of “Bennifer,” “Brangelina,” and other failed celebrity couples, but did you think of Microsoft? On Jan. 2, 1975, Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen first referred to their partnership as “Micro-Soft” in a contract with the company MITS, which used Gates and Allen’s version of BASIC in its Altair 8800 computer.
The longtime friends had been working together as Traf-o-Data, a company that tracked and analyzed traffic data (and had another portmanteau name). This led to their interest in microprocessors and software, and when they saw an article in Popular Electronics about the Altair 8800, they decided to pitch their version of BASIC as a software solution to MITS, which desperately needed an easy-to-use programming language for its creation.
#DidYouKnow – Before @Microsoft Bill Gates and Paul Allen had a company called Traf-o-Data
It seemed only natural to call their new microprocessor software “Micro-Soft.” (Eventually they dropped the hyphen and the second capital.) The initial contract actually referred to “Paul Allen and Bill Gates doing business as Micro-Soft,” and the software contained the credit line “Micro-Soft BASIC: Bill Gates wrote a lot of stuff; Paul Allen wrote some other stuff.” Microsoft itself wasn’t officially incorporated until 1981.
Other Mircosoft naming options
The other options for a company name are laughable now and were mostly put forward in jest: Outcorporated Inc. and Unlimited Ltd. Taking a nod from IBM, the duo opted not to name their company “Allen & Gates” or “Gates & Allen” so that its name had staying power beyond the lifespan of its founders. Plus, “Micro-Soft” sounded less like a law firm.
Despite the clear staying power of “Microsoft” as a company name, conventional wisdom suggests the company isn’t talented at naming its products. Check out this list of the “10 worst Microsoft product names of all time.”
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.
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