A life with windows

A life with windows

Summary: 20 years of Windows: Colin Barker has used and written about Windows since the very first version. Like all long-term relationships, his shared life with Microsoft has had its ups and downs. Twenty years on, is he still faithful?


My first encounter with Windows some 18 years ago was not promising. Working as a freelance IT journalist, I had from time to time been contacted by earnest young public relations executives working for a PR company called Text 100, who wanted to tell me about this great new software.

I knew Text and Microsoft well enough because Microsoft's operating system, MS-DOS, had over a short period of time become the best-selling microcomputer operating system in existence, thanks to a lucrative and very canny contract Microsoft had signed with IBM, the world's largest computer company. IBM paid for the software, and Microsoft got the right to sell it to IBM's competition.

The execs at Text tried to get me interested in this wonderful new operating system called Windows. It would change the world, they told me. They were right of course, but like most of the world I didn't quite see that at the time.

No matter what the success of the IBM PC and Microsoft, it wasn't very interesting as a company. MSDOS was a straight rip-off of CP/M, an older operating system from Digital Research. Windows was a very poor rip-off of Apple's operating system for the then-new Apple Mac. As members of the press, we all knew the Mac and Apple. We liked them. We didn't like rip offs.

Bill Gates further soured our view, not that any further souring was needed. In those days, Bill Gates did not talk to the press — he talked at them. Like his PR company, Bill Gates told us that his company was going to change the world. He told us that we did not know a damn thing about technology. He told us that he knew exactly what the future of the technology world would be — more or less. For some reason, people didn't appreciate being talked to like that, nor did they appreciate that he just didn't care that they didn't appreciate it.

He wasn't right, but it didn't matter. He might not have known more about technology than we ever could, but he knew enough — and that attitude did the rest. He was going to be hugely successful.

That was in the future. Back then, while it was no more necessary to like Bill Gates than it is today, it would have been worthwhile for me to pay a bit more attention to what he was up to.

What he got up to then changed everything...

Topic: Operating Systems


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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  • "XP is a dream. Works fine, rarely crashed and has lots of new features that still keep turning up. Secure, mature."

    Secure! That one word taints the sincerity of your whole story.
    After 2 formats and a third crash in ME I bought XP but made the descision to jump ship. I am now back on a Mac and will be completely rid of my xp machine when I have duplicated my final piece of software this month.
    The air is clear over here.
  • A "Life with Windows"? Get a life already. I did 15 years with Microsoft's knock-off of Apple's operating system and finally put a stake through it's heart when OSX was released.

    That one move restored the joy of using computers and I have never looked back. Now Microsoft is moving to "Vista" and I say where's the beef?

    Just another knock off of a mature Apple OS. Do yourself a favor and just get a Macintosh.