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The clash of the desktops

I remember seeing a cover of Windows Magazine In late 1993: “The system we’ll be running in 1994”, showing a screen shot of Chicago, then the code name of the next generation of Windows, later to be know as Windows 95. Well Windows 95 was not called Windows 94, and the version that launched in August 1995 was seriously flawed, despite this it blew the only credible alternative out of the water. This alternative was called OS/2, and it really was a much better system.

As mentioned in the previous post, last time around, in 1994, Microsoft faced endless delays of their then next generation of Windows code-named Chicago. In 1994 an alternative, that was technologically superior to Windows, existed, it was called OS/2, and OS/2 had already conquered the corporate desktop, due to the shortcomings of Windows 2.0 and DOS.

So how did Windows manage to beat the odd, and re-conquer the desktop, despite the better technology of OS/2?

Well for one, customers obviously don’t care about technology. OS/2 had it’s own history of endless delays, so Microsoft pitched Windows as the natural migration path to OS/2, so when OS/2 launched there were no applications for OS/2, but truck loads of applications for Windows. And when Windows 3.0 launched in 1990, sporting an Interface looking much like OS/2 and breaking the most of the barriers that had been hampering Windows 2.0 until then, OS/2 was dead…The cover of BYTE Magazine said it all “Who needs OS/2”. The first versions of OS/2 only sported a text based user interface, and was optimised for the flawed Intel processor 80286. Windows 3.0 had several optimisations for the much better designed 80386 processor.

OS/2 was a joint effort of Microsoft and IBM, but after the launch of WIndows 3.0, IBM and Microsoft parted ways. IBM developed a version of OS/2, that was optimised for the 80386 processor. But OS/2 still lacked applications, and Microsoft decided to stop development of their application for OS/2. Eventually IBM decided to fit OS/2 with a Windows subsystem, making it possible to run Windows programs under OS/2. Unfortunately for IBM this only meant that they had to pay Microsoft a hefty license fee. So every time IBM sold a copy of OS/2, the only one who made any money was Microsoft.

Microsoft had won the battle for the desktop – again.

Shortly after the demise of OS/2, new technologies surfaced, the Internet became mainstream and the concept of thin clients gained new momentum with the Java programming language, that in theory made it possible to run the same program regardless of the environment.

In 1997 the concept of the Network Computer (NC) emerged, really the brain child of SUN and Oracle, and based on Java and Internet technologies. Unfortunately the NC never really made it passed the prototype, and the low bandwidth of the public networks and the lack of applications, meant that the NC was doomed.

Microsoft managed an amazing 180 in the late 90’ies. Using WIndows 95 and the virtual ownership of the desktop, Microsoft created a proprietary online network, MSN – the Microsoft Network. The proprietary MSN failed miserably, mainly because of the emergence of the Internet and the dot-com frenzy, Microsoft not wanting to be left behind managed to change the course of the supertanker, aided by some very strong acquisitions like Hotmail, and eventually gain supremacy over the Internet through Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer actually pioneered some of the technologies, that are the cornerstones of Web 2.0.

Internet Explorer really became the best browser on the market, and it ruled supreme.

Having won once again, Microsoft went back to sleep.

The delay of Vista really opens Windows of opportunity, not seen since 1994 with the endless delays of Windows 95. Unfortunately for Microsoft the competition is very hard today, Linux keeps improving and is definitely more than adequate for business users, and Mac OS X has all the tools you need as a consumer. This time Microsoft is facing competition from all directions.

The sleeping giant is finally waking up, but this time around let’s make it a rude awakening for Microsoft. This is a once in a decade opportunity.

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