Do You Admire Someone?

Because you should.

As Jordan Peterson – whom I admire – points out, only if you can without envy admire the success of a person that you yourself would like to achieve, and not all the time insinuate foul play, can you strive for your own success in an honest manner.

And as I’m a programmer, an obvious person to admire would be Mirosoft’s Bill Gates. Not Apple’s Steve Jobs, Jobs was always a product designer – more in setting the goals and the design, not in a technical manner – and a salesperson – but an admirable one at that.

Now, but ain’t Windows a horrible thing? In a way it is and currently it’s getting worse. You can’t even remove Cortana, a useless piece of junk for me. So you got all this complexity and no way to get rid of it. Sooner or later I’ll find myself on Linux. Working on it.

But, in Bill Gates’ favor, this has to be said about the origins of Windows: Gates tried to get a license from Apple to have the MacIntosh operating system on IBM PC’s – but Steve Jobs didn’t grant him one. Microsoft also developed a Unix for IBM PC’s – Xenix I think it was called – but, it didn’t come with a windowing surface which was a bit out of the reach for the technical specs of the PC’s of that time.

So you can’t blame Microsoft for not trying to gain success with the proven approaches MacOS or UNIX. They did try both and failed honorably.

So what they did then was – given that Jobs wouldn’t give them a license for MacOS – they started to reinvent the MacIntosh system for IBM PC’s, coming out with Windows 1 – which was crap. It was actually a joke. I once used it but only because I found it accidentally. It was unusable. Windows 2, same story. Windows 3 in 1990: huge success. Finally the PC users had what Apple had had for a decade.

And what Microsoft did there was, they coded all the graphics functions in optimized Assembler and improved the performance compared to a Unix system so much that it actually became useful on a PC. The competition was on the one hand Apple, with computers twice as expensive as a PC, and on the other hand Unix workstations 10 times as expensive and with way better hardware. So, Windows 3 was actually a democratizing milestone, bringing windowing surfaces to the unwashed masses – together with the cheap Taiwanese PC clones of the IBM PC. (IBM had forgotten to patent everything about the IBM PC. The IBM PC was always a side project for IBM, that’s how all the PC clones became possible, that and the ingenuity of the Taiwanese.)

Now, but didn’t Bill Gates rip off Apple’s user surface shamelessly? Oh yes he did. BUT – Apple had done the exact same thing: They had previously stolen the idea for the windowing surface from XEROX – together with its developer Alan Kaye whom they hired.

And why didn’t XEROX bother to sue Apple then? After all, XEROX had that thing designed in their PARC – Palo Alto Research Center – with the explicit purpose of replacing their copier patent monopoly with new futuristic computer workplaces. A very wise decision but, as it turns out, HORRIBLY executed: Their huge distribution network wasn’t informed about the strategic need to convince the customers of that new machine, a pre-IBM PC called the ALTO, thought it was just an extremely overpriced typewriter, and continued to sell or rent out copiers.

So all of this goes way back and Microsoft isn’t a particularly bad player in that business. The entire history is full of not entirely clean dealings and a lot of incompetence by the original inventor company.

When XEROX finally noticed that they had standing to sue Apple, their claim had expired. The lawsuit was thrown out of court some time in the early 1990ies.

Had XEROX had an ounce of sense THEY would STILL be the big fish now. But at the time, they still had a huge cash cow, the copier, and that new computer thing looked like a small side business to the salespeople on the ground.

Yes, kids. There was indeed a time when XEROX was the BIG name.



6 thoughts on “Do You Admire Someone?”

  1. I lived through all of that and the summary is spot on. Microsoft, to this day, still has a Unix-like interface, if you want to use it. Sure there are differences in how the system calls work, but you can compile and use *nix tools on Windows, using a *nix interface. I don’t think you can quite do the other one, yet. They did open source the .net framework a few years ago, if I am remembering correctly.

    One thing often forgotten in this history is that *nix started on time-sharing systems. Big iron isolated from the users, who either handed a deck of punch cards to the operator or used a dumb terminal to input a job. That’s a different security model that would quickly learn not to trust remote connections. A PC, first called a microcomputer, was the size of a typewriter and could be carried, if clumsily. Security for a stand alone machine that small was physical. So Microsoft didn’t have to consider remote connection issues until much later. Also, naturally, the person running the machine was its owner. Why make that user, who controls his own machine apart from others, something other than a full administrator, too. Of course, once connecting these became a thing, that security model was not going to be any more workable as a full=trust system than the isolated mainframe’s was.


    1. There is or will also be the WSL, Windows subsystem for Linux, with the 2017 creators update, allowing you to run Ubuntu inside Windows 10, as far as I can tell right now.


      1. Hmm, I am not sure that’s the same kind of a thing. Still, Windows 10’s hypervisor can create virtual machines capable of using hardware enabled virtualization. It is not a big thing to create a VM on Windows 10 (pro or higher) and load Ubuntu into it. As far as I can recall, the WSL is just the old Posix Windows subsystem for Unix that has been around for years. NT included it natively. Consumer versions, of course, didn’t include it. WSL is more like Cygwin, I think, in that the native system calls for *nix/Linux are mapped to Windows calls. *nix tools or other programs see *nix calls as if they were native. Personally, if I were going to do such a thing, I’d rather use the translating subsystem over a VM, unless I needed the sandbox.


      2. Interesting, Dirk, that is very interesting. My personal taste, if I’m doing *nix/Linux would be a BSD distro. I’ve used Red Hat in the past and Ubuntu in the past and I wasn’t impressed. If WSL does FreeBSD, I can see myself playing with it.


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