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A decade later, Apple remains but Microsoft king

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #664  July 16-22,2002 High Tech Office  column

As I sit and write this, it’s been almost exactly ten years since my byline first appeared in BIV, in the issue of June 16, 1992 to be exact.

Frankly, I would have missed that momentous anniversary but it was brought to my attention by reader James Devon . He e-mailed me a quote from my opinion-piece titled How the mighty Macintosh became the Betamax of the computer World (not yet a column…) where I said: “My prediction-- there'll always be a strong and loyal base of Macintosh users. But then again, there's still a large base of loyal Commodore 64 users. Really! But within a year, two at the most, sticking to a Mac is going to seem like running the world's most expensive Windows clone.”

On the surface, at least, my prediction was wrong. A decade later, many loyal Mac customers have remained loyal Mac customers. And as Apple’s latest wave of TV ads are proclaiming, at least some Windows users are prepared to tell the world how they’ve been won over to the ease and elegance of Macintosh computers and operating system.

But let’s take a trip back a decade, look at where we were then, to try to get a bit of perspective on where we are. Back in 1992, while, like today, a majority of computers ran a Microsoft operating system, it wasn’t Windows. It was a minimalist, text-based thing called MS-DOS. Some home and business users ran Macs, with a graphical user interface, but after eight years, while Macs were the prefered for graphics and publishing, they only accounted for about 10% of personal computers. (BIV, at the time, was produced on a network of far from cutting edge Macintosh SEs).

The most-used business applications ran under DOS: Word Perfect word processor, Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, dBase database. Each used a totally different set of non-intuitive commands. Shift+F7 meant Print in Word Perfect, but was meaningless (I think!) in 1-2-3.

There was an Internet, but it was mandated to be non-commercial, and was just starting to be available outside of universities and scientific research labs. Some businesses communicated using e-mail, typically using in-house, proprietary systems. There were computer viruses, but most were spread on infected floppy diskettes. (There were CD-ROMs, but the drives and discs were expensive and hardly anyone had them).

While the hardware was faster and more commonplace, it was pretty similar to the first generation of PCs and Macs that penetrated the workplace in the early to mid 1980s. Below the surface, however, it was changing.

Microsoft (not yet the Evil Empire) had released Windows version 3.0 in May 1990, and with sales of 10 million, it already had more users than the Mac. My 1992 BIV piece suggested that while it was nowhere near as nice as the Mac operating system, it ran on cheap and common clones and was good enough for most users. Sound familiar?

And after a stagnant half-decade or so, the pace of change was picking up. The next year saw the release of Microsoft’s Windows 3.1, which quickly became the PC standard. And because Word Perfect and Lotus failed to produce Windows versions of their applications, Microsoft’s Word and Excel, running under Windows became the new business standards. CD-ROMs and multimedia became increasingly common at home and (a bit later) at work.

1993 also saw the first release of the Mosaic web browser. By 1995, with the release of both Windows 95 and the Netscape browser, the opening of the Internet to commercial users, and my first High Tech Office column in BIV, things were looking a lot like today.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan