one: a decade of preparation
Much has been written about the so-called os war between apple computer
and microsoft. And despite steve jobs' conceding that the os war
was over, neither apple nor microsoft would be better off without
one. After all, apple provided microsoft with much of their user
interface and multimedia ideas, and microsoft has written much of
the software that keeps apple's os relevant.
Competition creates change and demands improvement from both sides.
And as software progress increasingly falls behind new hardware
advances, a serious os war is just what microsoft and apple need
to jumpstart new development. The
treasure island experiment will be publishing a series of articles
comparing the latest operating system offerings from apple and microsoft.
As the first article in the series, part one will examine the history
of apple and microsoft through the last decade, and how both have
arrived at the very same point this year: that of delivering their
first modern os for the mass consumer market.
Apple has just released the first consumer version of mac
os x, an entirely new os for the company, based on next computer's
nextstep product; microsoft is finishing windows
xp, the final push to move dos users onto their nt based operating
system product. Successive articles will examine how the two projects
compare in terms of their legacy, design philosophy and architecture;
network services and application support; hardware support; user
interface and usability; application availability, portability and
api support; and real world performance, capability and reliability.
the os war 0.9: beta developments
Up into the early 1990's, apple's system 7 was so far ahead in many
respects of any other consumer desktop operating system that apple
could charge a significant margin more for their hardware and software
package. For the next five years, apple would demonstrate various
plans toward an improved operating system, but microsoft would actually
deliver new os actual products. As microsoft's progress began to
erode away at apple's advantages, the differences became less apparent.
Additionally, microsoft's aggressive alliances and pervasive marketing
often eclipsed apple's efforts.
Microsoft and ibm had terminated their plans to co-deliver a new
super-dos called os/2.
Microsoft left ibm with the project and started work on their own
post-dos in 1988 that they dubbed windows nt. Designed to replace
their existing windows
3.0 product, which was little more than a graphic dos shell,
this new operating system was planned to bring a level of power
to the consumer desktop that only expensive unix workstations had
achieved previously. Released as windows
nt 3.1 in 1993, the new product was well received, but had very
limited success on the desktop because of performance reasons. Without
the ability to replace dos with their new nt operating system on
reasonable hardware of the time, microsoft faced competition with
unix on the high end, and other dos vendors, including digital
research and ibm,
on the low end. And in the middle, apple's very functional macintosh
made the current windows 3 look very lame.
As a stopgap measure, microsoft bound dos together tightly with
the old windows 3.0 product, and improved upon both. They copied
the look of apple's macintosh and released the product in late 1995
as windows 95. The new product sank other dos vendors by making
their products simply irrelevant, and it targeted sales, not in
competition with high end unix workstations, but apple's successful,
easy to use macintosh.
Well before the release of windows 95, apple had been planning an
improved system 7. But apple faced the same problems in releasing
a significantly new os as microsoft: their current customers were
tied to their current product, and moving them to a largely new
os would prove to be a herculean task.
The macintosh's operating system had been designed in the early
80's to to run an appliance computer, with no thought of support
for multiple users or even multiple concurrent applications. Apple
had retrofit the mac's os to support application switching, then
6's multifinder mode, and finally, by system 7, multiple cooperative
overlapping applications. Now they were faced with retrofitting
in the ability to allow applications to run in their own memory
space, and under system directed scheduling rather than running
with full control of the system. Without that work being done, the
macintosh operating system would never be more reliable the its
Microsoft wasn't waiting on apple however. Shortly after the release
of windows 95, microsoft released windows nt 4, which copied the
interface of 95, and introduced system compromises that boosted
performance, even though they reduced the system's stability and
reliability. Microsoft, unable to figure out how to wean dos users
onto nt, decided not to at all, and instead embarked on a dual-os
strategy that allowed for a dos based windows to continue for the
low end pc market, while the company's nt product provided a more
reliable product for business users. Microsoft called both products
'windows,' and thus created a strong brand that rivaled apple's
once untouchable macintosh. On the low end, windows
95 allowed dos pc users a work environment similar to the macintosh;
on the higher end, windows
nt provided both a workstation and server product that served
as cheap replacements for unix workstations and low end servers.
os war 1.0: game over
project promised a revitalized mac os well before 95, but slipped
each year until 96, when apple, nearly dead from years of bad management
and chaotic planning, woke up and strangled the out of control project.
Copland was nearly ripe for beta delivery, with a developer package
ready to go, but apple's new management realized that copland was
largely a fanciful network of pet projects with little tangible
benefits for customers and a very unclear business plan.
There simply wasn't compelling reason for developers to spend the
required time to rewrite their apps to take advantage of copland.
First, copland offered few significant new benefits to users, even
if new software was written for it. Second, the dwindling numbers
of mac users offered little incentive to developers to create any
new software. So copland was killed and apple went shopping for
a new os outside of the company.
In the meantime, apple worked toward improving the mac's marketshare
and repositioning development efforts to improve system 7. Apple
signed agreements with vendors to sell copies
of mac hardware, and rechristened system 7 as mac os 7 in an
effort to invent a difference between apple and the mac market.
Apple's small improvements to system 7 and cloning of the mac hardware
did create some new excitement around the macintosh.
Unfortunately, excitement wasn't enough to sustain profitability,
and apple began to hemorrhage massive amounts of cash. By the end
of 1996, windows 95 was looking very successful, and apple, and
its products, were looking weak. Apple had reduced itself to a research
and development company for various hardware vendors, and was selling
them, for cheap, an aging os with a uncertain future.
os war 2.0: what's next
Apple's acquisition of next computer changed things dramatically.
First, apple obtained a high powered os that delivered exactly the
things they lacked: a powerful, reliable foundation, a bright potential
for future application development, new customers and new developers.
Along with that, lots of associated talent and technology, including
a former founder who successfully took control of the old apple
and replaced much of the company with his own.
The new apple aggressively took back the macintosh hardware market
clone contracts and releasing their own compelling new products.
At the same time, the new apple made the most of the current mac
os, adding salvaged bits of copland in a release called mac
One slowdown on the road to apple's recovery was the hesitation
of developers to make the dramatic changes needed to move to a materially
new os. Apple's ambitious plans to release next's os as the new
mac os were sent back to the drawing board each year, in a process
that started looking like the copland fiasco. The difference was
that in copland, apple wasted lots of time making elaborate plans,
reinventing wheels and delivering nothing. This time around, the
new apple made continual progress. Each year real software was released
to developers that, even from the start, demonstrated real potential.
As plans changed, the product continued to improve.
Microsoft wasn't waiting on apple this time around, either. In the
interim, the dos based windows 95 was re-released as windows 98.
At the same time, windows nt 4 was improved upon, and eventually
released as windows
2000. Microsoft eagerly wanted to move their 95/98 customers
to the 2000 product, but it still couldn't
support the games and range of hardware available to dos.
Pressed to release a successor, microsoft improved upon 98 twice
more, once as 98 special edition and again as millennium edition.
Later this year, microsoft plans to release the first nt derived
product for general consumption: windows xp.
With drastically different starting points, apple and microsoft
are once again in a position to compete head to head. Not since
system 7 and windows 95 has it been simple to compare the two companies'
products. Now, both are offering new versions of modern operating
systems with significant, yet very different, backgrounds. Both
are similar in appearance to the products they replace, but very
different underneath. Both are first steps into the next decade.
For microsoft, windows xp will be a first effort to get mass market
customers to start using an nt derived system, while still providing
support for legacy applications; for apple, the effort will be to
move mac users to an entirely new operating system as comfortably
as possible, while enabling as much new potential as possible.
How will apple's mac
os x stack up against microsoft's windows xp, and how does it
fair against the current windows 2000? The treasure island experiment's
next article will examine how they compare in terms of legacy, design
philosophy and architecture.
More on apple, microsoft, comparison pricing and history:
Windows 2000 Professional
Windows 2000 Server (5-Client)
Windows Millennium Edition
of Computing: An Encyclopedia
in the Valley
Heroes of the Computer Revolution