Happy Birthday Microsoft Windows!

It’s 1985… Ronald Reagan has become President of the United States…  Mikhail Gorbatsjov becomes leader of the Soviet Union… together, they will end the cold war…
This is the backdrop for another duo that will enter history: the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.

This week indeed, Microsoft Windows will celebrate its 25th birthday, as on November 20th 1985, the first ever incarnation of Microsoft Windows, version 1.0 went on sale.  It was arguably an operating system, but more a graphical extension of the underlying MS-DOS.  It was in many aspects a “bad” system, as it clearly wasn’t finished when it went on sale.  The graphical user interfaces of that period, like GEM and GEOS were clearly better and had a much tighter fit when looking at them as real operating systems.
Nevertheless, it would mark the beginning of Microsoft’s dominant role in the computer industry and would be the spark for the never ending rivalry between Microsoft and Apple (who always claimed that Bill Gates stole the ideas from Steve Jobs – whereas both of them must have gotten their ideas from their visit to the labs of Xerox Parc in the 70s where they saw the revolutionary Alto-computer).

The big success for Microsoft came in 1990 when it released Windows 3.0.  The PC had become more and more the apparatus of choice when it came to computing, and Windows (with MS-DOS) was the system of choice for all the IBM compatibles that were in the market.  This was for many their first real contact with an easy to  use interface on an IBM compatible.

Microsoft continued its winning streak with the massive and highly media hyped Windows 95 launch.
However, it’s also there and then, that Microsoft planted the seeds for what would later almost become its downfall: the world wide web started to take its place at the center stage and Microsoft realized that it might one day replace the actual operating system.  So they started their mission to take control of the web browser, the means to access the web and start the so-called “browser war” with Netscape as its main competitor.  By means of integrating the browser in the operating system (just look at the Active Desktop in Windows 98), Microsoft tried to make the use of another browser obsolete (and not to mention the attempts it took to force computer manufacturers “not” to install any other browser on the systems).

This led to several anti-trust cases against Microsoft, both in the US and Europe and eventually, in 2000, the courts ruled that Microsoft would have to be split up into two separate companies, one focusing on  Windows and the other on software like Office etc.  Luckily for Microsoft, the Republicans of George W. Bush took over the White House and gave Microsoft a “get out of jail card” as they were given the opportunity to settle.

It’s now already 5 years since the last major Windows release (not counting Windows 98) and the successor Windows XP is not yet ready.  In an attempt to bridge this gap, they release Windows Me, which became widely regarded as the worst operating system ever.  It would take another year, till October 25th 1991 before the general public could finally upgrade to Windows XP, to this day, the most widely used version of Windows and the first Windows version that has no real connection anymore with the antiquated MS-DOS.

Again, we have to wait for several years before a new version of Windows hits the store shelves.  On January 30th 2007, Microsoft releases Windows Vista.  It is not what consumers had expected: a slow system, cumbersome, and a real pain as it asks for confirmation for every little single action is wants to take.  Even worse, PC reviewers actually show that Windows XP, Service Pack 3 is much more stable and faster than Windows Vista.  It would be till October 2009 before Microsoft can connect again with its former success thanks to the successful release of Windows 7.

Times however, have changed… Facebook has 500 million active users, Apple has a higher turnover than Microsoft (mainly thanks to the success of the iPhone) and applications reside more and more in the “cloud”.  The PC, which was once the main tool to get to information, is now just one of the many instruments that tap into the internet and the “cloud”.

The Redmond giant now has to accept this new world order, where companies like Google, Apple (and to a lesser extent the Linux distributions) are protagonists of the new computing era, much like Microsoft was the household name that became synonymous to “working with a PC”.

Happy birthday Microsoft Windows!

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