In the Holiday 2008 issue of Maximum PC we published a list called “9 Things Microsoft Got Right.” It was a lovely list, of course, but thanks to the space limitations of the print magazine we weren’t able to go into much detail about each of the items on it. We decided that the topic was interesting enough that it deserved more than that, so we’ve rewritten it for the web, with more information and analysis.
So, without further ado, here’s our list of the top 9 things that Microsoft got right:
Mainstreaming the PC
Early PCs were anything but user-friendly. Incredibly esoteric interfaces were hardly intuitive, and sky-high price-points meant that anyone who wanted to learn to use the machines had to be either independently wealthy or willing to give up their earthly attachments just to buy in.
Not that early Windows machines were cheap, either, but they were relatively easy to use, and by appealing to the users who didn’t have the knowhow to use earlier OSes, Microsoft grew the userbase of its software, pushing PCs into the mainstream and subsequently forcing down prices.
The “Mostly Open” Platform
Calm down, Linux-lovers, no one’s going to claim that Windows is open source; just that Microsoft’s thorough and well-documented APIs have been a major factor in the rise of Windows as the dominant platform. Those APIs, in addition to the Redmond giant’s ongoing commitment to fostering a strong community of developers, have ensured a steady stream of killer apps for Windows, securing Microsoft’s place as top dog.
The Xbox wasn’t the first console with online gaming (that honor goes to the criminally under-appreciated Sega Dreamcast) but it was the first to do it successfully. By requiring a broadband connection to access Xbox Live, Microsoft ensured the service would run much more quickly than the online offerings of its competitors (which didn’t even include Ethernet ports standard). And by unifying user’s accounts and community features across all games, Microsoft created a single, brand-able online experience.
Although the Xbox was never a serious contender for its generation’s top console, the success of Xbox Live, and its subsequent improvements on the 360 have proven that online gaming isn’t just for the PC.
Pushing Minimum Hardware Specification
Just like any software, Windows has system requirements, and with each version, the minimum system specs get goosed somewhat higher. On one hand, this is necessary to allow Microsoft to keep pushing the technical capabilities of its OS. But beyond just that, the Windows minimum system specs give developers who want their app to be runnable by all Windows users a lowest common denominator to shoot for. By incrementally increasing the minimum specifications, Microsoft raises this ceiling and ensures that applications continue to evolve.
The Mouse as a Business Tool
The mouse, which just recently had its 40th birthday, is nearly ubiquitous on the desktop computer. But everyone’s favorite peripheral hasn’t always been so popular; it took Microsoft’s Windows to make it that way.
That’s not to say that Windows was the first OS to utilize a mouse; the Macintosh GUI allowed users to point and click a year before Windows did. However, the device wasn’t taken seriously as anything more than a toy until Windows 3.x got wide acceptance as an office tool.
Bringing TCP/IP to the Masses
Microsoft’s decision to include a TCP/IP stack in Windows 95 was proof that the Redmond giant understood the growing importance of the internet as a tool for a broad consumer base. Together with the included version of Internet Explorer, this made a huge number of Windows users into first-time web surfers.
Supporting Legacy Devices and Apps at All Costs
Whenever Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, they get some flak over compatibility issues with programs written for previous versions of the OS. Despite this, Windows has the biggest backwards compatibility team in the industry, famous for writing “shims” for specific apps and games to make sure they work on newer versions of Windows, even when the app is incompatible because of shoddy programming on the original creators’ parts.
So even if they don’t get it right all the time, Windows has proven that they get the fundamental fact that if an upgraded version of an OS breaks your users programs, it’s not an upgrade at all.
Our younger reader may not remember this, but there was a time when playing a game involved more than just double-clicking an icon. Instead, you had to exit Windows, boot up in DOS and run the game from there, all because developers preferred to write their games for DOS, which gave them direct access to the computer’s components, such as the display adapter. Fortunately, Microsoft understood how important it was to get developers writing games for Windows, so they created DirectX, a set of APIs that allowed programs to interface directly with the devices needed to create compelling media on the PC.
By listening to developers and giving them the tools they needed, Microsoft allowed gaming to flourish on the PC. If they hadn’t, who knows what modern games would be like…
Alright, so maybe the verdict is still out on the recent Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads. Nonetheless, the commercials did get one thing right. One brilliant inclusion proved that Microsoft truly, profoundly understands the zeitgeist of modern tech culture. The factor in question? Yes, that’s right: the churro factor.
Think what you will about the rest of the ads, but you cannot deny that churros are indeed a warm, chewy, cinnamon-dusted treat, and Microsoft can’t go wrong in associating their brand with the fried Spanish delicacy.