Highlights

Highlights


Ramblings


Ramblings


Quick guide


In 1985, Apple was having difficult times. The sales of the Macintosh were not as great as expected, and the Apple II was facing a great deal of competition from other manufacturers. Many people at the time, including Bill Gates, were advising Apple to open-up its Macintosh computer by allowing others to build their own systems, under strict license arrangements. Bill Gates had advised that it become involved with companies such as HP and AT&T. However, Apple held onto both its Mac operating system, and its hardware. The two it believed were intertwined. Apple shot the GEM product of Digital Research out of the water. Digital Research developed GEM for the PC, and had borrowed the look-and-feel of the Mac operating system, but not the actual technology. Appleís lawyers, in 1985, visited Digital Research and threatened it with court action. At the time, IBM had been keen to license the GEM system for its products. IBM eventually backed away from the product over the fear of litigation, and that was the end of GEM.
      Apple then turned to Microsoft to head off its attempt at producing a GUI. Bill Gates, though, had much greater strength against Apple, and he argued that the true originator of the GUI was Xerox. It was Xeroxís ideas that were to be used for Windows. Microsoft had a trump card: If Apple was going to stop Microsoft from producing Windows then Microsoft would stop producing application software for the Macintosh. Apple knew that it needed Microsoft more than Microsoft needed Apple. They then both signed a contact which stated that Microsoft would:
Ďhave a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, nontransferable license to use derivate works in present and future software programs, and to license them to and through third parties for use in their software programsí
which basically gave Microsoft carte blanche for all future versions of its software, and was quite free to borrow which ever features it wanted. John Scully at Apple signed it, and gave away one of the most lucrative markets in history. Basically, Apple was buying peace with Microsoft, but it was piece with a long-term cost.
Isn't that interesting?

 

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The Microsoft  Windows  operating system  has carved a massive market, especially as it integrates networking, an operating system and a graphical user interface into a single package. It has proved popular, but many versions have been unreliable when compared with UNIX . Microsoft Windows, though, works well as a stand-alone operating system, which mounts network drives as local drives. It also supports a whole host of different peripherals from many manufacturers. It took a long time for Microsoft Windows to properly support network. Early versions of Microsoft Windows were a nightmare, and even Microsoft Windows Version 3 was basically just a graphical user interface which sat on top of the horrendous DOS . The first real Microsoft networking system was Microsoft NT  Version 3, which was quickly followed by Windows 95. These two operating systems were built to support networking. Their great advantage was that they supported many different network protocols, such as TCP /IP , SPX /IPX , AppleTalk , IBM  DLC and even the old Microsoft Windows network protocol, NetBEUI . This allowed the Microsoft Windows operating system to co-exist with other, existing, network operating systems. This was a great strategy as it allowed organizations to gradually migrate their existing networking operating systems towards Microsoft Windows. It has been a strategy which has been extremely successful, especially when Microsoft Windows NT  Version 4 was released, which had the robustness of NT, added to the slick user interface of Windows 95. Further versions have enhanced networking, and Windows 2000  is likely to become the standard networking operating system for most organizations.

      The great strength of UNIX  is its networking protocols, many of which have become industry standard. Protocols such as TCP  (for reliable connections), IP  (for addressing ), UDP  (for unreliable connections), NFS  (for connecting file system s  over a network), ARP  (to determine a MAC  address  from a known IP address ) and DNS  (for naming systems) have all grown up within the UNIX operating system . It is an operating system which has always supported networking, and it shows it. The big problem with UNIX, though, is that it is relatively difficult to setup, but once it is setup it will generally run reliably without any problems. UNIX systems also tend to be setup to operate with a global file system, thus when one of the disk drives becomes unavailable it can have a great effect on the rest of the system. UNIX is the last great defender against a global domination by Microsoft  Windows . Its success depends on many things, including its ease-of-use, its robustness, its support, its support for standard protocols, and its non-Microsoftness (I made that one up!). Apple  has found that the PC  is a difficult beast to fight against. There are just too many developers making hardware and software, and there are too many great packages to dismiss it as a top purchase for any organization.  But along with Microsoft Windows, it has led a privileged existence.

      The PC  is an amazing device, and has allowed computers to move from technical specialists to, well, anyone. However, they are also one of the most annoying of pieces of technology of all time, in terms of their software, their operating system , and their hardware. If we bought a car and it failed at least a few times every day, we would take it back and demand another one. When that failed, we would demand our money back. Or, sorry, I could go on forever here, imagine a toaster that failed half way through making a piece of toast, and we had to turn the power off, and restart it. We just wouldnít allow it.

      So why does the PC  lead such a privileged life. Well itís because itís so useful and multitalented, although it doesnít really excel at much. Contrast a simple games computer against the PC and you find many lessons in how to make a computer easy-to-use, and to configure. One of the main reasons for many of its problems is the compatibility  with previous systems both in terms of hardware compatibility and software compatibility (and dodgy software, of course). The big change on the PC was the introduction of proper 32-bit software, Windows 95/NT /2000 .

      In the future systems will be configured by the operating system , and not by the user. How many people understand what an IRQ  is, what I/O addresses are, and so on. Maybe if the PC  faced some proper competition it would become easy to use and become totally reliable. Then when they were switched on they would configure themselves automatically, and you could connect any device you wanted and it would understand how to configure (weíre nearly there, but itís still not perfect). Then we would have a tool which could be used to improve creativity and you didnít need a degree in computer engineering to use one (in your dreams!). But, anyway, itís keeping a lot of technical people in a job, so, donít tell anyone our little secret. The Apple  Macintosh was a classic example of a well-designed computer that was designed as a single unit. When initially released it started up with messages like Iím glad to be out of that bag and Hello, I am Macintosh. Never trust a computer you cannot lift. 

      One of the classic comments of all time was by Ken Olson at DEC , who stated that there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. This seems farcical now, but at the time, in the 1970s, there were no CD -R OMs , no microwave ovens, no automated cash dispensers, and no Internet . Few people predicted them, so, predicting the PC  was also difficult. But the two best comments were:

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons. Popular Mechanics.

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM , 1943.

Novell NetWare  has, over the years, proved to be a reliable networking operating system . It is still extensively used and works well. Many large organizations use Novell NetWare as their core corporate networking operating system. With NDS , organizations can control resources and users around the network without having to setup each server . This allows the network to reflect the setup of the organization, rather than organization resources around servers . Microsoft  Windows  supports SPX /IPX , as this allows organizations to use Microsoft Windows to communicate with a Novell NetWare server, and it uses a different protocol to communicate with a Microsoft Windows server. This type of approach allows organizations to slowly migrate their systems away from Novell NetWare towards an integrated Microsoft Windows networks.

 

© W. Buchanan, 2000