An offbeat overview of Microsoft, the Johnny-come-lately enterprise that dominates the widening world of PC programming and is now laying careful plans to make itself a force to be reckoned with in the as yet undefined field of multimedia. Granted open access to the company's files and staff, Stross (Steve Jobs and the Next Big Thing, 1993) eschewed a traditional corporate history in favor of a four-part audit that puts fast-growing Microsoft and the aspirations of Bill Gates (its quirky cofounder) in an appreciably clearer perspective than that to be found in the grumbling of green-eyed rivals or the clueless complaints of would-be trustbusters. The author (Business/San Jose State Univ.) first examines the company's personnel policies and operational practices; he concludes that hiring brainy people for financially rewarding as well as professionally challenging assignments, and a willingness to commit sizable sums to R&D, rank among the principal secrets of Microsoft's continuing success. Stross goes on to review how this Washington State firm with global reach has conducted a patient campaign to break into consumer outlets (most notably, with a CD-ROM encyclopedia dubbed Encarta), and the stiff competition it faces from Intuit in personal-finance software. Covered as well are Microsoft's efforts to develop a commercial stake in interactive TV (an endeavor the company's chief scientist likens to playing a game of 500-card stud), its late start in the Internet sweepstakes, and the unwelcome attention of Justice Department attorneys whose predecessors watched the high-tech marketplace do what they could not in over a decade of trying: downsize and dismember IBM. Stross finishes with a jarring chapter on the philanthropic purposes to which a still young Gates might eventually put his billions. Apart from this, a perceptive briefing on a consequential corporation that arguably qualifies as a national treasure.