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Windows, 20 Years Later

By on Dec 26, 2005 in Stop The Press, Tech Takes | 0 comments

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Wow, I came across this article on Yahoo! News Tech Tuesday and you must read this. This is the review Windows got when it was first launched. It gives a pretty nostalgic feeling when you read it, and is sometimes funny, especially the way they have described mice!

A pair of decades ago, Microsoft unleashed Windows on an unsuspecting public. In the run-up to Windows 1.0, PC World’s then-Technical Manager Steve Cook wrote the magazine’s first in-depth Windows preview. Because it’s fun to learn from the past, here’s an abridged version of his 1984 story, originally published almost two years before the product shipped. Notice the care he took describing how a mouse works. If you’d like to reminisce about past technology, hit the Discuss link at the end of this article. Mac fans, this is your chance to vent about 20 years of Microsoft co-opting Apple Computer’s best ideas.

Microsoft Windows made quite a stir when it was announced at Comdex in Las Vegas last November [1984]. The program runs popular software using windows and mice and was demonstrated simultaneously by more than a dozen vendors.

Windows and mice have recently become very popular topics in the personal computer industry. Windows because they allow computers to present information in a way that closely resembles the way people work, and mice because they are the best device yet devised for converting human instructions to computer actions. Windows and mice are both the result of research done at Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center during the early seventies.

Mice are technically known as “pointing devices,” because they are used to move the cursor and point to locations on the screen. A mouse is generally about the size of a deck of cards, fits comfortably in one hand, and is designed to rest on the table next to the computer keyboard. When you move the mouse, it sends information to the computer to indicate direction and distance, which the computer translates into cursor movements on the screen.

Mice have been available for several years, but their use is not widespread, probably because most popular programs are not designed to take advantage of them. Consumers won’t buy mice unless programs use them, and software companies don’t want to write the programs unless consumers have mice. Further compounding the problem is the fact that there is no standard way to connect a mouse to a computer.

Windows have been used for many years. If you have used WordStar or have programmed in BASIC on the IBM PC, you have already seen windows in action. WordStar uses separate windows to display command menus and text, and BASIC uses a one-line window at the bottom of the screen to display the values assigned to the function keys. A window is an area of the screen that operates independently from the rest of the screen.
Microsoft Windows

The ideal mouse-and-window system would be inexpensive, would work with off-the-shelf programs, and would require a minimal amount of disk storage and memory. That is a good description of Microsoft Windows. It works with most off-the-shelf software, requires only two floppy disk drives and 192K of memory, and is intended to be sold at low cost or included with DOS when buying a computer. The product is scheduled for release in April. (Note: It actually didn’t come out until November 1985, a foreshadowing of the company’s penchant for delayed releases).

Microsoft Windows is an extension of MS-DOS, providing a standard interface to the mouse and the screen in the same way that MS-DOS itself provides a standard interface to disk drives and other devices.

Microsoft divides programs that will work with Microsoft Windows into three categories. In the first category are programs that use standard MS-DOS functions to perform all input and output. These programs work well with Microsoft Windows and can share the display with similar programs. The second type are those that perform their own screen operations. Most spreadsheet programs fall into this category because the MS-DOS screen functions are too slow to provide the fast changes in the screen display necessary for good performance.

In the third category are programs that have been designed to operate in conjunction with Microsoft Windows. Such programs are portable; the same program can be run on two different machines and can make the best use of each machine’s capabilities. Microsoft Windows automatically compensates for the differences. These programs also benefit from Microsoft Windows’ extensive library of special functions, such as the ability to pass data between windows.

Functional Description

Unlike other window-management systems, Microsoft Windows does not have overlapping windows. Instead, it uses a technique called “tiling,” which arranges windows to fill the screen completely and make the best use of the screen display area. According to Microsoft Windows Product Manager Scott McGregor, research has shown that most users prefer to have windows arranged neatly.

Windows in Microsoft Windows are normally composed of four parts. At the top is the caption, which shows the name of the program or file using the window. Below the caption is an optional menu area and below that the window-display area. Finally, there are horizontal and vertical scroll bars. Scroll bars allow the user to visualize which portion of the data can be seen through the window. Moving the scroll bars with the mouse changes the contents of the window.

At the left and right edges of the caption are icons, symbolic representations of functions that Microsoft Windows can perform. To execute a function you simply move the mouse to position the cursor over the icon and then press a button. Icons are much easier to use than typed commands, and they convey information more rapidly.

Hardware manufacturers will also benefit because Microsoft Windows uses installable device drivers for the mouse and the video display. Manufacturers will be able to provide a device driver without concern for the programs that the buyer will be using.

Microsoft Windows insulates programs from the actual mouse and screen hardware, which means that advances in technology are realized as consumer products much more rapidly. Software companies will need to sell only one version of a program; the Microsoft Windows interface for any particular machine will be written by the hardware manufacturer.
Technical Notes

Microsoft intends to modify all of its programming languages to support Microsoft Windows, and as the software gains popularity, you can expect to see more programs designed to take advantage of its special features.

One special feature allows an application program to “register interest” in another program’s data. Microsoft Windows will inform the first program whenever the data changes. A graphics program, for example, can use this feature to draw a new graph whenever data from a spreadsheet program changes.

Although Microsoft representatives refused to discuss DOS 3.00, they did indicate that Microsoft Windows has been designed to take advantage of the multitasking abilities of that prospective operating system. Under DOS 2.00, you may display several windows, but only one window is active at a time. Multitasking will allow users to run several programs simultaneously; for example, a communications program can run in one window while a word-processing program is used in another.

Microsoft Windows should have a lasting effect on the entire personal computer industry. It frees hardware manufacturers to concentrate their efforts on producing the best possible product without regard for maintaining compatibility with any other machine. For software authors, it means that programs can be sold to a much wider market because differences among computers will no longer require time-consuming modifications. For the consumer, Microsoft Windows provides tremendous fle
xibility in the selection and use of computers.

Hope you enjoyed reading it!

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