In 1991, software was a toddler

ZDNet's 20th anniversary: Paula Rooney looks back on what was hot and what wasn't in 1991.

In the fall of 1991, as the Clarence Thomas hearings were well underway, I moved back to Boston to become a new reporter at PCWeek, covering word processors and other applications.

At that time, many of the top apps were on DOS -- and WordPerfect of Utah, and Lotus 1-2-3 -- led the pack. Microsoft itself introduced MS DOS 5.0 that year but its big bet was on Windows -- and the hot shot in the industry was pushing developers to build apps on its new platform.

Windows 3.0 was on the market at the time. Windows 3.1 was the successor positioned to lead the business masses from DOS and OS/2 to the GUI OS, but its success was not a given.

Microsoft's Word for Windows and Excel for Windows were gaining speed against WordPerfect and Lotus -- but Microsoft was no doubt the underdog in all categories. Much to its chagrin, WordPerfect hesitated developing a Windows version of its rival word processing platform and lost key market share as a result -- and, of course, lost share after the debut of Microsoft's Office suite.

This was the toddler stage of the PC industry. Multimedia and collaborative apps were on the drawing board but not yet deployed. Microsoft that year purchased the company whose email would become Microsoft Mail -- but no companies were then deploying email.

CompuServe was hot. Yeah, CompuServe. I remember walking to the newsroom library to access the CompuServe terminal to find any new bug reports on applications on those forums.

The pendulum was clearly swinging to the client server model. It took almost 20 years to get the best of both worlds: a modern virtualized server, centralized and mainframe-like, serving applications services to all kinds of PCs and personal devices with no degradation in power, GUI or usability.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates -- who still flew coach class on American in those days -- held his first Windows World in 1991. He was indeed a visionary. But even he couldn't fathom how the clouds floating in the background of his Windows GUI would come to dominate the infrastructure of the future.

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