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by VB
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What has happened to the inventiveness of the computer community worldwide? Following hard on the heels of the spate of appalling Java-related code names, we get a plethora of new, seemingly-irrelevant, offerings from Microsoft and Co. I mean, just what is Denali? But perhaps even worse is IBM's rename of the venerable Lotus Notes... Domino. What is a poor dog to make of that - unless it's meant to imply that the server falls over a lot. Or perhaps it's some timewarped IBMer's idea of "attacking" the Asian market? Whatever, it rates as one of the worst renaming exercises this dog has run across.

InterAct '96 in Melbourne saw the debut of GUI Online Productions on the Australian Show scene... and a bit of culture shock for resident guru Gary Wisniewski. Gary was stunned when, on the final evening, GUI staffers started the inevitable packup. Gary's apparently used to Comdex, where all the setup and knockdown is very much unionised.

GUI Online Productions at Interact

GUI Online Productions at Interact While on InterAct, the Online stand attracted a good deal of attention, as did Online's debut product Catalogues Online. What a pity that a series of technical problems ("lads, don't drop that server...", "why has the PABX gone down?") meant that it wasn't always easy to show said product! What a pity, also, that Gary and Grace managed to 'forget' about daylight saving and leave GUI MD Mark Trescowthick holding the fort for an hour or two on Sunday morning...

Staying with the GUI Online theme for just a moment, guru Gary has also made a bit of a name for himself on Melbourne radio recently, with four appearances in less than 6 weeks.

Has ex-Borland head downunder Belinda Hanna lost the plot? Her recent article in The Australian offered a series of fascinating "insights" into what she clearly sees as 'what went wrong' in Borland's battle with the great MS juggernaut. Amongst other gems, it's clear to her that, until Windows 3.1 was released, MS didn't have any idea of GUIs - never mind that Windows 3.0 was and is the most successful launch of an operating environment in history; that MS Office won out over the competing suites because MS had the "means of distribution" and Borland / WordPerfect /Lotus didn't - which will come as news to Tech Pacific the late lamented Merisel; and that Microsoft 'pretended' to ignore the network market so as to lull Novell into a false sense of security. Perhaps this says more about the opposition than it does about MS.

Now, for a rare event... a Dogatribe. On the topic "Is Microsoft Really that Bad?".

This dog was astounded, but not really surprised I must confess, to read a month or so back that Microsoft was actively booed at the recent 'Cool Site of the Year' Web awards in New York. In fact, by all reports it became something of a game to boo every time the word Microsoft was mentioned. That took me straight back to my puppy days at the pantomime where we all delighted in booing the villain whenever he appeared.

That pretty much sums up Microsoft's position in the PC world today - the villain we all love to hate. And, like the villain at the panto, there's probably a good reason for that. Microsoft does dominate the industry and that instinctively makes most people - this dog included - a little nervous. Like any successful company, Microsoft is, at heart, about making life better for its shareholders first and for everyone else second. Which is admirable, but does have the potential for some genuine concern.

Microsoft dominates the Operating System market with Windows in all its flavours and the mainstream business software market with its Office suite. It makes the most widely-used products in market niches as diverse as programming languages (Visual Basic) and multimedia encyclopedias (Encarta). It even holds down first place in the Macintosh software market. And now it's actively pursuing the Internet market - from browser to authoring tool to web server.

It's pretty easy to see why people get nervous - Microsoft's domination or potential domination is the single largest issue in the PC world today, by most accounts.

Now let's turn the clock back - say six or seven years. It's not hard to find the largest issue then, either, at least from the user's perspective. Incompatibility is the key problem.

Leading word processor WordPerfect has a huge following, as does spreadsheet Lotus 123. But each must be learnt and used individually - they share nothing in common. In fact, Lotus will soon sue Borland for successfully emulating its menuing system. Meanwhile, Borland is also shipping the most successful database product - Paradox - and is about to acquire its only major competitor in Ashton-Tate. Neither of these database products operate in even vaguely similar manner. Not that it matters too much, as both are so arcane to use that they have remained the domain of developers and enthusiasts.

Programming is a nightmare job, with DOS providing little if anything in the way of programmer support. Some limited graphical user interfaces are appearing, but they're all different and hellishly difficult to develop. All PC users - and most developers - look enviously at the Macintosh, where graphics are a way of life and developers are told by Apple they must do things a certain way (and, in return, get to use a vast array of standard routines which simplify the basics).

If, then, someone had told the PC users and developers of the world that, within a few short years, there would be standards, there would be interoperability, there would be a graphical user interface accepted by virtually all PC users they would have been howled down as foolish. Certainly, the fellow who walked along with the solution would have been praised to the skies by all and sundry. Or so you'd think.

But a fellow did amble by with a solution. His name was Bill and he and his company managed, part by technical excellence, part by marketing and part simply by making it possible to develop easily, to single-handedly do what no Standards Committee could ever have achieved. In the process, he took the PC from an annoying tool of business to a genuine tool for all.

Ironically, if it weren't for Windows, the Internet and the Web wouldn't be the white-hot hit they are today. Simply because they would be seen by only a fraction of the users - the rest wouldn't be ready to take the jump into the incompatible, expensive world of the home computer.

So next time you get the urge to boo the Microsoft villain, just remember that, even though he may well be tying the heroine to the railroad tracks, he's got at least some right to sympathy.

He invented the railroad.

Finally (and in less combative mode)... Happy New Year!


Written by: VB
Please feel free to email me any gossip you might be able to get your paws on... vb@gui.com.au
December 1996


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