Bigger than Windows 95 here comes Windows 8…

Steve Ballmer was interviewed by the local Seattle Times newspaper during the annual Microsoft company meeting. This event was held in Seattle’s Key arena and was attended by 15,000 Microsoft employees.  It creates traffic hell in town.  Steve called this an epic year for Microsoft. With the release of Windows 8 Microsoft will compete on the desktop (ok they still own the desktop), the tablet and the smartphone (Windows Phone 8).  Not to mention releases of Office and new games for XBOX.  There is no question that what he says is true.  Windows 8 is really the first true big change in the Windows UI since Windows 95 was released almost 17 years ago.  In an industry that moves so fast it is rather mind-boggling that the “Start” button has lasted so long.  It also brings a unified operating system across all devices to reality.  The desktop, the tablet and the phone will all have a standardized OS, so for developers this should in theory make life easier.  Steve was going good until he said bigger that Windows 8 will be bigger than  Windows 95.  That particular reference seems to come up a lot among Microsoft executives.

In one  of my early blogs I wrote about the launch of Windows 95.  I can honestly say that was a big day in my life.  To have participated in such a great event was truly fantastic.  Any of my former co-workers at the time I would be so bold to say, would agree.  It is a fantastic part of the Microsoft legacy.  It has also proven to be something that Microsoft has wanted to desperately repeat and do again. To somehow have another such event that launches the company into the technology stratosphere.  To make it the envy of the tech world once again.  To be loved and feared, again. It is not far-fetched.  There still is talent at the company.  They still work very hard in Redmond.  Despite critics they do innovate.  Windows 8 will generate more money than Windows 95, just by virtue of the huge distribution machine that Microsoft has created.  Despite all this apparent success in the end Windows 8 will not restore Microsoft glory.  It will not be bigger than Windows 95.

First it will not surprise anyone as there is already so much about Windows 8 that is known and that has been seen already out in the marketplace for sometime via the beta program, MSDN Subscriptions, etc…  The biggest change in Windows 8 being the new UI formally known as Metro.  Which is not really new since it first appeared and is borrowed from Windows Phone 7, which has been out for 2 years.  Windows 95 also boasted a new UI, but it was different in several regards.  It was much more user-friendly than previous versions of Windows, it was a 32 bit OS and it’s price point was much lower than the alternate Macintosh, which had been floundering since Steve Jobs was ousted.  It was a big leap forward for the company and the industry.

Second Microsoft had done a really effective whisper campaign prior to the launch of Windows 95.  Yes there were beta’s out in the market, the new UI had been reviewed.  But it was just the tip of the iceberg and consumers had read enough and were interested enough and wanted the new OS.  In fact they really wanted it.  There were launch parties, lines at midnight.  There was just a lot of excitement.  The press was on board as it seemed every news station was covering the launch.  Showing people lined up at midnight to buy the new Microsoft OS.  The people in line were smiling and laughing.  Microsoft at the time was very much like Apple is today.  It was generating excitement about their products and about the company.  It was the coolest pace to work on the planet.

Third and most importantly it was fulfilling a dream, a vision.  A PC on every desktop and in every home.  The dream had been there since the company launched in 1975 with the birth of the Altair Computer.  The PC was moving from being a toy, an interesting gadget, a confusing to device,  to becoming a mainstream product that everyone had to have.  The products had matured and were being more and more used in corporate offices, small businesses, schools, and homes.  It was also releasing at a time that another significant event was taking place, the dawn of the internet to the consumer society.  The timing was right for success of Windows 95.

As I said make no mistake, Windows 8 from a revenue perspective will generate the billions of dollars.  Wall Street will be happy with its performance on laptops and desktops.  On tablets and smartphones we will just have to wait and see.  But maybe the bigger point is the OS is just part of a bigger picture, the device.  People will only be truly excited if the hardware is exciting.  The OS is still very important it is just not as exciting as it was 17 years ago.  It is a welcome change, it shows how far the industry has come.  But what excites the industry has changed in a big and positive way.

If you think about what the operating system is there to do, what it was originally designed to do was to take commands from the hardware and interpret them into images (letters) one the screen and over time it evolved to allow developers to write applications and generate new lines of business.  It was software that was creating this magic.  It created a lot of millionaires.  And, yes, it created a few billionaires.  No one understood the meaning of the operating system and what it could do and what it did do  better than Bill Gates.   Windows 95 was a fulfillment of a journey, started in his youth at Lakeside School.  However between Windows 95 and Windows 8 even more exciting stuff has happened as the rate of innovation increased and technological advances were made in hardware and software that would dwarf what had been created in the first 20 years of Microsoft’s existence  The competitive landscape for Microsoft has changed and expanded.  Windows 8 remains a core piece of that competitive Microsoft advantage but it is under ever-increasing pressure from all sides as desktops morph to Lap[top to Netbooks to Tablets to Phones .  The latter two have appeared within the last 5 years, what new form factors will the next five years bring.  What OS will they run?  What OS will they need?

In the end Windows 8 will be big, but as big as Windows 95?  Not a chance, the stars are just not aligned like they were in 1995.  The idea of a OS making that significant of a change in how society functions will not happen with a new fancy UI.  The big releases in tech industry are few and far between.  Windows 95 was a big one.  The launch of the first Apple iPhone was another huge one.  You saw society and their interaction with their cell phone change what was seemingly overnight.  Windows 95 had a similar impact as the PC was an accepted device and was everywhere.  In the end Microsoft can have the impact they want again, but it just will not be the OS, it will not be Windows 8.  Society has moved on and awaits the next big change.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Portland, OR September 19, 2012

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Steve Jobs, the Art of Bauhaus and Technology

My past would suggest I am about to write a blog about the legendary goth band led by Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, but for those who know my past you will be disappointed to know that this will not be the case.  Sorry.  Wherever I can I will try to reference the band for those who care to read further.  How did this rather unique title come about?  I have been reading the biography of Steve Jobs and though not completed I have been fascinated by his thought process in the early days around development of the Macintosh.  He was thinking beyond simple features and even back in the early 80’s was thinking about the aesthetics of what he was building.  This   It was at a time when PC’s were just becoming reality and for the most part they were simply functional and frankly plain ugly.  It’s this marriage of tech and art that I find very interesting as it has become and will become more prevalent moving into the existing decade and beyond.  It was a major reason for the rebirth of Steve Jobs.

The Bauhaus art movement started in Germany following the end of World War 1, in fact many say Bauhaus 1919 was the start of this simplistic and minimalist art style.   What makes it interesting and relevant to Apple is the movement was a response to the rise of machines and technology following World War 1, which was the first war to introduce, new weaponry to the battlefield in mass.  New inventions produced on  a mass scale such as tanks, planes, battleships etc..came of age during this gruesome war.  However out of all that bloodshed new ideas and ways of thinking emerged in society The simplicity of the Bauhaus art movement captivated Steve Jobs and he was influenced by the art in designing the first Mac.  To be clear it was one of many art influences, not to mention the design of Braun hand blenders that would drive Steve Jobs forward.  For Steve Jobs simplicity was a necessary component of creating great technology, not just the guts of the PC but the overall look, feel and beauty of the PC.

That intersection of art and tech is what I have found interesting and visionary in reading the Jobs biography.  For those who remember the early days of the PC, the Microsoft mantra was “Your PC can be any color you want as long as it is beige”.  Prior to the rise of flat screens, the CRT’s we had were large, bulky and hideous.  In fact in the early evolution of technology the PC was just plain ugliness.  However Jobs never saw it that way, it would just take 20 years for his vision to become reality.  In the early days he was fascinated by that intersection.  I found it interesting that he would go down to an appliance store and look at the design of a hand blender and think about how some of that German simplicity could make it into the PC. He gravitated towards the Italians and their elegant designs and then to the stark simplicity of a post World War 1 art movement in Germany, the Bauhaus.  From under the black sun he gravitated toward something that would come to define the future of computing.

It is amazing to me that in an industry built on vision that so few were able to see that meeting of software, hardware and fashion.  The two former started in the realm of the engineer.  The latter starts in culture, in the world of day-to-day life.  It has taken many years but over time the technology has morphed and shrunk in size that we see the realm of software and hardware impact all parts of our lives and further.  How we listen to music is no longer the giant stereos with mondo speakers that we saw in the 70’s.  The phone is no longer a single purpose device.  The car is becoming a software platform   Entertainment content is leaving our television.  Glasses are taking in a new multifaceted dimension.  How we read is morphing.  Everything is becoming smaller and more simplistic in look and feel, yet the  technology is becoming infinitely more powerful.

Steve Jobs was seeing this connection before it truly existed, he was taking the art of simplicity and incorporating it into technology, both what was visible to the average human and also what was not visible to the average human.  When I was at Microsoft it was a mode of thinking that just did not exist.  Mainly because we saw only the functionality of technology and its application to society.  It’s physical beauty was never a part of the equation (this was primarily due to the fact that Microsoft had little to no involvement in hardware).  Fast forward to today and the world of tech surrounds everyone and more importantly it is all in color.  Every new Smartphone that is unveiled seems to come with a big announcement around what colors will be available, not to mention the screen design usually matches the color of the phone, very chic.  You now see the old Bill gates mantra of, “You are either a software company or a hardware company”, is seemingly dead.  Microsoft will be releasing and manufacturing their own tablet, the Microsoft Surface.  Steve Jobs made Microsoft do this.

Steve Jobs in death seems to still exist with the launch of the new iPhone 5.  The iPhone 5 was on the drawing board before he passed away.  But the Steve Jobs imprint lives on.  The emphasis on bold and beautiful screens.  The software is great but the picture and design are fantastic.  It is elegant.  It will be interesting as we move forward if Apple can keep its simple designs pure the way Steve Jobs would have envisioned them.  The art of fashion is a timeless thing that is constantly invented and reinvented.  It lasts.  Now some of those earlier inventions and designs may and will incorporate technology.  The art of Bauhaus is coming back in 21st century style with old designs and new capabilities.  It is an inspiring legacy that at times looked back into history to move us forward.  I like fashion.  I like simple elegance.  This is a great time we live in and the future only gets brighter.What started nearly a hundred years ago is being brought back to life and we can all thank Steve Jobs

Goodnight and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann September 17, 2012

Categories Uncategorized