Volume 3, # 1 June 1999
Category: Computers and Software
A Personal Historical Perspective
Predicting the future can be a dubious task, especially when dealing with software and operating systems. There are many variables, including market forces, competition, promotion, user acceptance and costs that influence the success or failure of any new major software releases. Who knew back in 1985 how successful Microsoft would become in developing and releasing Windows.
Now many of you out there use the Apple Macintosh, and it has played an important and pivotal role in the PC industry, but I must admit I have little or no experience, must less knowledge about that platform. My only direct, albeit limited experience was with the unsuccessful LISA, the Mac's predecessor back in 1983. I, like many in the early eighties was more compelled by the IBM compatible platform. This was simply because my involvement with PC's was in the business world, and although Apple's new line of GUI based computers were intriguing, the vast majority of the corporate world embraced IBM's new PC line. And because it was IBM which historically had provided the corporate world with mainframes, a safe, comfortable, reliable and proven solution.
However, major kudos should go to Apple for pioneering the GUI environment. But beyond that, its impact in business has been minimal.
Granted, the Macintosh was built around a GUI environment and IBM's DOS was not. I admired what the Apple Mac could do and hoped that someday the IBM compatible world might follow the same path.
In 1981, I had my first experience with the first 4.7mhz IBM PC, equipped with 64K RAM and a 160K floppy drive. At that time there was virtually NO software available. (DOS 1.0 and a Pascal Compiler from USCD was all that existed). I imagined tremendous potential and opportunity for software! From converting a version of Sweep (a CP/M file manager) to SuperCalc and Dbase over to IBM from the CP/M platform, to brand new products like Lotus 123, there was a window of opportunity that I foresaw that would be big business!
In 1985 I moved to a Sanyo color portable with a 20MB hard drive and 640K RAM and ran DOS 3.1. I had worked previously with COMPAQ portables so I had already became well versed in DOS. That year I discovered a new product from Digital Research, the same company that produced CP/M, called GEM, which stands for Graphical Environment Manager. One of the remarkable pieces of software was the word processor, one that used fonts quite well. I was able to get true WYSIWYG printouts on my Epson FX-80! GEM Desktop included GEM Write, Draw and Paint. Ventura Publisher was the first major desktop publisher available for the PC, and it ran under GEM. But GEM only went so far in providing a true GUI environment.
Later that year, IBM released TOPVIEW, a character based multitasking environment that might replace DOS someday. Although it was the first environment that could run more that one DOS application at once, it required more memory and was slow. Ultimately it was a dismal failure for IBM, but it was the precursor of OS/2.
I read an article in Byte Magazine in 1984 about Microsoft's plan for a new GUI/multitasking environment simply called Windows that Bill Gates promised by 1985. After reading about the features and capabilities, I was becoming very excited at the prospect. With very little hoopla, Microsoft released version 1.0 of Windows for $99.00 and I got as soon as it was released and installed it on my Sanyo.
Luckily, Microsoft backed off on it's commitment to IBM on OS/2 and they both went their separate ways. In 1989, Microsoft released an upgrade called Windows/386 taking advantage of the 386 capabilities providing a more robust multitasking version of Windows.
It was that year that I wrote an article chronicling the future of Windows from 1989 to 1999 (see BTTF).
But it wasn't until 1990 and again in 1992 did Windows finally arrive. Version 3.0 and 3.1 ushered in a new dawn for Microsoft and it's beleaguered GUI shell on top of an aging DOS. This version was more powerful, had new features such as true fonts, multimedia capabilities and it debuted an avalanche of third party software that finally outnumbered all DOS based releases. It also required more disk space and memory, something that is endemic to all subsequent releases of Windows.
Other Windows Links