opportunities 20 years on
Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business
1-7, 2005; issue 836
High Tech Office
If you're among the millions of people who started using a computer in
the last decade, you can be forgiven for having a hard time imagining a
time when computers didn't seem to all have a start button in the
Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released in November 1985 so we're marking
its 20th anniversary.
That original Windows was not a sales sensation. It required a hefty
512 kilobytes of memory (about 1/1000th of what many users have
installed today), and with that, it was slow. And ugly. And there
wasn't much software available for it.
Instead, most business users with personal computers ran programs like
Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 running on Microsoft's minimalist MS-DOS
operating system. Each required an idiosyncratic set of commands and
each installed its own printer drivers. But they ran fast on the
hardware of that era and skilled users could be highly productive. And
the companies that made them were larger and richer than then-tiny
But Microsoft is nothing if not persistent.
In 1987/88 Windows 2.0 was optimized for the various high-end 286 and
386 computers of the era. On a fast enough computer, performance was
And Windows programs still used today such as CorelDraw and Microsoft's
Word and Excel débuted. Most business users, however,
to run their familiar DOS standbys: Word Perfect, 1-2-3.
Windows adoption picked up in the early-1990s as Windows 3.0 and (much
more so) 3.1 became widely used both by business and home users.
Because all Windows programs used similar commands, it was easier to
learn to use multiple Windows programs.
The graphical interface made it easier for users to mix text and
graphics and use a variety of fonts and text effects. Because Windows
handled an application's interaction with the computer's hardware,
programmers could develop software without having to worry about
working with hundreds of printers, graphics and sound cards.
(Yes, all of these factors were equally true of the Macintosh systems
of the era, but Windows could run on many of the DOS-powered computers
that businesses already owned and Apple charged a premium for their
admittedly superior products.
In 1992, BIV ran a column where I suggested that although the Mac was
better, Windows was good enough for most users. And cheaper).
The makers of the business-standard programs of the 1980s were slow to
respond to this new Windows trend.
Both Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 came out with versions that neither
impressed their existing user base nor won over the new Windows users.
Instead, Microsoft bundled Word and Excel as Microsoft Office (and
licensed it cheaply on Windows-ready hardware), creating the new
Within a few years, the 1995 and 1998 versions of Windows and Office
were seemingly everywhere, though many businesses of that era preferred
to run Microsoft's more secure and stable Windows NT and its successor
Windows 2000. (The adjectives "secure" and "stable" seem to be relative
terms when applied to any Windows version.) Besides appearing on most
home and business desktop computers, there are now versions of Windows
for network servers, PDAs and smartphones, and home media centres.
In recent years, Microsoft has overcome U.S. Justice Department charges
of monopolistic behaviour, but the company continues to look over its
Among its challenges: freely available operating systems like Linux and
office suites like OpenOffice.org, on-the-Web applications and services
from the likes of Google and more, an ongoing wave of security attacks
aimed at Windows systems, a comeback from near-death by Apple, and
perhaps most of all, an increased reluctance by the company's own
customers to upgrade Windows and Office according to Microsoft's
schedules. The ancient Chinese I Ching states that "persistence in a
righteous course brings success." Despite an inauspicious start,
Microsoft's persistence has resulted in a decade of Windows everywhere.