It was 20 years ago today ...
So sang the Beatles in 1967. Other than Sergeant Pepper teaching the band how to play, I'm not sure what occurred 20 years earlier in 1947. However, 1995 is a bit clearer - it was 20 years ago today (this week) in August 1995 that Microsoft released Windows 95.
Windows 95 took the world by storm. It was the first widely accepted graphical user interface. People lined up at stores at midnight to buy it, in lines not matched by Microsoft's release of Windows 98 although seen with some of Apple's iPhone releases. Microsoft appeared to have everything going for it, and its stock seemed on a perpetual upward bound (even my father bought Microsoft stock).
20 years later, times have changed; Microsoft battled the DOJ for nearly a decade about Internet Explorer, today the consumer market is focused on smart phones and tablets -- and Microsoft seems to have tumbled from its perch -- iPhones, iPads, and Android devices get a lot of market share and attention in the press.
Windows 95 was a consumer product. Ever since then, Microsoft has faced the enigma of whether to have separate code bases for its user-based operating systems - one for consumers, one for business. While having a single code base appears to makes sense from a development and financial standpoint, it seems to be a challenge when it comes to customer satisfaction. Microsoft did a good job of meshing the two lines with Windows XP, which had both consumer and professional versions. After Windows XP, we have seen Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x, and now Windows 10. While Microsoft stumbled with Vista, Windows 8, and Windows Phone, Apple was busy charming the world with the iPhone and iPad. Apple and Droids have gained momentum, market share, and third party developers - those can be challenging to get back.
And it's not just the operating system. Consider cloud computing, where Microsoft is working very hard to be a key player. Here again, they want to have a single code base - that is, to have the "on premise" software seem like it's in the cloud. The theory is everyone is moving to the cloud, so on-prem becomes a distraction, perhaps even legacy code. The question again is whether a single solution works for everyone. Do you desert one market in the hopes that it will move to where you are going? What if you gave a party and nobody came?
Perhaps ZDNet is correct, Windows 95 was both the start and the end of an era in Microsoft's history. 20 years from now, will anyone remember it?
This story, "It was 20 years ago today ..." was originally published by Network World.