Virulent Word of Mouse

November 13, 2009

A Window on the Aging of Windows


How has MS Windows changed over time? Here is a visual display of that, put together by some clever folks at the BBC.

Well, so what? Why would you care? To be sure, looking at old software generates a certain sentimental reaction among those with technical backgrounds and a sense of history. But surely that is not most of us.

The evolution of Windows actually illustrates something deeper about design of software. I will save that until the end.

Well, here is why I care. I count myself among the many — and there are many! — who have hung out in the computer industry for a while and watched it change over the years. Because I am older than 27 years I am allowed to claim — by the distorted norms of the computer industry — that I have some perspective.

windows_logoBut, truthfully, perspective does not make it any easier to describe change over time. I make a living out of explaining things, but I still get tongued-tied trying to explain how designs improved in computing.

Ah, but a picture speaks a 1000 words, doesn’t it? Perhaps a series of pictures of computers over the years can illustrate quickly what has been so challenging to write.

Some clever journalists at the BBC got that idea too. They put together a series of slides about the change to Windows over time. Here is a link again.

Notice how well the evolution of Windows illustrates the conflict between continuity and improvement. More to the point, the evolution illustrates some basic principles of software design. Every upgrade must retain many familiar features, and it must contain features that compels purchase.

Of course, those two pulses do not have to pull/push a firmbill-gates-lover-350 in the same direction. And that gives us a simple theory of the computer industry: Ego, Bill Gates is rich, in part, because he resolved those conflicts more effectively than IBM, and marketed them more effectively than Apple.

And, in addition, Bill got rich for another reason. Whenever anybody arose to offer an alternative solution (for example, Netscape) Bill successfully killed them.

In any event, these pictures illustrate the general principles for software upgrades. In addition to being entertaining, they are useful for any course on managing an installed base of users.

* Thanks to Patricia Ledesma Liebana, who came across this and passed it on.*

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