Digging into the history bin (AKA: Microsoft Developer says that Windows is useless)

As I was writing my “25 years of Larry’s history at Microsoft in 1 year chunks” blog posts, I spent a fair amount of time digging through my email archives (trying to figure out exactly what happened at what time).  During this, I ran into a link to a post I’d made on the Info-IBMPC mailing list mailing list back in 1992:

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 92 12:44:39 PST
From: lar...@microsoft.com
Subject: What do you do with your windows? (V92 #36)

|| >From: m...@Violin.CC.MsState.Edu (Mubashir Cheema)

||   I recently acquired Windows 3.0 and I don't seem to understand one
|| thing.  What is it for?  What do I do with it?  What major advantage
|| does it have over Dos?  (I don't see any except being able to use mouse
|| and also the thing is bit more colorful) I think it was made for lazy
|| people who couldn't learn couple of DOS commands.

||   Don't tell me I could multi-task with it. I've been using Amigas
|| extensively

I've got to jump in here, even though I suspect that there will probably be some form of an "official" response from MS if anyone in the DOS/Windows group is listening...... :)

I'm going to be brutally honest about this one. Basically, Windows by itself IS pretty useless. The thing that makes Windows great is the same thing that has made DOS the most popular operating system in history. It's the applications that are available for it.

GUI's (Graphical User Interfaces) have been proven to be significantly easier for users to understand for beginning users, and are arguably the wave of the future. I don't know of a significant operating system being introduced for the PC market that doesn't have a GUI available on it, be it PM, X, GEM, or Windows. Windows is arguably the best GUI available for DOS based on what I consider the most significant criteria: What applications are available for the platform.

Consider the list of available windows apps: Excel, WinWord, PageMaker, Corel Draw, WordPerfect, Lotus 123, etc just to name a couple off the
top of my head.

You also hit on one of the significant reasons to use Windows - Multi-tasking.

Windows is a non pre-emptive multi-tasking operating system.  On a 386, it does an ok job of multi-tasking multiple DOS applications, but on a
286 it functions as a simple task switcher like DOS 5 does.  It really shines when multi-tasking Windows applications however.

In addition, when you couple the multi-tasking capabilities of Windows with a windows mechanism known as DDE (for Dynamic Data Exchange), you
can generate some truly incredible synergy between Windows applications. With Win 3.0/Win 3.1 Microsoft has introduced a concept
known as OLE (Open Linking and Embedding) which allows you to cut and past from multiple "applets" allowing applications to take advantage of
the capabilities of other shipped applications.  This allows an applet like an equation editor to manage all the information about formatting
an equation even when the equation is embedded in a word document. With OLE, you can simply double-click on the object and bring up the
"agent" that manages it (in my example, the equation editor).

For application developers, Windows gives developers the ability to develop their applications without knowing anything about the
underlying hardware of the machine - a windows application that runs on a machine with a CGA adapter will also run on a machine with a graphics
accelerator that runs in 1024x1024 with 24 bits of color.

In addition, when you write an application for windows, your application instantly will support literally hundreds of printers
transparently - Windows does all the work for you.

To re-iterate, Windows as a stand-alone product is not extraordinarily interesting - there are lots of productivity packages that provide
similar functionality to users, the real benefit of Windows is the applications that run on it.

I will also point out that there are more than 5000 Windows applications available today and still more will come out with Win 3.1.
The available windows applications span all ranges of applications from games (Microsoft's Entertainment pack, Berkley-Soft's After Dark, and
Sierra's Laffer Utilities for Windows) to Spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3) to Word processors (Microsoft Word For Windows,
Lotus Ami), to Desktop publishing (Aldus Pagemaker, Microsoft Publisher), to presentation graphics (Microsoft Powerpoint), to
development tools (Microsoft Visual Basic) etc......

Larry Osterman

Disclaimer:  The opinions above are my own.  They are not necessarily the same as those of Microsoft.  I only work here.

Remember that this was written back in 1992 after Windows 3.0 had come out but before Windows 3.1.  There was no Win32, no web browser, no multimedia support, none of the things that we all take for granted in a modern system.  Back then a display card that supported 1Kx1K with 24bit color was considered a monster display card (and hard disks still came in “megabytes” – I remember buying a 2G hard disk back then for about a thousand dollars).

Reading this again, I find it vaguely funny that in many ways my feelings about Windows haven’t really changed that much in 18 years – the value of the Windows platform is STILL the applications available for that platform (although the number of applications has grown from the 5000 or so back in 1992 to several million applications).