This morning’s Observer column:
One of my favourite cartoons shows a team of scientists in a Nasa control room clustered around a big screen. Their spacecraft has just landed on a very distant planet and has begun transmitting data back to base. A guy in overalls is saying to his assembled colleagues: “Now all we have to do is figure out how to install Windows 95.”
Ah yes, Windows 95… I remember it well. It signified the moment when Microsoft finally managed to implement the user interface invented by Xerox in the early 70s. It was launched with the biggest hype-storm that the computer industry – or indeed any other industry – had ever seen. Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones an unconscionable amount of money (we never found out how much) to use Start Me Up as the musical backdrop for the launch. The first internet boom, triggered by the web and the Netscape browser, was just beginning to roll and Windows 95 was the first Microsoft operating system to have a TCP/IP stack (needed to connect to the internet) baked in.
Back then, the PC was the sun in the computing universe around which everything else revolved. And Microsoft controlled well over 90% of the PC software market. So Windows 95 really was a big deal.
Last week, 20 years on, Microsoft launched Windows 10 with the kind of faded hoopla that accompanies 60s discos…
And then, of course, there is the fact that Microsoft is one of the very few large corporations that is still doing serious, high-quality, long-term research.