1995 in Review
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Computer Player, January 1996
1995... Fve years from now, we may look back at this
one as the year
when it all started to change.
The Year of Windows 95-- or Was It?
The year began by waiting for Windows 95. Whether you
were a Microsoft
fan or Microsoft-basher, a lot of the year was spent on hold, waiting
what had initially been promised for late ?94. Software product
were delayed, software and hardware purchases were postponed, all in
of the Win-95 debut. At New Years, this was promised by April-- then
again until August, finally sprung with full ceremony on August 24th,
with a recycled, early-?80s Rolling Stones jingle-- ?Start Me Up?.
The multi-million dollar publicity campaign, along
with the several
delays, made this debut almost an anti-climax, and the over 10 million
copies sold (including pre-installation on new computers) seemed like a
disappointment in light of overly-hyped promises made by some
experts (predictions of 20 million to 70 million copies sold by years
Windows 95 is a good product, a big improvement over
DOS + Windows 3.1...
but it isn?t the total Plug and Play productivity solution that some
Microsoft promised. Some of its features are still too complex or
(such as the Exchange e-mail center). And after all is said and done,
just an operating system-- not a religion, not a way of life.
Windows 95 (or -96 or -97) will probably become the
operating system over the next few years... but these years will be one
of a slow transition. Tens of millions of computers will continue to
older versions of the operating systems, just as an estimated 70
computers just run DOS even today. For the next couple of years, smart
software (and hardware) developers, will continue to make their
compatible with DOS and Win 3.1, while perhaps including features that
will require Windows 95 for full use (as is the case with the new Adobe
One of the emerging software trends that Windows 95
the extent to which CD-ROMs had penetrated the market. Microsoft was
by how many Win 95 purchasers chose CD over floppy versions; in some
there was a shortage of CD versions, while the floppy packages
the shelves. It?s been pointed out that the early-adopters of Win 95
likely to be the same people who?d added CD-ROMs onto their computers,
but CDs have clearly become vitally important, for games and
software, but also increasingly for large operating systems and
Even though it will be several years before Windows 95
its potential, Microsofts operating system competitors will have few
IBM is withdrawing from the desktop operating system field-- choosing
to focus OS/2 on the corporate market. Apple seems to have missed its
to broaden the Mac?s base through licensed clones... while their
base remains loyal, their percentage of the growing market is slowly
outside of the education and graphics/publishing strongholds.
At the high end, Microsoft?s NT continued to slowly
creep up on both
Unix and Novell Netware; while both of these competitors continue to
the largest share of their respective markets, neither seems able to
any faith in their own futures. Even Unix?s new-found advantage as the
natural way to launch an Internet server may prove short-lived.
There was little new and exciting in applications this
past year-- software
developers seemd cautious-- waiting for Windows 95, and unwilling to
themselves to projects that might have to be changed depending on
news. (Developers, perhaps, were remembering what happened in the late
?80s, when many developed for OS/2, only to be caught unprepared for
popularity of Windows 3.0). Even the first generation of Win 95
seemed cautious-- even from Microsoft, products like Office-95 offered
evolutionary improvements over the previous generation, but no
applications have yet been unveiled.
Instead of innovation, most of the software news in
1995 was in the
area of high finance. Merger-mania continued, highlighted by IBM?s
of Lotus, but also with California?s Symantec buying Canada?s Delrina.
And the opposite happened at year?s end, with Novell backing out of its
purchase of Word Perfect (and UnixWare), to concentrate on its key
Gizmos and Gadgets-- at a Price
PC hardware developments offered a bit more. 1995
first saw rapidly
plummeting hard drive prices, making 800 meg- 1 gig hard drives the
in new business systems. By summer, Pentium CPUs outsold 486s, with the
later promising to virtually disappear, at least from new desktop
by early 1996. Intel?s next generation Pentium-Pro (formerly the P6)
be a harder sell, however. Designed for a true 32-bit operating system,
it produces minimal performance improvements on hybrid 16-bit/32-bit
including both Windows 3.1 and Win 95. As a result, competitors to
such as AMD and Cyrix have a chance to increase their share of the CPU
market in the next year.
A big disappointment this year, however, has been the
Power PC alliance. Aside from the successful Power Mac line, the
has been unable to bring a credible version of their CPU to market. If
they cannot make inroads into the Windows/Intel market in 1996, the
may have missed their chance for broad acceptance.
RAM prices remained relatively high, however, and
combined with users?
need for more ram, drove up the average price of computer systems.
in 1993 and 1994, users could buy an average home system for under
systems now cost $2500-3000. These provide more-- a faster, more
CPU, a larger hard drive, more ram, and more often, CD-ROM and sound
but it does make it harder for some potential buyers to get into the
With continued ram-hungry operating systems and applications, don?t
prices to drop any time soon.
Several hardware trends all featured increased
performance and ease
of use-- particularly for PC owners. Modems running at the now
28.8 kbs V.34 became increasingly affordable... and will likely remain
the standard for the next several years, as they represent the limit to
what can be sent over copper telephone lines. Higher speed ISDN and
alternatives will show up, but will take several years to become
The awkward PCMCIA acronym disappeared, being replaced
with the easier
to remember PC Cards, which this year, finally became a reasonably
and easy to use way to work with portable computers. And portable
themselves became almost a commodity item-- making up over 25% of all
sold in 1995, they became almost as powerful as the average desktop
though still at a price premium of 40% or more.
New devices using PC parallel or serial ports made it
to add hardware to a PC without having to open the case or fuss with
IRQ and DMA settings. Combined with Plug and Play features in Windows
(and new computer BIOSs), these finally made it possible to imagine a
being as easy to configure as a Mac.
New hardware product categories included low-cost page
with OCR software promising an end to office paper mess, and
units, combining printer, scanner, and plain-paper fax into an
solution for many small offices. Low cost tape drives, featuring 800
Travan tapes, offer back-up hopes even with today?s larger hard disks.
And high capacity removable disks, especially Iomega?s 100 meg ZIP
continually out-sold supply. The same promises to be true with next
model-- Iomega?s 1 gig Jaz drive.
And of course, CD-ROMs and multimedia extended their
reach-- now about
half of all computers sold for the home market include these features,
as do an increasing (though still minority) of the computers sold to
business market. Increasingly, the home market is being driven by the
of game players, and that includes a fast CPU, lots of ram, and a fast
CD-ROM and good sound.
Look to next year for the new wave of CD-ROMs... at
year?s end, a new
format was agreed upon, promising multi-gigabytes of data per disk
to about 600 megs right now), along with more easily writable disks. Of
course, these new disks will be incompatible with the current
of hardware, making for a combination of problems, and a new upgrade
The big news in 1995 was the Internet...
More and more users, more and more Web pages. Internet
advertising on billboards along streets in Vancouver. What?s happening
this week on the Web appearing alongside TV listings in the newspaper.
The newspaper itself appearing on the Web.
At the same time, concerns about whether financial
transactions on the
Web would be secure. And concerns about bandwidth-- whether the
would collapse under the weight of increased use and increased
My predictions? The days of unmetered Internet access are limited--
now, I can read Time Magazine for free every Monday on the Web, where
complete text appears sooner than copies reach subscribers. Clearly, as
soon as Time can find a way to bill be for the service, they will.
it is only a matter of time before users get billed for e-mail... right
now, it costs virtually the same to send one e-mail message as to send
5000 copies... and the same to send a message to a user on the same
as in Australia. enjoy it-- it won?t last.
The hot technology currently being touted is Hot Java,
language from Sun. Currently, Web sites are passive-- users read
look at graphics, maybe fill in a form. Java enables Web sites to
interactive; Web servers can house Java applications that can run on
computer that?s logged in, regardless of platform. The speculation is
could make operating systems and platforms irrelevent, as anyone could
log into a Web site, and run the same applications.
Sun, Oracle, and other big companies are currently
discussing the prospect
of a $500 Internet connection computer-- a minimal machine, that will
Java applications from Web servers. But the big problem is bandwidth
and transmission speed. None of this is practical as long as you and I
have to rely on modems and phone lines to access the Net. Cable modems?
Fibre optics? Wide Area Networking? Not yet, I?m afraid.
Despite this, Internet browser company Netscape is
being hyped as the
next big thing-- the Microsoft of the next ten years, if you will...
but not right away. Despite their wildly successful stock offering this
past Fall, they remain a company with miniscule sales, and according to
founder James Clark, if they turn a profit next year, it will be by
Personally, I consider the Internet wildly over-hyped,
and suspect that
we?ll see the beginings of a reaction in the next year, as users (as
Win 95) find a gap between the hype and the reality. Another shakedown
is looming as the big cable and phone companies make a move on the
lucrative, but primarily local Internet Service Provider market.
Despite all this uncertainty, the Internet remains an
frontier for computing. It is quite possible that we won?t see much in
the way of innovation for stand-alone personal computers... there?s
so much that can be done with word processing or spreadsheets, after
The Internet is where the action is going to be for the next while--
don?t expect that problems with security and bandwidth will be solved
Happy computing in 1996!