You hit the power button and nothing happens. Your computer screen is dead. Well, not completely dead because against a black screen, a blinking grey box winks back at you, expecting you to type something.
No, there’s nothing wrong with your computer – it’s just a quick trip down memory lane. If you remember this scenario, then like me, you are probably over 30 years old and can probably better appreciate today’s operating systems which are light years ahead of the old systems.
These ancient systems used command line interfaces such as Microsoft DOS, which ran on most IBM compatibles and relied completely on specific typed-in commands to access files. On the other hand, operating systems as we know them today, such as Windows or Apple’s iOS, use a graphic user interface system to interact with its human operators, using icons to represent files.
The mouse first attracted mass popularity in 1985 after Microsoft launched an early version of Microsoft Word. A few months later, the Macintosh 128K and Atari ST introduced the concept of the mouse pointer on the screen.
Nevertheless the first real GUI interfaces started appearing a couple of years later. Many people mistakenly attribute the first GUI interfaces to Apple’s Steve Jobs or Microsoft’s Bill Gates. In reality, the first GUI operating system was developed by Xerox machines on a practically unknown computer called Alto, named after Xerox’s headquarters in Palo Alto. This breakthrough machine incorporated programs like a word processor, spreadsheet, paint program and file manager which used small black and white icons to represent files and introduced the menu concept.
Unfortunately Xerox failed to market this computer properly and instead executives decided to sell this software running on Xerox machines only to select high profile clients and internally to help their own workforce become more productive. Unknown to Xerox, Jobs and Gates were huffing and puffing in a race against time to produce a GUI operating system working on the same Xerox principles.
Jobs launched the Apple Lisa computer and invented the term ‘desktop’ in which the focus was to make files look like pieces of paper. Yet it was Gates who stole the show when, just a few weeks later, Microsoft launched Windows 1.0. This ran on the same IBM compatibles and enabled users to buy only the software and install it on their own computers. This was a much cheaper endeavor when compared to Apple’s option, which expected users to buy a completely new system. This allowed Windows to infiltrate practically all home and office computers in a matter of months and it’s what probably allowed Windows to become an unofficial standard, a status which it retains today.
Jobs was furious and it was recently revealed that as soon as he saw the first version of Windows, he called Gates and angrily accused him that he stole his idea and that Apple will be suing Microsoft. Gates calmly reminded him that in reality both of them had stolen the idea from Xerox. He was right. Apple didn’t sue Microsoft and for the next few years, the company struggled with massive financial losses and low employee morale. This had a tremendous effect on Jobs’s emotional state. In fact, he quit Apple that same year and remained relatively in the shadows until his comeback more than a decade later.
Numerous versions of Windows updates, and many bug fixes later, we are today waiting for what Microsoft is marketing as the last Windows version to be launched next month. Microsoft says that there will be no more Windows launches and instead it will keep delivering regular free upgrades via the internet. The Android operating system is not only free but also open source, Apple iOS has been offering this for free since 2013, so probably Microsoft realised that today consumers are no longer willing to pay for newer operating systems.
Windows 10 will for the first time offer support for iOS and Android apps which means that the Windows App store will probably see some action as it has been limping well behind the other e-stores. The new Windows version will also have a completely new internet browser named Edge which will include, among other things, face detection capabilities and age recognition technology. Cortana, which is the Windows lesser known version of Siri, the electronic personal assistant, will now feature prominently even on the PC version of the operating system and will now be able to interact with other apps as well via voice control.
Whether Cortana will be of help or not, only time can tell. However, many are already dubbing it as the new version of the irritating paperclip assistant which featured prominently in previous versions of Microsoft Office.
In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will also be releasing most of the Windows and Office code so anyone can check for security loopholes and suggestions. Faster and more efficient use of resources will also be implemented. This is a bold move especially when coming from a company which in the past was so secretive about its technology.
Windows 10 will also be ready to interface with the internet of things and will allow developers to build specific apps which will seamlessly interface with anything connected to the internet. So if in a couple of years you will start buying gadgets which connect to the internet, you will be able to start controlling them from any Windows-enabled device. Expect to start opening and closing your garage door via your mobile phone, receive your car’s diagnostics, check the contents of your fridge and program your washing machine all using the Windows operating system in the next decade.
Ian Vella blogs at www.ianvella.com.
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