Microsoft Windows at 25: Still dominant after all these
by Alan Zisman (c) 2010
published in Business in Vancouver November 30 - December 6, 2010 issue
#1101 High Tech
Most of you are running Windows, some the current Windows 7, but more
Windows XP, originally released in 2002. But Microsoft Windows goes
back farther than that. The first version was released 25 years ago
Setting a pattern that would repeat over and over, Windows 1.0 was late
– late enough that at its launch, Microsoft’s already bald Steve
Ballmer (now the company’s CEO) joked that when the project started he
Even back in 1985, most personal computers ran a Microsoft operating
system, but instead of Windows, it was the bare bones (and cryptic to
most users) MS-DOS. Sold in bulk to computer hardware manufacturers,
revenue from MS-DOS wasn’t enough to make Microsoft a software giant.
Companies like Lotus, maker of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, were bigger.
Microsoft’s word processor and spreadsheet were not the bestsellers in
their product categories.
Similarly, the early version of Microsoft Windows failed to become a
software bestseller. Windows 1.0 or 2.0 simply didn’t offer much that a
typical business or home personal computer user of the era cared about.
You could use Windows to start up the business applications of the time
– Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, WordStar or WordPerfect word processor – but
why bother? It took several years for Microsoft to release Windows
versions of Excel and Word, and several more years before they outsold
To be pedantic, those early Windows versions weren’t operating systems.
You needed to install the operating system, MS-DOS, then run Windows as
a program on top of that, running applications designed especially for
Windows on top of that. You paid a performance penalty for all those
extra levels of software.
From the first, though, Windows did one thing right. If hardware – a
printer, a monitor or more, or resources like fonts – was supported by
Windows, it was available to any Windows program. That was a big deal
at the time. Previously each application had to provide that sort of
support. You set up your spreadsheet to work with your printer and then
did it all over again to work with your word processor. Hard for users
and even harder for software developers.
One reason why WordPerfect dominated the word processor market was
because the company supported the widest range of printers. With
Windows applications, that was no longer an issue.
Graphics and design software, like the PageMaker desktop publisher,
benefited from Windows’ mouse support and its attempt to display on
screen how a document’s printed output would look. All of this –
system-wide resource support, use of a mouse, a graphical display and
even software like PageMaker, Excel and Word – were available on the
Mac before being adopted by PC users, but Windows brought them to
business-standard, relatively inexpensive PCs.
While from the first, Mac hardware and software showed an attention to
design and detail, those early versions of Windows were ugly. They were
also awkward and slowed computers to a crawl. Microsoft persisted,
however. By the early 1990s, Windows 3.0 and 3.1 were much better,
helped in part by improvements in computer hardware that provided
enough speed and power for those versions of Windows.
By 1995’s Windows 95 release, Microsoft’s product was almost as good
(and almost as attractive) as a Mac, but could run on hardware that
cost much less. By the end of the decade, MS-DOS was history and Apple
was edging back from the brink of failure. Windows was firmly
established as the business and home computing standard.
(For the record: Microsoft accompanied persistence and dedication in
improving its software with pressure tactics with its hardware partners
and other questionable business practices to establish and maintain its
near-monopoly market share.)
Even now, while mobile platforms on phones and tablets are becoming
increasingly important, Windows – much evolved from its 25-year-old
beginnings – remains the standard for desktop and laptop personal