Perhaps all of us think that Microsoft is a
software company, and is a largest software corporation in the world, but the
fact is quite different.
In 37 years of active, Microsoft has more
than 32 years of designing and selling hardware. And the selling hardware
business has brought back to Microsoft some significant number in total
revenue. You should know that the number of Microsoft-branded mouse is equal to
the number of software products that Microsoft has ever sold, or their Xbox
video game consoles are very popular all over the world.
After many years of develop, Microsoft is
not only selling input devices like mouse and keyboard but also expanding in
other fields like video game controller, webcam, internet router, wireless
phone, speaker, music player, cell phone, video game console and other
products. Recently Microsoft has officially stepped into the tablet market with
the Surface product.
That is what people think when talking
about hardware products that is produced by Microsoft. However, another
interesting fact is Microsoft has also produced many external components
(add-on) for PCs in the 80s of 20th century, started with Softcard for Apple II
PC in 1980.
This article is aimed to relive a business
segment that Microsoft had been involved and succeeded, including 10 hardware
products that had been produced in the 1980s, which is not widely known or
recalled by many of us.
Microsoft Softcard (1980)
The expansion board Microsoft Softcard is an
upgrade board designed for Apple II PCs (released in 1977) first sold in 1980.
It’s included a Zilog Z80 CPU that can help the Apple II to run on CP/M operating
system and its accompanied applications (if you have no idea about Z80 and CP/M
platform, just imagine that it is similar to the WinTel alliance nowadays –
Windows and Intel).
This upgrade board Softcard had been
selling well and had become the most famous hardware of Microsoft at that time,
before the release of the company’s mouse 2 years later. Softcard marked the
first step of Microsoft in hardware market.
Microsoft RAMCard for Apple II PCs (1980)
RAMCard for Apple II PCs
RAMCard is an external component for
Softcard Z80 that is mentioned above. RAMCard is plugged into one of three
expansion slot of Apple II PC and supplied additional 16kB of RAM (in total of
56kB – a very small number compared to many gigabytes of
RAM popular nowaday) for CP/M platform applications running on Softcard board.
Tranditional applications of Apple II like Viviscalc can take advantage of
these RAM expansion and increase the working performance.
Microsoft RAMCard for IBM PCs (1982)
The Microsoft RAMCard designed for IMB PCs has
different features compared to the RAMCard for Apple II PCs mentioned above, it
served as both a memory expansion and a solid state disk (similar to SSD).
Coupled with Microsoft RAMDrive software, the card can emulate a tranditional
disk drive that work at a much faster speed (50 times faster according to the
advertisement). This product is a precursor of today’s SSD drive. This RAMCard
for IBM PCs has many sizes, from 64KB to 256KB, which is quite an abundance
amount at that time. It is known at that time, the standard floppy disk for IBM
PCs has only 360KB of capacity.
Microsoft SystemCard (1983)
Microsoft began to expand many upgrade board
for IBM PCs in 1983 with the introduction of SystemCard, a upgrade card using
ISA protocol. This card can play the role of at least 4 different card, save
user’s ISA slots.
Similar to RAMCard, SystemCard helps to expand
the RAM memory from 64KB to 256KB, and also included a printer port, a print
spooler for printer (which let you queue mutiple print jobs for the printer), a
RS232 serial port and real-time clock chip.
Microsoft Premium SoftCard IIe (1983)
In 1982, Apple released the Apple Iie, a
upgrade for the successful Apple II PCs. A year later, Microsoft also released
a new upgrade board SoftCard to take advantage of the improvements in the Apple
IIe hardware (like double the screen resolution, more RAM and a new protocol).
The name of the new board is Premium SoftCard IIe, which didn’t have as much
impact as its predecessor but still gathered respect in the Apple IIe comunity.
Microsoft PCjr Booster with Mouse (1984)
In the year 1984, Microsoft released PCjr
Booster, a expansion box for IBMjr that added 192KB of RAM and a Microsoft
Mouse. With the PCjr Booster, the IBMjr PC would have
256KB of RAM, significantly increasing the ability to handle applications
compared to the default 64KB of RAM (if your PC has 6GB of RAM, that means your
PC’s memory is 6000 times bigger than 30 years ago)
Microsoft MacEnhancer (1925)
Although it may seem strange to hear
nowadays, but Microsoft used to be a big supporter of the Macintosh platform
back in 1980s. As a part of that support, Microsoft had released several
upgrade hard wares for Apple’s computer, and MacEnhancer was one of those.
MacEnhancer would be plugged into a Mac computer’s Modem or printer port and
added one parallel port and two serial ports. The Mac user community enjoyed it
very much and created its own custom firmware, which could utilize many
printers, modems and other accessories designed only for the IBM PCs.
Microsoft InPort (1986)
In 1986, Microsoft announced a new input
interface called InPort. This interface designed for a custom integrated
circuit (the InPort Graphics Input Chips) and a compact 9-pin connector (which
will be used widely with serial mouse later) that helped decrease the price of
mouse in general, thanks to the InPort chip that had transferred almost all
data to PC to calculate instead of to the mice.
Soon after that, Microsoft released InPort
interface card and mouse, as well as manufactured chips and sockets for other
output vendors in OEM, which was pretty strange compared to Microsoft’s rule
nowadays. However, InPort was soon disappeared and replaced by PS/2 of IBM
(PS/2 ports is still widely used to connect to keyboard and mouse today).
Microsoft accelerator board Mach 10 (1986)
When Microsoft introduced Windows 1.0 in
late 1985, the company faced with the fact that many IBM PCs were not powerful
enough to run Windows smoothly. So Microsoft released Mach 10, that nearly
doubled the performance of IBM PCs and PC XTs which were equipped with 8088 CPU
(4.77MHz). The Mach 10 board including a very powerful 9.54MHz 8086 CPU and an
InPort interface in one board only.
Microsoft accelerator board Mach 20 (1988)
Similar to Mach 10, the Mach 20 accelerator
board helped PCs using 8088 CPU to run Windows based applications smoothly, in
this case that was Excel and Microsoft OS/2 (a operating system that had
graphic interface and once vied to replace windows).
The Mach 20 board is plugged into an ISA
slot and provided an 8MHz 80286 CPU, a slot for 82087 CPU and a InPort mouse
interface. Microsoft offered an ability to upgrade RAM at the rear of the board
and increased up to 3.5 MB of RAM. Microsoft also included a disk upgrade which
allows IBM PC to read floppy disk.
MS still manufactured its own hardware
later, but after the Mach 20 board, the company focused mostly on input devices
and other accessories for PC, and above all was software part which was very
famous with Windows OS and Office. We can say that Microsoft used to be very
successful with a lot of impressive external hardware at the 80s of 20th