Probably before we get to my first days on the job it might be good to have a view of the landscape and what the industry looked like from the Microsoft point of view at the time. It was a far cry from what it is today. It was much simpler. The primary focus was really three things: the operating system, the word processor and the spreadsheet. On the OS side there were really two things from a competitive standpoint, one more relevant than the other. Apple was still a round but they were dazed and confused. Without the dynamic Steve Jobs at the helm they had lost there swagger. Yes, they still had their ever loyal user base (which in time should be thanked as without them Apple would never have made it to where it is today) – but the question of what was next? How would they compete with Microsoft? These questions had not been answered. Sure attempts had been made, but they were led by a former Pepsi executive, John Scully. My point hereon Mr Scully is having some corp folks come and help run a technology company is one thing, but in technology you need people with visions of the future, not MBA business models. Make no mistake the MacOS was superior to Microsoft Windows, but the best technology does not always win and if you don’t think that applies today let me ask you “have you ever text messaged on your phone?” Apple lost to DOS, they should be ashamed of themselves. The other more interesting story is that of IBM and OS/2. The OS/2 story actually started at Microsoft. A brilliant technologist named Gordon Letwin (the famous original picture of Microsoft a shaggy Mr. Letwin) went on a cruise and brought his PC. Picture this; a super geek goes on a cruise and remember this is not todays laptop world – it’s a PC. Heavy and big. When he departs the cruise he has coded the foundation for OS/2. I do not think Mr. Letwin was tan. As the story goes Microsoft and IBM started jointly working in OS/2 when Microsoft had a change of heart and decided to go the Windows route. Bill and Steve often talk about how nervous they were before the meeting to inform IBM of their plans. the decision was made and Microsoft released Windows 3.0 and IBM planned to move forward with OS/2 2.0. It was not much of a battle in the end but more on that later
On the Word Processing front it was all about WordPerfect, there were a few others out there (WordStar and Wang). WordPerfect owned the world of DOS – but for whatever reason they were not big fans of the GUI. They had entered the Mac World with WordPerfect for Mac but when sales lagged they exited. It always amazed me how some of these competitors did not see the bigger picture. When Apple came out with the Mac, Microsoft embraced it as an opportunity to create better software. To me this was not so hard to get. Wordperfect was not sure about Windows. Looking back at this period I do not think many understood the power of the OS. The one thing Wordperfect had going for them was free 800 support. Long term that could never work, but I did talk to a number of people where that tipped the scale.
Finally there was the spreadsheet – three companies Microsoft, Borland and Lotus. The biggy was Lotus. Led by Jim Manzi. Spreadsheets were one of those things tha quickly boiled down to a feature war. I think the big “sticky” thing Lotus had was Macros. A lot of early spreadsheet guru’s used the Lotus macro language to automate and customize their spreadsheets. Once again there was that GUI thing that they failed to recognize. Quatro Pro was in third and they were run by the mad Frenchman, Philippe Kahn. I am not going to spend much time on them but they were in many regards the strongest competitor, but when we talk about other topics we can come back to them.
There are a lot of other things we need to cover – Networking, Email, Programming Languages, Databases, etc..but for now I will call it a night. I hope you may find some enjoyment in my therapy. It is bringing back some fond memories that I hope to share in the coming days and weeks. For those who never worked at Microsoft it should provide a better picture of a companies early days and rise to greatness. Good night.
One thought on “The industry landscape 1991”
I hope you keep going, we all went through that era but not at Microsoft. It’s pretty interesting to hear your perspective.