For most of the 1990s, U.S. high-tech heavyweights Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) didn't just dominate their respective markets.
They ruled them.
Microsoft's Windows operating system ran more than 95% of the world's PCs, and its word-processing and spreadsheet programs accounted for an estimated 95% of the market for office-applications software. The company was a constant target of state, federal and overseas governments, which tried in vain to break - or at least slow - the monopolistic juggernaut.
Intel, the other half of the so-called "Wintel" duopoly, had its chips in more than 90% of the world's PCs. Its identity was so strong that - by stamping "Intel Inside" on the beige PC cases - the company was able to "brand" what might otherwise have been a commodity product.
And Cisco was acknowledged as the backbone of the Internet, a key reason that - back in March 2000, with a market cap of $555.4 billion - it became the most valuable company on earth.
Throughout the 1990s, the shares of all three companies performed as the "must-own" stocks that they were: Microsoft's shares rose more than 9,000%, Intel's 10,000% and Cisco's 66,000% during that 10-year stretch.
stagnant stock prices
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