On Microsoft History

Two fascinating Microsoft blog entries today…

Larry Osterman remembers David Weise who just left Microsoft. Weise was making a TopView clone when IBM’s original TopView flopped and MS bought Weise’s company. There he proceeded to built multitasking into Windows, thereby establishing MS as the operating system monopolist it is today:

I remember wandering over to the Windows group over in Building 3 to talk to Aaron Reynolds about something to do with the MS-DOS redirector (I was working on DOS Lan Manager at the time). I ran into David, and he called me into his office “Hey, look at what I’ve got working!”.

He showed me existing windows apps running in protected mode on the 286. UNMODIFIED Windows 1.0 applications running in protected mode.

He then ran me around the rest of the group, and they showed me the other stuff they were working on. Ralph had written a new driver architecture called VxD. Aaron had done something astonishing (I’m not sure what). They had display drivers that could display 256 color bitmaps on the screen (the best OS/2 could do at the time was 16 colors).

My jaw was dropping lower and lower as I moved from office to office. “Oh my goodness, you can’t let Steve see this, he’s going to pitch a fit” (those aren’t quite the words I used, but this is a family blog).

You see, at this time, Microsoft’s systems division was 100% focused on OS/2 1.1. All of the efforts of the systems division were totally invested in OS/2 development. We had invested literally tens of millions of dollars on OS/2, because we knew that it was the future for Microsoft. OS/2 at the time just ran a single DOS application at a time, and it had only just recently gotten a GUI (in 1989). It didn’t have support for many printers (only about 5, all made by IBM, and (I believe) the HP Laserjet).

And here was this little skunkworks project in building three that was sitting on what was clearly the most explosive product Microsoft had ever produced. It was blindingly obvious, even at that early date - Windows 3.0 ran multiple DOS applications in virtual x86 machines. It ran Windows applications in protected mode, breaking the 640K memory barrier. It had a device driver model that allowed for development of true 32bit device drivers. It supported modern displays with color depths greater than had been available on PC operating systems.

There was just no comparison between the two platforms - if they had to compete head-to-head, Windows 3.0 would win hands down. […]

The rest was history. At its release, Windows 3.0 was the most successful software project in history, selling more than 10 million copies a month, and it’s directly responsible for Microsoft being where it is today.

And, as I mentioned above, David is responsible for most of that success - if Windows 3.0 hadn’t run Windows apps in protected mode, then it wouldn’t have been the unmitigated success it was.

Somewhat less spectular but still interesting, Raymond Chen talks about the evolution of the Windows PowerToys, of which he’s written many.