posted by Kevin Russo on Wed 15th Dec 2004 19:15 UTC
IconThough Microsoft is the behemoth that everyone loves to hate, the computing world actually owes a lot to Bill Gates and co. And though it's possible that someone else would have blazed the trail to "a PC on every desktop," in our world, it was Microsoft that did it. Update: Now with page breaks! (My fault -- David)

Computers have been around for decades now, even centuries, if you include the Abacus, which I imagine, although debatable, could be considered the original computer. The ENIAC was the first electronic computer. Built in the 1940's, the machine itself was massive and powered by vacuum tubes. It did little more than the Abacus in a sense that it was designed for numerical calculations. At the time it was a great achievement. No one but top military personnel and scientists had access to it. By today's standards it would be nothing more than a simple calculator. By comparison, today any child can go to the public library and have access to a computer that is thousands of times more powerful.

Unless you have been living behind closed doors and shuttered windows you've no doubt seen the articles and debates about the competition between GNU/Linux and the Microsoft Windows Operating System. Which system is better? Both camps claim to have the better OS. This may actually be the truth of the whole matter. No single Operating system is going to be the best fit for all tasks.

I personally am not a Microsoft advocate. I urge people on a daily basis to use alternative Open Source software when I see an opportunity, such as OpenOffice and Firefox. Both of these programs are available on the Windows platform as well as various others. It's no big deal to install and use Firefox, but trying to get people to abandon their OS in favor of a system they may never have heard of could be like a mission out of a James Bond movie, with more drama than a daytime soap opera. Certain issues that surround Free and Open Source Software must still be evaluated, such as patents and Intellectual Property. These issues cannot be ignored and must be resolved.

However, in all fairness, and to keep history straight, one must acknowledge Microsoft's contribution to the computing industry. Bill Gates had a goal in mind. That goal was to put a Windows based computer on every desktop. He has, for the most part, succeed in his endeavor. At last count, MS Windows, in some form or another, accounted for more than 90% of the desktop market. This figure is slowly starting to decline as the use and acceptance of the Open Source Operating System GNU/Linux Rises. Microsoft is primarily responsible for the proliferation of a 'point and click' computing system built on relatively inexpensive hardware.

It's not necessarily because Microsoft had a superior product. In the early days, Apple computers were the dominant force in desktop computing. But Apple, like all other computer vendors before, were interested in selling a package of hardware and software. Microsoft's early position as an OS provider to IBM, and its later decision to focus on software and let commodity hardware vendors fight over ever-decreasing profits from hardware, was the primary factor in driving down the cost of personal computers. Hardware vendors competed on price, but "the PC" was advanced not by this chaotic gaggle of vendors, but my Microsoft, above the fray.

Add to this Microsoft's formidable marketing ability and ruthless competitive practices, and the Windows platform rose to near absolute dominance in a decade.

Microsoft did not, as we all know, invent computing, but what they did do, as stated earlier, was bring the computer into the home of the average Joe and Jane. It's ironic how it was Microsoft that made computers affordable and now there's the whole debate over TCO/ROI (Total cost of ownership/Return on investment) and licensing fees.

The Redmond bunch is always examined under a microscope. Everyone watches, from financial analysts to security experts. They are sometimes portrayed unfairly. For instance, some say that Microsoft "stole" the windowing system from Apple and they will tell you how Apple was able to hire engineers and license technology from Xerox, the originators of the windowing system. In my opinion these are subtle differences. Microsoft may have cribbed ideas from Apple, and may have abused their partnership, but let's look at the evolution of KDE and GNOME. Didn't they base their windowing environments, to some extent, on Windows? It must be realized that for the computing industry to continue to grow ideas will forever be appropriated, even in the world of proprietary software.

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