Flashback 1990: The debut of Windows 3.0
It is May 1990. For several months, reporters had been prepared by Microsoft to cover what was being billed as the most important event in the history of software. It was the beginning, we were told, of the end of DOS, and the birth of a new software "ecosystem" that enabled independent developers to build graphical applications for the first time, without having to jump through the many hoops and stroke the countless egos of Apple. Microsoft would have a hands-off policy in the development of software that supports what was being called, for the first time, the Windows Operating Environment.
Sure, it still used the MS-DOS bootstrap, but don't tell anyone that. And sure, that bootstrap still required 640K of conventional RAM, but don't tell anyone that either. The real benefits were to be seen in something Macintosh itself couldn't do: run more than one application at once, with true multitasking and pipelining for the very first time...and all in color.
The prospects for applications were boundless, and Microsoft wanted to be seen as opening all the doors and not stepping through them first. The first question in journalists' minds was, would there be a counterpart to Hypercard? Without a Hypercard, Windows may as well be broken. Rest assured, we were told, a company called Asymmetrix would provide the toolkit that would revolutionize programming, with a bit of Microsoft's funding. The next generation metaphors for Windows were being created not by Microsoft but by Hewlett-Packard, for a product called NewWave -- again, Microsoft made certain journalists knew, with its help but not its supervision. And the world would know Windows was for real when it used an everyday spreadsheet with a name familiar to everyone: Lotus 1-2-3 G.
In the spring of the turn of the decade, I had a regular series in a magazine that was widely considered to be "Computer Shopper in exile," called Vulcan's Computer Buyer's Guide, staffed by many former Shopper regulars who would, like myself, become regulars there again once a dispute with the new owners, Ziff-Davis, was resolved. I had the lead role in covering the biggest software release in history, for a magazine whose editors told me flat out, "Use as much space as you need."
Months earlier, Microsoft had granted me some of the first demonstrations of Dynamic Data Exchange ever shown outside its laboratories. It was astounding to me, and I was proposing to write a book on it all, except that none of the book editors at the time knew, or appeared to care, about running two applications at once. "We want a book about Excel or a book about Word," one editor told me toward the close of a conversation. "No one wants to read a book about Excel and Word."
It was uncharted territory, as every editor I worked with kept reminding me. One of these days, my former Shopper editor told me, you'll be writing this story in May and someone on the other side of the screen will read it in May. But for now, it was the August issue we were working with, and complete with interviews with everyone we thought would matter -- Asymmetrix, HP, and Lotus included -- I headed forward for 33 pages of draft copy, with a full head of steam...