One of the most important figures in Microsoft’s history, David Weise, is to leave Redmond after an illustrious career with the software giant. Weise was one of the developers responsible for a technical breakthrough upon which much of Microsoft’s success today is founded.
In 1987 IBM and Microsoft were pouring vast resources into OS/2, the successor to MS-DOS. Back then, Microsoft’s Windows was a functionally-crippled GUI running on top of an operating system that offered no pre-emptive multi-tasking or long file names and that was limited by DOS’s 640kb memory limit.
After Weise’s breakthrough, Windows was still a functionally-crippled GUI running on top of an operating system that offered no pre-emptive multi-tasking or long file names, but it was no longer limited by DOS’s 640kb memory limit. Windows could take advantage of the 80286 Protected Mode.
Author Andrew Schulman detailed the kludge and its implication in Unauthorized Windows 95, published exactly a decade ago. And it was from this small breakthrough that Microsoft out-marketed IBM, gradually slipping free from Big Blue.
So, what happened next? In a fantastic new collection of her columns, Verity Stob offers a list of “all the key cliches and phrases” of this period, “the task of providing linking words to turn the thing into a cogent bag of wind is left to the reader”. Here it is.
“By 1991 Windows was really making an impact … all programming done in C … giant switch statement … GetClassWord() … a worse OS/2 than OS/2 … little did we realise … 16-bit pointers, so near and so far … Charles Petzold’s book … ugly, ugly code … breakthrough with VB … Apple still led by Sculley … short filenames … MM_ANISOTROPIC … running the resource compiler separately … dawn of a new era … Windows 95 set the seal on it”
Which is almost everything you need to know, although we’ll simply top it up to a full pint with,
“Chinese Walls … ‘Running Windows on an operating system other than MS-DOS will cause unpredictable results‘ … Exclusionary license … Blue Ninja … ‘Non fatal error detected: error number 2726. Please contact Windows 3.1 data support’ … Eat my floppy disk!”
Microsoft veteran Larry Osterman pays tribute to Weise on his blog; and Weise himself comments
Prompted by Weise’s departure, there’s a fascinating discussion on alternative histories over at Slashdot. But it’s alternative futures that seem to be exercising you right now, so a mini-mailbagguette is overdue.