The Birth of Windows: From Vaporware to Reality

For Microsoft it has been a busy year on the OS side. Major development was in process with IBM on OS/2, while smaller teams worked to complete Windows 2.0 and Windows/386, which both shipped in the fall of 1987. From Steve Ballmer’s perspective, these were intended to be the last versions of Windows, with OS/2 (and its Presentation Manager) replacing them. So it was clear that I either would need to find a way to transfer into a role on the already staffed OS/2 team or find a new job. Since I had become increasingly aware of the need for improving our overall design of Windows and Windows applications, I opted for defining a new group that would be devoted to four things: 1) employing real graphics designers (not developers) to create those interfaces, 2) establishing usability testing facilities and services, 3) defining guidelines for good UI design and consistency for Windows applications, and 4) developing UI beyond the current product development cycles to further evolution of Microsoft’s user interfaces.

I went to Gates with that proposal. As Gates also felt that we needed to do a better job on our products’ user interfaces, he agreed and I transferred over to report to Microsoft’s new VP of Applications, Mike Maples, a recent transplant from IBM. Mike’s move from IBM worried a lot of us Softees at the time–we feared that he would make us all comply with the IBM style, but while Mike brought a tremendous amount of maturity and good organizational sense to the company, he was able to integrate it with the existing Microsoft culture.

Breaking with IBM, At Odds With Apple

However, the IBM-Microsoft joint development effort on OS/2 was breaking down. To be honest, from the very beginning it had been a grinding of the gears. Ballmer used to refer to the IBM relationship as “wrestling with the bear” but was insistent that Microsoft’s long term success depended on that relationship. However, after many months of attempting to make the joint development process work, the process-driven IBM style that measured success on the number of lines of code rather than the quality or performance of that code and Microsoft’s more developer driven “cowboy” style just wasn’t working. At all levels, even the executive level, there were continual debates on the development process and progress, so the relationship was officially ended.

IBM continued with OS/2 and Microsoft continued with developing Windows, working on what many regard as the truly successful version, Windows 3.0. I was no longer in charge of the product, but continued to work with the team on helping to evolve and improve its interface. A key area I pushed for was for a better interface for launching applications that moved beyond the MS-DOS Executive file manager and more toward an application-oriented user interface.

In 1988, Apple decided to sue Microsoft over Windows 2.0’s “look and feel”, claiming it infringed on Apple’s visual copyrights. Having been a principal manager in charge during development of Windows 2.0, I was now caught up in the maelstrom and over the next year I got a thorough education on the US legal process as I briefed the Microsoft legal team, created exhibits for them, and was grilled by deposition by the other side. To me the allegation clearly had no merit as I had never intended to copy the Macintosh interface, was never given any directive to do that, and never directed my team to do that.

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