Category Archives: Microsoft

First Encounters with Internet Technology

The following post is my essay I submitted for peer review for my Coursera course, Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance. The question to be answered: Write an essay about how you first encountered the Internet or an earlier networking technology. Describe the technologies you were using, some of the activities you did “on line”, and tell us how having a new form of communication changed the way you think about the world.

The first two weeks of the course have been an enjoyable stroll down technology memory lane. If you are interested I believe you can still get in the course. Here is my essay:

I was a young chemist sparked by the discovery of computer programming at the end of my college career and then ignited with the purchase of an Apple II computer in 1979. My obsession with this new computational freedom motivated me to open my own computer store with a college buddy in 1980.

Scientific Frontiers Grand Opening 1981

Computer Store Looks to Future

I was programing on an HP 85 and we sold mostly CP/M based computers. Commodore emerged as our main microcomputer product line. A product that we tried to sell which I totally believed in was the “The Source”, it may have been the first online consumer service. Readers Digest believed in this enough to pay 6 million for the service in 1980. It was touted as a self-help service with a Google type dream search of that time. Access to the UPI newswire and conceptually encyclopedia type information had me believing it would change the world. However, technology was based on 300 or maybe 1200 baud acoustic modems with very few local call options. The cost per line of knowledge never built an acceptable ROI, but I do believe we saw the future. I still have one of the coffee mugs that we gave away for promotion.Source Mug

During the same period of time when I owned the computer store I travelled to Las Vegas to attend “Comdex”, pretty sure it was the fall of 1981. I was mostly interested in the battle lines that were forming between Apple and this new IBM PC. But at that show I remember checking out the Xerox Star workstation, famous for presenting the concept of the Graphical User Interface. I was impressed but did not get it. I remember scoffing at the idea of linking your hand via a mouse to activity on the computer screen. Oh well, I was not as imaginative as the Steve Jobs who did see the potential.

After the computer store and a fling with the Oil Shale boom and bust, my career moved to Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley, in 1987. I was in heaven, driving through the bay area at that time was like perusing a live PC Magazine. By then I believed in Windows and actually did a lot with HP’s New Wave interface. The Bay area was exciting up until the earthquake in 1989. That combined with the effect of California’s Proposition 13 on public school funding caused me to request that HP move my young family to Cincinnati in 1990. I was a systems engineer supporting the LIMS and LAS market segment, that is Laboratory Information and Instrumentation Management which matched well with my chemistry background. My early viewpoint of the “Internet” was shaped by how great the open access to DOS and Windows apps via the BBS services had become. Do you remember the “Wildcat BBS” software that was the engine for most of those services?

Access to the BBS services in the early 90’s was exploding into viable business opportunities. I used to maintain a “Best of the BBS Apps” floppy disk where I would store the coolest PC tools and screen savers of the day. I would always be asked by my customers for the latest copy of that diskette. The Hayes Smartmodem was reliable, affordable and fast enough to open the door for the geeks of the day to explore the potential of this new world of information. This reminds me of the second technology opportunity that “I did not get”. It was probably late 1992 when a co-worker of mine in Cincinnati was involved with a BBS out of Dayton, OH. He asked me one day if I would be interested in an opportunity to link his BBS to ARPANET a connection he had via a friend at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There was some cost involved and as I remember access was limited to a small number of users, but my question was more about what value ARPANET would provide. I could envision the potential of public access to what the academic community was playing with and open source collaboration seemed to be alive and well. I didn’t see how a path through ARPANET was going to help. But it wasn’t about ARPANET it was about seeing the potential of what soon became the World Wide Web, WWW. We were actually talking about developments taking place in this arena since we were playing with the early concept of HTML and the MOSAIC project in our X-Terminal environment.

It is fun to look back and second guess. There were lots of winners and losers. Remember Ashton-Tate’s dBASE or VisiCalc? I never thought Microsoft would amount to anything and with respect to the Internet they really didn’t. I remember how brilliant I thought Bill Gates approach was to the Internet in wanting to carve out a cost per transaction. Trouble is he never could gain control of the connection. Oh well, it was fun writing this assignment for my Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” and I am definitely interested in how this peer review grading is going to work.

Remembering Windows 3.1

When I saw this article “Windows 3.1 Twenty Years Later” from PC Magazine today, I asked myself, where was I and how did Windows 3.1 influence my life.


Microsoft Windows 3.1

Microsoft Windows 3.1


I was working for Hewlett-Packard and the Windows based PC was our standard computing environment. Yes, we were using it to access UNIX and RTE based systems but we were also developing products that relied on Windows. And the hopes for a more stable Windows were very real for us System Engineers. We had been propping up Windows 2.0 then 3.0 with HP’s NewWave, and that computing life was not stable. We had analytical instrumentation workstation software running on Windows that had strict requirements.

Opening multiple windows gave us the false illusion that we were running multiple programs at the same time. No we were just using the windows as placeholders, but Win 3.1 gave us hope. The Windows Registry was born giving us nerds the power over the general users. Screen savers spawned an industry of gimmicky apps that in some ways rivaled todays app store. Our customers were so excited when we would pass along the latest new screen saver apps that we had pulled off some BBS. I guess Win 3.1 also ushered in the Golden Age of Microsoft. We then got Win 3.11 or Windows for Workgroups. Remember how amazing the concept of sharing files between PCs was. We knew that true multi-tasking was on the horizon.

Oh well, that was fun, just felt like sharing those memories.

Clash of the Tech Titans

I have not been in the blog posting mood for the last week which is mostly due to my recovery from getting a new hip. The new hip is fine, but the rest of the body has not gotten back to a good equilibrium until recently. So just some quick thoughts related to Apple’s Quarterly Report to get me back into the flow.

It just amazes me how quickly Apple has not just turned things around but have generated and grown new revenue streams. 8.75 million in iPhone sales for the last quarter is just flat out impressive for any consumer item. So I was reviewing the Business Insider article Microsoft’s Desperate Search for a New Market to Dominate, which did a good job of laying out what Microsoft’s revenue generating opportunities are. But then I took a look at Apple’s Product Revenue Chart compared to Microsoft’s and you realize how important market domination is, it should be an emerging market. And then look at Google’s Revenue Chart and you realize how Google will be competing for those same markets all fueled by their advertising revenue. It will be an interesting time for the tech industry’s Clash of the Titans.

FaceBook in Retirement Communities

Our university has a special relationship with a retirement community, Friendsview, next to campus. Plenty of mutual benefit activity with our nursing program, tech support and foster grandparent program. We helped them build a computer lab 3 years ago and it has been a glowing success primarily for their residents to use email. I just met with their tech committee and the main discussion was about moving forward. Their situation echoed my thoughts on how computing is changing. They have tried to offer computer classes to their residents, but thanks to our societal Microsoft central attitudes they ventured down the MS Office App course path. And guess what – no relevance anymore. So we had an enlightening conversation about carefully introducing their residents to FaceBook. Unfortunately there is great fear about venturing into that dangerous world of the Internet, however, I do think the time is right for them. Their community participates heavily in activities designed to improve memory or anything that helps to keep mental capacity sharp. You know, I would bet some farming responsibilities in FaceBook would be quite beneficial as an activity. But of course a simpler way to connect with their kids is the real draw, but reconnecting with old friends is why FaceBook is booming with our older population.

Writing, Printing & Publishing has Changed

Document format has always been a key to control of software selection and retention. That dominance not only guaranteed Microsoft’s control of the Office Suite market but also allowed them to create a renewable market with manipulation of their format. We in tech support were forced to upgrade our MS Office Suite in order to eliminate the user hassles with their inability to open the new formats. But what about all of those great new features in MS Word that allowed us to be so much more effective writers.

The point of my post – communication has changed. Those impressive writing features in programs like MS Word are more in the way now. 20 years ago we communicated by means of a printed document, 10 years ago printed format was still important. But how many printed documents do you create today? We write for electronic distribution today and that medium handles the format for us. Benefits of MS Word have allowed for more elegant authoring in Outlook, but again, the trend is obvious. It reminds me of the advice offered in Paul McDougall’s InformationWeek article: “7 Things Microsoft Must Do in 2010”. Cut the price of Windows and free Office. I actually thought of this post while reading about competition between Apple and Google. Competition based on the relevant tech business market that Microsoft is not a part of. And I realized that Apple’s publishing tools such as iLife and iWork and even Google Apps are so much more relevant to this electronic publishing era, price is right as well.

Microsoft’s Groove could have been a Wave

I suppose anyone who has spent time playing with Google’s Wave application will be inspired to blog about it. My comment is just that it is amazing and it will change the world of digital collaborative communication. What I want to mention is why Microsoft didn’t turn their Groove into Wave. About 5 years ago the Wave of the day was a product called Groove. It was far ahead of its time with respect to group collaboration. Microsoft purchased it and eventually bundled it with Office.

Office Groove 2007 is a collaboration software program that helps teams work together dynamically and effectively, even if team members work for different organizations, work remotely, or work offline.

Well, I can’t say that I have heard much about Groove for a while, but I’m sure it is still the best option for a client server based group collaboration tool. Of course the world is moving to the Cloud and I don’t think Groove will be there competing with Google’s Wave. These two applications are representative of the strategic positioning of the 2 companies. From all that I’ve seen with Wave so far, I am convinced that it will redefine how we collaborate, it will eventually replace email as we know it, and it will make $billions for Google by enhancing the value of their data mining product. So do you place your bet on Google’s open Cloud model or Microsoft’s Office tethered Cloud model? I can’t imagine not embracing Wave so obviously leveraging other Google Apps will be influenced by that direction.

Microsoft Office Forced to Go Free

Who would have thought that Microsoft would one day be the pawn that they once played when they took out Borland by undercutting all of their software. Microsoft is not only being forced to offer their software for free but they are being forced to adopt Google’s business strategy. That is not necessarily bad, it is just that Microsoft will be at a great disadvantage while they try to learn the advertising based software revenue market. Great potential though with their huge installed based dabbling with this free online version with the potential to generate a healthy advertising profit. Let’s hope Microsoft does well enough to at least create a stalemate for competition. That is how we will all come out the winners.

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