A Brief History of Personal Computing – Part I

The PC-Bible, Genesis 1:1

In the beginning Bill created MS/DOS.
And Bill saw that it was dodgy.
And Bill said: Let there be Windows.
And there was Windows.
And you could multi-task until it crashed…

Of the major players in the brief history of Personal Computing, none have divided opinion more than Bill Gates and his company Microsoft. Fear and loathing in Silicon Valley is a daily reality, its vistas littered with the mangled remains of companies which dared to tussle with Bill.

Digital Research (CP/M), IBM, Atari, Commodore, Novell, DEC, SUN Microsystems and Apple, yes Apple, all died or nearly died at the hands of Bill (and from copious amounts of their own hubris).

Some put his truly phenomenal success all down to luck: being in the right place at the right time. Others proclaim him to be an evil genius, the anti-Christ even. Still others see him as an all-American hero, science nerd with uncanny business acumen and a saintly charitable streak to boot.

Apple disciples just hate his guts! Whatever he says, does or Microsoft produces, well, it’s all stolen from Apple anyway, it’s inferior and it sucks, big time!

I have had my gripes with Microsoft products from time to time, but would like to remind Bill’s detractors of one curious fact: While Apple’s own god, Steve Jobs, was reportedly as capricious and arrogant as the last king of France and any number of other PC industry personalities ranged from plain weird to positively deranged, Bill is married with three kids, quietly retired in 2008 and is devoting his retirement to running a charity. Not a single character flaw has made it into the news; no blondes or brunettes having had to fend off his (un)wanted advances, no crazy pet project having been pursued with destructive focus. He has never been stopped speeding while drunk and most curious of all, his cashed-up charity has not spend a single dollar on finding the fountain of youth; trying instead to find solutions to the problems of those who are most in need.

The fact that he tried and almost succeeded in building a monopoly by bleeding his competitors dry in the courts or just swallowing them up (not unlike any number of corporate giants before him), seems wholly out of character. Oh, but he did build a really, really big house with all manner of electronic gadgets – bad Bill!

As to the quality and usefulness of his products, I suspect that our frustrations with them were as much a function of their undeniable flaws as they were with their intimidating rapid rise, in the workplace and at home. Would we have been better off if, say, we had all used Apple PC’s instead?  I leave that for you to ponder…

Bill Gates is certainly not the only player in the history of personal computers, but he is easily the most important and best known. He reigned supreme for almost 30 years and as the era of the PC is coming to an end, it remains to be seen if his chosen successors can keep Microsoft relevant or even viable.

As for me, I have given Microsoft the best years of my life, but I am not complaining. It’s been challenging, frustrating, rewarding and inspiring. I have no regrets, wouldn’t want to live in any other time, have had a ball.

So here’s to Bill Gates! May he be remembered as an inspired and inspiring human being in the brief history of personal computing and his products as a right royal pain in the ass!