By Peter Branton
It was 20 years ago today… cake makers in Redmond must be on overtime: following on from Microsoft boss Bill Gates' 50th birthday last month and the 30th birthday of his company earlier this year, its most famous product reached the two score landmark this month.
|~|commentissue39body.jpg|~|Windows celebrated its 20th birthday this month.|~|It was 20 years ago today… cake makers in Redmond must be on overtime: following on from Microsoft boss Bill Gates' 50th birthday last month and the 30th birthday of his company earlier this year, its most famous product reached the two score landmark this month.
We mean, of course, the Windows operating system, the desktop's supreme OS, which hit the big 20 last week.
The world was very different when the Windows 1.0 operating system made its debut on November 20, 1985. IBM was then the unquestioned IT global superpower, and Apple and Radio Shack were the big names in the PC market. Microsoft was still a comparative minnow as a company.
Nor did the first version of Windows do much to inspire belief among observers that it was going to do anything to change that fact soon: it received a lukewarm reception, with its lack of features being panned by reviewers, and it was seen by users as being a slow product with limited application support.
It wasn't exactly speedy making its debut either, Microsoft had been intending to release it much earlier, with April 1984 originally penciled in as the release date (perhaps not everything has changed - the release date for the latest version of the Windows OS, Vista, has also been beset with delays.
Microsoft has now committed to a second half 2006-launch date, which will be five years after the last version, XP, appeared. Plus ca change, some might say).
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Windows was one that Microsoft has taken a long time to shake off: namely that Microsoft had liberally helped itself to the best features from other operating systems, most notably Apple's, to create it.
While Microsoft did reach a settlement with Apple on some technology issues, boss Bill Gates has always been scathing of its claims: he has pointed out that Apple had, in its turn, been heavily "influenced" by operating systems developed by other firms, most notably Xerox's Parc Alto Research Centre (PARC).
Still, whatever its origins, Windows has now, through its numerous variations, gone on to dominate the desktop market. The question now perhaps is where next?
The answer to that particular question may just lie with another IT innovation which also, somewhat coincidently, reached a significant milestone this month.
Something which didn't attract a great deal of attention at the time has now hit the 15-year mark: the World Wide Web application was developed in 1990 by (now) renowned guru Tim Berners-Lee at Cern, Europe's particle research centre.
While Windows was intended from the off to be a commercial product, Berners-Lee saw the web as primarily being a useful way of sharing academic information, by making it easier to navigate around the internet.
It wasn't until around 1995 that the web began to be seen as of serious commercial interest, at which point a certain company in Redmond began to get very interested in it indeed.
It is now ten years since Gates issued his now famous 'Internet Tidal Wave" memo, urging Microsoft staffers to look at the impact of the internet on the development of the IT industry.
More recently, Gates has issued another memo, this time warning of the disruptive influence of the upcoming "services wave": a shift to web-based services. Microsoft has now begun pilot schemes for online versions of Windows, which will allow users to access features such as e-mails and blogging over the internet.
For Microsoft, reaching the 20 year mark with Windows can be seen as a landmark occasion, if it wants to get to another 20 it may just need some online help.