Redefining Personal Computing, Part 1: Can We Finally Stop Partying Like it’s 1999?
This is the first segment of a three-part blog post that looks at a sea of change in personal computing that seems to be on the horizon. In Part 1, we’ll put today’s personal computing environment into perspective. In Parts 2 and 3, we will look at some tectonic shifts that are taking place.
Microsoft is not known to be on the bleeding edge of technology. Rather, they’ve developed a reputation to letting the other guy go through the bloodshed necessary to prove a viable market, then jumping in with a blessed-by-Microsoft offering that has “ready for prime time” levels of packaging, support, and functionality (er, if you forget Windows 1.0 and 2.0—they were kidding, right?).
Despite ranking a poor 3rd in the race for computing “cool factor” behind Apple and Google, Microsoft may well be positioning itself for an industry-innovator role in the next few years. To see why this may be the case, it helps to take a look at computing history for perspective.
No, not quite not back into the antediluvian mists of punched cards and huge machines tended by white-coated technicians. But rather to the late 1970’s when cathode ray tube-based terminals (CRTs) were beginning to let end-users interact directly with computers using pre-written business applications.
In this environment, personal computers floated around in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Sporting a variety of operating systems and architectures, they had names like Commodore 64, Altos, and Radio Shack (yes, that one) TRS-80. Dozens of industry giants and garage-band little companies making boxes loved by hobbyists with pocket protectors.
Enter the IBM PC
Packaged for the masses, shipped with personal business applications like word processing and spreadsheets (EasyWriter and VisiCalc respectively—both of which were, paradoxically, originally written for the Apple II). With relative ease of use and the IBM stamp of legitimacy, non-programmers could for the first time manipulate data.
Putting it another way, for the first time “poets could compute” and the desktop PC revolution was born. And all these IBM PCs were running on a simple operating system called DOS 1.0 from a tiny company called Microsoft.
Microsoft, as you may have heard, was run by a young college dropout named Bill Gates. As an aside, young Bill actually bought the DOS platform from a poor chap named Rod Brock for whopping $75,000, then parlayed that investment into a company that has since made a dollar or two more than that. But back to our story….
Fast Forward About a Decade
It’s the early ’90s and the IBM PC architecture is a standard in the business
The chaos in the computing world had subsided and applications basically worked consistently—except, don’t assume that information from one application will make it into another one. The “cut and paste” that we take for granted today was somewhere between “cut and pray” and “export and manipulate.”
Enter the Office Suite, with the promise that all of its components would play nicely together. Early versions of Microsoft Office were really a small herd of cats painted the same color—the concept of common look and feel and standard interfaces was still far away. But they “kind of” looked alike (at least the boxes did) and cut-and-paste (usually) worked. With the promise that all of the pieces worked together, and a growing commonality of look and feel, the MS Office suite of applications began to pull away from the “pack” (pack as in WordPerfect, Lotus 123, Harvard Graphics, etc.).
And computing peace reigned in every office. But what happened to innovation? We’ll tackle that in Part 2 It’s 2012—Why am I Still Using a Sony Walkman?