A bit OT - Urban Myths?

Paul Robinson paul at iconoplex.co.uk
Mon Jul 7 13:24:17 BST 2003

On Sun, Jul 06, 2003 at 11:21:31AM +0100, cb wrote:

> 1. That there is no reason why any personal computer would ever need more
> tha a megabyte of RAM; [maybe around 1985]

As others have pointed out, he definitely didn't say that. He did however, I 
think, refer to 1Mb as a lot of memory. In the context of the early 1980's, 
there is nothing wrong with that - most home/office machines at the time had 
less than a quarter of that capacity.

> 2. That the internet was a passing fad or a flash in the pan which would
> never amount to anything. [maybe around 1993]

Somebody pointed out the "Road Ahead" reference. That's a good place for a 
reference, but there is more.

Basically, in a speech in 94/95-ish time he outlined his roadmap for the
original MSN. What you have now when going to MSN, is not what he was going
to try and deliver. This was at a time when connectivity for most people
meant AOL and Compuserve and BBSes. None of these were connected in any way 
to the Internet.

He wanted to compete with the Internet as if it were Compuserve. In fact, in
parts of the speech he compared them directly, but Compuserve was "better"  
than the Internet for most people as the content came from quality
publishers and therefore of more value. MSN was going to compete. You would
log in to MSN by dialling into a local MSN POP, and look at MSN content.
This drove the whole MSN/NBC deal - NBC were content providers, and MSN was
going to need people like that. MSN was going to be a closed community, much
like AOL and Compuserve were back then, with no external links to other
networks. You would be able to mail other users, read MS-approved content,
etc. but no Internet. It was around this time that AOL and Compuserve were 
starting to snuggle up and were getting links to the Internet...

It wasn't until about 6 months after the launch of Windows 95 that he made 
what is now considered one of the best turnaround moves in industry history. 
Overnight, he realised the Internet was going to be bigger than he thought, 
he wasn't going to be able to compete, and the only way forward was to 
embrace. Literally, within a week, the entire MS machine about-turned and 
started marching towards the Internet. IE got better, internet hooks were 
whacked into the next release of Office, the file explorer could all of a 
sudden handle FTP, and a new roadmap was put down.

It has to be said, the speed at which they turned around *was* impressive 
from the sidelines. But, it was a very clear about-turn from where he wanted 
to go previously.

Personally, I think the reason for the about turn was the realisation of 
several key factors:

1. MS didn't want to build the infrastructure for a world-wide network
2. They didn't want to get into content, and to be honest, we should be glad 
of that
3. They would make more money (less costs!) by concentrating on supplying 
the tools for delivery, rather than doing the delivery itself directly.

I'm only celebrating my 25th birthday next month - aren't I too young to be 
a historian of the computing industry?

Paul Robinson

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