The Birth of Windows: From Vaporware to Reality

By November , we had finished testing and come up with a solid release. Microsoft feted the release at Comdex (then the big computer show of the year) in Las Vegas with a “roast” of itself hosted by Stewart Alsop, who was considered to be one of the foremost PC industry pundits. Microsoft showed it was willing to acknowledge that it had totally underestimated what it would take to get Windows out the door. That release, being after the earlier “Premiere” release, was known as version 1.01. We then spent the coming months internationalizing the release for several countries and issued version 1.03 which also included bug fixes.

From there several things happened at the same time. First, Ballmer had finally successfully negotiated an agreement with IBM to work collaboratively on what was considered the successor to Windows, something we called Presentation Manager that would be the interface for a new MS-DOS replacement called OS/2. Meanwhile I would continue to manage a second release of Wndows (2.0) for which the Microsoft Applications Group would use to target a version of its increasing popular Excel and Word applications. However, Ballmer moved most of the core Windows development team to the new joint development project with IBM. Even I had a partial responsibility for working with IBM to try to keep the interfaces between Windows 2.0 and OS/2 consistent so users could easily transition.

I had about eighteen months to come up with Windows 2.0, and so I tried to schedule all those things I had been unable to get into the first release. I had the interface changed back to overlapping windows, added a proportional system font, and tried to make as many UI improvements as I could as well as any changes required to maintain some level of user interface compatible with OS/2 Presentation Manager as it evolved, all with a mostly new development team (since the former seasoned developers were now working on OS/2). This included a new development manager who transferred over from the Applications Group.

Also during this time, Microsoft had acquired a small startup called Dynamical Research, who had built a product competitive to TopView called Mondrian, that enabled Microsoft to commit to IBM’s requirement to support TopView compatibility in the OS/2 development plan. The greatest value of the acquisition was in the people that came into the company including Nathan Myhrvold, who eventually became Microsoft’s chief software architect and started Microsoft’s research organization. But there were many other great contributors including a guy by the name of David Weise who figured out a clever trick to use extended memory on PCs.

Back then, Intel’s processors only provided 640KB of contiguous address space for applications, but clever programming could break through this limitation. Lotus and Intel were already collaborating on a way to do this (which would give Lotus 1-2-3 the ability to build larger spreadsheet models). David participated in the emerging definition while also adding the feature to Windows. Meanwhile the MS-DOS product manager, Adrian King, and his MS-DOS development team, took the same code we were producing for Windows 2.0 and built a new memory management kernel that would support the new Intel 386 processor that would become a sister product called Windows/386.

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