05/12/2021

078 – Clever GUIs – 1989

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We don’t see Windows as a long-term graphical interface for the masses. Lotus Developments forecast.

The notion of the graphics user interface, or GUI, was developed at Xerox PARC.  Microsoft licensed the Xerox GUI and in September 1981 started work on Interface Manager, assisted by new Intel chips that operated with DOS and a GUI.

Quarterdeck Office Systems was founded in 1981 by Terry Myers and Garry Pope. They started by producing utilities like the DESQ utility program, a system that allowed the IBM-PC to switch between applications.  In 1983 the Computer Dealers’ Exposition voted DESQ its ‘software of the show’; Quarterdeck raise $5.5m venture capital.

April 1983 – Microsoft gave a demo of its far-from-ready Interface Manager to IBM.  It showed overlapping windows and ran multiple applications but neither was included when Windows 1.0 was launched thirty months later.  IBM expressed no interest.  Its TopView was under development to provide multi-tasking and windowing.

The first release of a GUI was the Apple Lisa in May 1983, based on its PARC experience.  At $9,995 with speed problems and dodgy drives it did not set the world alight.

November 1983 Microsoft showed IBM what it now called Windows, but IBM was committed to TopView. 

With nothing to lose Microsoft publicly announced its intention to launch the Windows GUI by April 1984.  Bill Gates forecast that by the end of 1984 it would be on 90% of IBM compatibles.  In fact it was two years before Windows shipped.

This announcement deliberately pre-empted the Apple Macintosh launch planned for January 1984.  Microsoft was fully aware of this as it was developing Mac BASIC and Multiplan for Mac.  Worse still, the IBM PCjr was announced with MS-DOS 2.1 aboard.  Apple’s promotion had been defined to highlight its superiority over the earlier MS-DOS and suddenly the PC world had shifted on its axis.

VisiCorp, the VisCalc people, launched the second GUI called VisiOn in December 1983.  VisiOn was described as a software suite (spreadsheet, graphics and word processor) at $1,765.  It required a 5M-byte drive, which with its controller would put the total spend at $7,500.

August 1984 – TopView was announced, sales in DESQ slumped, and dealers returned unsold copies.  DESQ was priced at $395, whereas IBM’s TopView was just $225.  IBM also introduced program information files which defined how files should be run under multitasking.  The promised windowing however did not materialise; TopView was text-based.  1984/5 saw a raft of GUI releases – Tandy’s Deskmate, DRI’s GEM, Amiga’s Workbench…

Microsoft looked to acquire Quarterdeck but Gates, realising the company had been damaged by TopView, lowered his original offer and this was rejected.  This proved good news for Quarterdeck when TopView later flopped.

The IBM launch and Microsoft opportunism served to focus Quarterdeck’s attention and DESQview was available in 1985.  This updated program included many TopView features including program information files; it had a form of GUI and did offer windows.

Computers are like air conditioners.  They work fine until you start opening windows. Anon

Priced at $99.95, DESQview was a winner.  The next year it was voted Infoworld’s ‘best new idea’.  Microsoft continued to have delays with Windows and this allowed Quarterdeck to sell over 700,000 units across two years.  However Quarterdeck was badly affected in 1998 when Microsoft Windows finally bit back.  Quarterdeck was subsequently acquired by Symantec.

Windows 1.0 at $99.95 per copy was launched at COMDEX in November 1985 but was not yet ‘fit for purpose’ as it still had bugs and proved slow.

At Apple, Jean-Louis Gassée believed Windows was no competitor to Mac.  He considered it more akin to the GUI developed at PARC and had few of the enhancements developed for the Mac by Apple.  Gassée thought it very clunky, using tiled windows that could not overlap.

John Sculley had a different reaction.  He believed Microsoft had used Apple proprietary material with an almost identical menu bar, drop-down menus and other similar features.  Windows even bundled Write and Paint, as Mac had done with MacWrite and MacPaint.  At this time Apple was a $1bn turnover operation and Microsoft a mere $140m ‘upstart’.  An Apple lawyer was despatched northward which shocked Microsoft as it had deals in place with Apple and Xerox for the use of the GUI technologies.  Neither wanted a protracted legal battle; Microsoft was moving towards its IPO, and Apple needed its attention focused on making the Mac a success.

Sculley capitulated when Microsoft threatened to remove its support of the Office applications for Mac. He gave Microsoft a non-exclusive, non-transferable, worldwide, royalty-free and perpetual deal for its Mac GUI.  Microsoft in turn agreed that its software had derived from Lisa and Mac and committed to more software support for the Mac; Excel would be Mac-only until October 1986. 

The deal was signed on 22nd November 1985, two days after Windows 1.0 was shipped.  Sculley dropped the Big Mac and planned a UNIX-Mac.  This coincided with the DTP-effect on Mac sales and he was praised for his skilled turnaround of Apple.  In March 1986 the Microsoft IPO placed its shares at $25.75 raising $61m.

Berkeley Softworks, a small start-up company, launched its GUI in 1986.  The GEOS was launched for the Commodore 64 and 128 and the success of these products propelled GEOS to second place in the GUI market behind the Mac OS, and third in the generic OS market behind MS-DOS and Mac OS – remarkable for a small operator.

Windows 1.0 flopped, having attracted little third party software.  Windows 2.0 was released in November 1987 with overlapping windows, icons, multitasking together with in-house and third-party software. 

1988 – Apple charged Microsoft with abusing its GUI copyrights in no fewer than 189 listed ways.  For good measure Apple also enjoined Hewlett Packard in respect of its New Wave GUI.

Microsoft countersued.  This did mean that PC clone makers and software developers were wary of committing to Windows 2.0 while the action unfolded, but Apple was proven guilty of not having read the small print in a Microsoft contract.  The 22nd November 1985 deal had included the notion of perpetuity.

July 1989 – the judge ruled that 179 points were permitted by the agreement and the other ten were ideas that could not be copyrighted.   Apple did not give in easily and appealed, taking the case to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was denied.

Mac fans were shocked, and particularly stunned that Sculley had given away the Mac GUI in return for a spreadsheet and a word processing package; surely there were more than enough of those in existence?  August 1993 Microsoft Windows had won the GUI race.

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