300 years of effort – Microsoft Windows ’95 #history

Windows95Extract from The PC Pioneers

On this day in 1995 Microsoft Windows 95 had achieved code stability, its ten million lines of code had taken 300 person-years of effort!

“Computers are like air conditioners.  They work fine until you start opening windows.” Anon

Windows 1.0 was launched at COMDEX in November 1985, and first shipments were made straight after it on 20th November, selling at $99.95 per copy.  It was not yet ‘fit for purpose’ as it still had bugs and proved to be slow.

But Microsoft was adopting an approach to its products that it termed launch then improve’.  I guess this was a slight improvement on the early PC hardware manufacturers who often tended to launch then create’.

At Apple, Jean-Louis Gassée was jubilant; he felt Windows was not going to be a real competitor to Mac.  In truth Windows 1.0 was much closer to the GUI originally developed back at PARC and had few of the enhancements that Apple had wrought in developing the Mac.  Gassée saw it was a weak GUI with very clunky, consisting of tiled windows that could not overlap each other.

But John Sculley had a different reaction.  He believed the implementation had used Apple proprietary material; it had an almost identical menu bar, drop-down menus and many other features that were virtually identical.  It even bundled Write and Paint, just as Mac had done with MacWrite and MacPaint.  At this time Apple was a $1bn turnover operation, Microsoft a mere $140 million upstart’ and he was not going to sit back and let it steal ‘his’ material.

An Apple lawyer was despatched northward to take legal action against Microsoft.  Microsoft was shocked as it believed it had its deals in place with Apple and Xerox for the use of the GUI technologies.  Neither wanted a protracted legal battle.  Microsoft was moving towards its initial public offering.  Apple needed all its attention focused on making the Mac a success; Apple III and Lisa were still all too fresh in their memories.

In the event Microsoft threatened to remove its support of the Office applications for Mac and Sculley capitulated.  He gave Microsoft a non-exclusive, non-transferable, worldwide, royalty-free and perpetual deal for its Mac GUI in present and future software packages.  In return Microsoft agreed that its software had indeed derived from Lisa and Mac and committed to more software support for the Mac, including a deal that would see Excel as a Mac-only platform until October 1986.  This was signed on 22nd November 1985, just two days after Windows 1.0 was first shipped – Microsoft must have had a good chuckle!

RANDOM ACCESS MOMENT: Sticks and stones – MS-DOS aficionados often dismissed the Apple Mac OS as WIMP – nothing to do with failure to outwit Gates, but based upon windows, icons, mice and pointers interface.  When Windows came of age as Windows 95, Apple fans would chant ‘Windows 95 – Apple 85’ and Apple itself would lump all its Windows-based competition into one dismissive name of WINTEL (Windows-Intel).

Windows 1.0 flopped and attracted little third party software.  Aldus PageMaker was in fact the first but not until January 1987.  Of course it was the very small Windows installed base that discouraged software authors from doing anything to remedy this.

When later Apple sought legal action against Microsoft for subsequent versions of Windows it had been guilty of not having read the small print in its Microsoft contract. Did you notice it in the list of terms of the 22nd November 1985 deal between Apple and Microsoft?  It included the notion of perpetuity!  Well Apple had not and they believed they had signed a deal that was just for Windows 1.0 so on this basis their current complaint proved to have no foundation.

RANDOM ACCESS MOMENT: It does make you ponder just what you are agreeing when you tick something unread, to suggest that you have read, understood and agree the terms and conditions when you buy a Microsoft package.  It is just too dull to read through the clauses.

As if to prove my point, a UK games retailer called Gamestation on 1st April 2010 changed its website terms and conditions to say it owned the customer’s soul in perpetuity.  88% of their customers happily ticked without query, the 12% that did check it got a £5 voucher for spotting the joke.  Gamestation, the 21st century Mephistopheles, then sent the following email to the 88% of Faustians,

“Little did you realise that upon your last purchase from Gamestation.co.uk you also granted us a right to claim your humanity…   …To avoid future fatalities, always check the terms and conditions.

However, as Gamestation customer services conjurer I have been informed by HR that this little clause of mine is, apparently, not playing fair.  So I’m releasing you from your part of the soul bargain.”

I have to admit that I am surprised to discover that as many as 12 per cent of people read the terms and conditions.  I had assumed that everyone ignored them.

In August 1995 Windows 95 was released and this was its most successful version; with some ten million lines of code and having consumed 300 person-years of effort it was certainly the biggest too.  By December 1995 it had sold 11.4 million copies, with 19 million PCs being supplied with Windows 95 as its OS.  By the end of 1996 some 65 million copies had been sold.

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