When Windows first launched, it wasn't an operating system; rather, it was a GUI (graphical user interface) that was designed to make the computer more user-friendly for the average user. In a lot of ways, it was Microsoft's answer for the Apple Macintosh, which was released in 1984-remember the 'Big Brother' ad that ran during the Super Bowl? Some would say that Microsoft is still playing catch up to Apple, and in some ways it is, but I don't think it's because of its operating system.
When Microsoft first launched Windows, Bill Gates said that Windows 1.0, which carried a suggested retail price of $99 in 1985, was 'unique software' that would provide 'unprecedented power to users today and a foundation for hardware and software advancements of the next few years.'
He was certainly right about that. Windows has become the dominant operating system and is clearly the foundation of personal computing. But as it turns 25, it's a good time to think a little bit about the future. Will that trend possibly continue?
The first obstacle Windows faces is the rise of the mobile device. Whether it's smartphones, PDAs or tablets, people are starting to compute on much different platforms than they have over the last 25 years. Again, Microsoft seems to have fallen behind in this space. Apple is the current leader with the iPhone and iPad, but even Google has become a strong competitor with its Android operating platform. Microsoft just launched its most recent phone platform-Windows Phone 7-but will it be good enough to overtake the leaders again? And the next wave of Microsoft tablets are poised to be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show - putting it close to two years behind Apple.
The other variable we have to consider is cloud computing. For all its mystery and ambiguity, the "cloud" is about moving power away from the desktop computer and putting it into the data center. To the user, this means using applications that are hosted on the Internet and that run from any device, anywhere. The operating system is not the best vehicle for enabling this-the Web browser is. So really, as we talk about the power of computing going forward, we're more likely to be talking about Internet Explorer 9 or Chrome 2.0 instead of Windows 8 or Mac OS 11. Again, Microsoft finds itself in the position of playing catch-up.
So there is no doubt Windows has changed and shaped our world. But, like any 25-year-old, it finds itself at a bit of a crossroad. The fun and good times of youth are slowly moving behind it, and right now it's being smacked in the face with the responsibility of becoming an adult. I can't believe how fast our little one is growing up!