Windows 1995 marks the end of the personal computer era, that span of time that started in 1978 with the Apple II. Windows '95 also marks the end of Microsoft.
Windows 1995 marks the end of Microsoft?
Conventional wisdom tells us that Microsoft is at the top of the technology hill -- the unquestioned king of high-tech. Conventional wisdom would also tell us that Microsoft's position is impregnable. No one will toss this king off his hill. Well. That's true. Problem is....what if another hill were to pop up? Would the king be able to jump over?
Microsoft's Kingdom: The Personal Computer
The last 17 years were a wild time in high-tech, fueled by the staggering, relentless and exuberant increase in microprocessor power. The microprocessor made the personal computer a reality. Those tiny chips, pioneered and dominated to this day by Intel, brought what once belonged to the priesthood to the people. Our image of the computer went from HAL ("I'm afraid I can't do that Dave") in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the smiling "happy Mac" in less than one generation. With this transition, came the phrase "personal computer." Who would have thought that those two words would go together? Now, who would think they might come apart? Certainly not Microsoft.
We are now entering what some high-tech gurus call a "paradigm shift." Paradigm shifts mark the point when an entire technology moves in a new, unexpected, direction that wreaks profound change. These shifts start out unnoticed at first, then with sudden speed they take over like wildfire. In their wake, people's lives also change. The paradigm shift we are about to experience will usher in the age of the "Whole Computer."
The Whole Computer
The Whole Computer is a massively heterogeneous fusion of individual computers into one system. These machines, yoked together, create a the illusion of being one computer in the mind of the individual using it. It is, in a sense, a return to the paradigm of the 1960s -- "time sharing." Except in the 1960s, time sharing described the sharing of one computer by many people through "dumb" terminals. Before time sharing, in the 1950s, the paradigm was simply "the computer." One person, one computer. The personal computer is essentially a mainframe for one. Now that millions of us have our personal mainframes, the same logic is making itself felt -- it is massively inefficient to keep all these personal mainframes separate. Why not bind them and harvest the power of shared CPUs, storage and memory? Until 1994 the answer was simple. We're not connected.
The second piece of the Whole Computer fell into place in the last 18 months as people world-wide, in record numbers, agreed to connect to the Internet. What does that mean? The Internet is two things: a set of standards dictating how different computers can talk to each other, and physical network of copper, wireless and fiber channels that carry digital data. With these three ingredients: personal mainframes, universal communications protocols, and a communications network infrastructure the Whole Computer is almost here. What missing is demand. People have to want this for it to happen. They will wait until the old paradigm -- the isolated personal computer -- becomes too obviously cumbersome and inefficient.