Countdown to Vista: Microsoft's Past and Future

A look at Microsoft’s hits and misses puts Vista in perspective. How will this new OS fare?


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Posted November 6, 2006

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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If the stars align properly in a few days Microsoft will be releasing their next operating system to manufacturing, and it will both signal the end of one era and the beginning of another.

This is really the end of the product lines that began with Windows 95 and ended with Windows XP. It represents the beginning of a new crew overseeing operating systems at Microsoft as the company struggles to balance between an ever-increasing number of threats and opportunities. With the announcement of the broad partnership between Novell and Microsoft, clearly Microsoft has changed.

Let’s take this opportunity to look back and remember how we got here.

Windows 95: a Brave New World

From the naming methodology to the products themselves Windows has come a long way in the past decade. Recalling the Windows 95 launch, it was almost a magical event in which the clouds in the Redmond sky actually mirrored the artwork on the box and people stood in line for hours to be the first to get the new operating system.

The major news services covered the event constantly up to launch and the product was a rock star. Unfortunately, once it launched the problems that typically follow a new operating system took center stage. The massive wave that was expected failed to materialize and the roll out went much more slowly, with some users not moving until nearly the end of the decade.

These were the last days of OS/2, which had been surrounded by a massive support program from IBM but was collapsing under increasing IBM indifference. Still, OS/2 wasn’t going down easy and many people got their copy of OS/2 for free before IBM realized they still owed Microsoft a royalty payment regardless of how little they charged for the product.

But even free OS/2 simply couldn’t compete, even though it was closer to Windows 2000 than Windows 95 was. While many said this was due to Microsoft cheating, the real cause was outlined in IBM internal reports, which indicated IBM itself was at fault.

Much like today, competitors were screaming anti-competitive warnings and AOL was the most vocal. AOL actually said that Microsoft was going to put them out of business, while not so quietly another company, Netscape, was doing more to put AOL out of business than Microsoft ever could. Both Microsoft and AOL almost missed the birth of the modern Internet.

Windows 95 was marred by a lack of post launch execution and the fact that it stayed in service longer than it should have. As a result, many remember this faded Microsoft star poorly, but in its day there was no product that could match it. And there has been no technology product – not even the iPod – that has matched the star power of Windows 95 at launch.

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Windows NT: the Empire Strikes Itself

The next big product after Windows 95, Windows NT, was mostly a rework of OS/2, eliminating IBM’s intellectual property as the last step in that corporate divorce. A product well out of date at launch, it fell well short of the promises it made and destroyed a lot of Microsoft supporters in the process.

NT was, from my view, a horrible product designed for servers and workstations but positioned for the corporate desktop. It was incredibly difficult to install and manage in large numbers and virtually always broke budgets and milestones.

It showcased Microsoft at the peak of arrogance when the company felt they didn’t need to listen and – like IBM in the ‘80s – knew what was best for customers, even though they didn’t realize they had no clue what their customers were going through. This was what lit the initial big fire under Linux and Open Source as Microsoft, in a way, became the illegitimate father of that effort.

Next page: Windows 2000: Redmond Under Siege

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