There was a time when the phrase ‘Windows Compatible’ would keep software developers awake at night while they slavishly adapted and jimmied their ageing applications – applications is what we used to call apps, ask your grandparents – so that they didn’t crash every eight seconds on Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system.
The last big platform shift happened in August 1995 when Microsoft shipped the now legendary Windows 95. While there had been iterations of Windows prior to Windows 95, they had been mostly wheezy attempts amounting to no more than experimentation with graphical user interface concepts. And so no serious software business worth its weight in take-out pizza could bring itself to cast aside its MS-DOS codebases and start over again just for Windows.
That all changed with Windows 95 which over the course of 2-3 years killed off the MS-DOS generation – such was the Microsoft world we all lived in.
The world in 1995
- In 1995 there were around 39.5 million people online which is roughly equivalent to less than 4% of the user population of Facebook.
- There were around 20 million cell phones in use; that’s fewer than the total number of Android and iPhone devices activated in the last two weeks.
- Back in ’95 there were around 5,000 commercial software applications compared to more than a
billionmillion apps sitting inside the Apple and Google app stores today.
Looking at these numbers it’s clear that this isn’t as much about Windows compatibility as it is about the fundamental relevance of Windows going forwards, and how it’s now Microsoft execs and engineers being kept awake at night, fighting to ensure Microsoft remains compatible with the rest of the world.
However, while Microsoft certainly isn’t about to overrun by the Angry Birds generation any time soon – in spite of the views of an endless stream of pundits on the news this week – it does recognise the importance and urgency with which it needs to reconstitute itself.
And make no mistake, while Microsoft has been utterly outsmarted on mobile by Apple & Google, it’s no rabbit in the headlights and saw this all coming a long time ago. In fact, you could see this as far back as ten years ago when Microsoft launched its .net play together with its accompanying Software + Services mantra.
It was certainly obvious to me at the time that this was always a temporary, transitional play in the face of a growing threat that Google might be building its own operating system and the need to drag Microsoft’s on premise developer community to the web while ensuring they didn’t instantly abandon the Windows desktop app world (and its then valuable associated revenues) in the process.
“I’ve long since held the view that .net is Microsoft’s play for absolute survival – never mind sustaining its dominance – in the face of the tech real estate shift from Windows PC desktop apps, the territory in which they are numero uno, to the Web where they are very notably not numero uno.” – Gary Turner, April 2004.
That decade long transition came to an end in March 2010 when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ceremoniously declared the Software + Services dog and pony show over in his famed ‘We’re all in the cloud” speech – up to this point you couldn’t hold a conversation with a Microsoft employee who didn’t utter the phrase ‘Software + Services’ every fifteen seconds.
In Ballmer’s 2010 cloud speech ‘Software + Services’ never garnered a single utterance.
And so with it’s ‘All in’ commitment to the cloud and with Windows 8 now here, Microsoft is now embarking on a new phase of its journey, one where the once faint prospect of worthy competition is now very real and where a generation of cloud apps is now coming into full bloom.
So, over to you – has Microsoft done enough in the last ten years to ensure its on-going compatibility with the modern world?