Usually I quote Jon Radoff over on the gaming blog because he is mainly a game marketeer. I do not always agree with him, sometimes I think he demonstrates what is wrong in business today, sometimes agree with him he has insight as to the direction technology is taking. This is one of those times and I would like to address one of his points concerning Microsoft from my personal experience in the industry. Microsoft forgot what it was about.
Most IT professionals have stories to tell about the giant. I have more than a few, but let me just select from the best. First you must understand Microsoft was a hero to many of us in the budding IT field in the early 80s. They took on IBM and won. IBM had been the business that bought technologies that showed promise and shut them down. They were THE defining company for computers. Microsoft changed all that. They created DOS and it WORKED! Well at least the odd numbered ones did.
Maybe we were to blame in a way. Until Windows was unveiled, Microsoft could do no wrong. Gates was hero and the company was full of renegades and geeks. They had the best PC O/S, Novell had the the best network, Epson made the best dot matrix printers and Procomm plus was the standard for PC interconnectivity. Most of the world used WordPerfect, Lotus and dBase as PC business applications. Got the computing world in your head?
Changes were coming, Crays were the fastest supercomputers and lived in a fishtank to keep cool, Apples were for artsy types but MACs were actually compared to Crays and other "real business" machines. Chips previously available all over the place from many manufacturers but were starting to standardize. The first rumblings of storms of change started when WINDOWS was released in 1985. A friend of mine called me to brag he had just gotten it on his PC. What did he need that for to code in assembler? It looked like a MacIntosh! It was a RAM hog- it needed 512 KB, great for people who did not do much crunching, but for the numbers and data types it was stupid.
Suddenly though Novell needed 1 MG ram to run. So MUCH! We upgraded our server. I sat with the manuals for a while learning how to compsurf my drive, how to put in a NIC and most of all how to set up the upgraded Novell. it was FAST. We used Paradox from Ansa, a company that had just been acquired by Borland and had one of the best networked databases there was. It all ran on DOS and we were happy - for now. But annoyed that we had upgrade our system to keep it supported because they had to recode a network the bloat from Windows.
By the time I was working for a company that published software training courses we were into Windows 2 and starting on 3. We got lots of betas, beta were free back then. For publishing in the technology field they were crucial. My first experience was with Win 3.1 and MS-DOS 6.0. I had to work with Windows for training purposes, but we still did not NEED it to do our work. Plain old DOS was good enough for most of what we had to do.
Back then Windows was shell that ran on top of DOS. Your machine would start DOS and you could go from there if you wanted either starting Windows or not. You could run other manufacturer's versions of DOS there was PC-DOS and DR-DOS to name 2 I remember. The new Windows was almost out. The new MS-DOS was due months later but DR-DOS was due out earlier. Suddenly the beta Windows would not run well on the beta MS-DOS - it crashed an burned a lot. Why? Because MS-DOS had changed to counter the competition's release and Windows had not. The writer testing DOS sat next to me, we both called our contacts and they pointed fingers at each other. Same company creating software that is dependent on each other and the dev teams not talking to each other, that looks really good.
Then we went to Gamma. I was testing the course copy against what we had and suddenly everything was different! We scrambled to change the documents. The steps to map a left handed mouse were different completely, to perform certain tasks the menus were different, the fluff that we added to the courses for fun was all wrong now, except solitaire, that still worked at least we used that to train people how to use a mouse.
We went nuts. It was 2 -6 weeks to release of software. Training manuals and courses took 6 weeks once at the printers IF we were lucky and paid premium to get it done We might get galleys back in two weeks. The head editor decided to wait until the software was released - good call on that one because upon release all of our old steps were correct. We began to suspect they released bad gammas to mislead the competition, pity they did not inform their beta testers who were writing BOOKS that might increase Windows sales. But I guess they already had a World Domination Plan and did not need us little people anymore. Who cared if we were users?
Well we all know what happened next, 95 came out and suddenly no one had any choice anymore. We all HAD to use Windows, because every business used it. By then I was into BI and tech support of BI. We moved from doing manual extracting and physically sending the data to our clients which was fairly secure to online extract and download because the clients demanded it. It is so much more convenient and so much less secure. Most people no longer have a choice and the few that do seem to be ridiculed for thinking they might use a door instead of a Window .
Except - even Microsoft seems to be thinking more about how they can make things work again. They finally got that most of us will not use I.E. They may even be ready to admit that other companies do some things better than they because they are NOT Microsoft. They should spend some time refining what they DID best and that WAS operating systems. But is it too little too late?
If I data crunch I need more RAM, fast drives and fast processors but not much in video. If I am a website designer I need great graphics. If I edit videos or record for a living I need good sound and a quiet machine. I do not need Visio to make a video, I do not need Adobe to make a flow chart. Microsoft the key to success is to be flexible enough you help everyone run their business not to MAKE everyone use your products and work the way you want them to. But Microsoft does not listen to the "little guys" like Jon, so it takes them longer to hear what is really happening out there.
I hear of more and more super user types using Ubuntu and Macs. Personal Networks are in use for everything now from work updates to hardcore gaming. Vista was a failure not because Vista was awful, but rather because it was perceived as awful by its potential users before it was even shipped. Word leaked out from BETA testers. To defend Microsoft a little there is a REASON it is Beta, bit perhaps a nationwide beta test of companies who are trying to conduct daily business on their systems is NOT a good idea. Others based the likely poor performance on experience with past Microsoft new product releases. Microsoft needs to prove to us that it can pull an IBM and get good at what they do again and to do that they need to pull back, develop and TEST instead of trying to force their standards and business models on their customers. In the mean time I will sit and watch to see if Ubuntu follows in Microsoft's footsteps while I use FREEBSD and THAT is what it is about - CHOICES that fulfill our needs and purses.