Monday, June 22, 2015

An evolutionary click

You power on the computer, a completely dark black screen welcomes you, a blinking grey box staring back, expecting you to type something.  No there is nothing wrong with your computer, just a quick trip down memory lane, if you remember this scenario as soon as you power on your computer, then you, like me, are probably over 30 and can probably better appreciate today’s operating systems which are light years ahead of the old systems.

Operating systems as we know them today, such as Windows or Apple’s iOS rely on a Graphic User Interface (GUI) system to interact with it’s human operators, using icons to represent files, compared to the old Command Line Interfaces (CLI) such as the Microsoft DOS which ran on most IBM compatibles and relied completely on specific typed-in commands to access files.

The mouse, which first attracted mass popularity during early 1985 after Microsoft launched an early version of Microsoft Word and enabled the cursor to be moved around the screen with the mouse and the Macintosh 128K and Atari ST introduced the concept of the mouse pointer on the screen.

Nevertheless the first real GUI interfaces started appearing  a couple of years later, many people mistakenly attribute the first GUI interfaces to Apple’s Steve Jobs or Microsoft’s Bill Gates, in reality the first GUI operating system was developed by Xerox machines on a practically unknown computer called Alto, named after Xerox’s headquarters in Palo Alto, it incorporated programs like a word processor, spreadsheet, a paint program and file manager which used small black and white icons to represent files and introduced the menu concept.  Unfortunately Xerox failed to market this computer properly and instead executives decided to sell this software running on Xerox machines only to selected high profile clients and internally to help their own workforce become more productive.  At around the same time Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, after seeing the Xerox system began a race against time to produce a GUI operating system working on the same principles.

Steve jobs launched the Apple Lisa computer and invented the term ‘desktop’ in which the focus was to make files look like pieces of paper, nevertheless Bill Gates stole the show when he later launched Windows 1.0 just weeks after which ran on the same IBM compatibles and consumers were able to buy only the software and install it on their own computers which was a much cheaper endeavor if compared to Apple’s option, which expected users to buy a completely new system which at the time was far from economical.  This allowed Windows to infiltrate practically all home and office computers in a matter of months and it’s what probably allowed Windows to become an unofficial standard until today.

Steve Jobs was furious and it was recently revealed that as soon as he saw the first version of Windows he called Bill Gates and angrily accused him that he stole his idea and Apple will be suing Microsoft.  Bill Gates calmly reminded him that in reality both of them stole the idea from Xerox, he was right and no one could sue anyone at this stage thus leaving Apple struggling with both massive financial losses and low employee morale.  This had a tremendous effect on Steve Jobs’ emotional state and drove him to quit Apple that same year and he remained relatively in the shadow until his comeback after more than ten years later.

Numerous versions of windows updates, and many bug fixes later, we are today waiting for what Microsoft  is marketing as the last Windows version to be launched.  Windows 10 is expected to launch next summer and Microsoft is stating that there will be no more Windows launches and instead it will keep delivering regular free upgrades via the internet.  The Android operating system is not only free but also open source, Apple iOS has been offering this for free since 2013, so probably Microsoft realized that today consumers don’t want to pay anymore for newer operating systems.

Windows 10 will for the first time offer support for iOS and Android apps which means that the Windows App store will, for the first time, probably see some action as it has been limping well behind the other e-stores.  The new Windows version will also have a completely new internet browser named Edge which will include amongst other things, face detection capabilities and age recognition technology.  Cortana, which is the Windows lesser known version of Siri, the electronic personal assistant, will now feature prominently even on the PC version of the OS and it will be now able to interact with other apps as well via voice control.  Whether Cortana will be of help or not, only time can tell, but many are already dubbing it as the new version of the irritating paperclip assistant which featured prominently in previous versions of Microsoft Office.

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will also be releasing most of the Windows and Office code so anyone can check for security loopholes and suggestions for faster and more efficient use of resources will also be implemented.  This is a bold move especially when coming from a company which in the past was so secretive about it’s technology.   

Windows 10 will also ready to interface with ‘the internet of things’ and will allow app-developers to build specific apps which will seamlessly interface with anything connected to the internet.  So if in a couple of years you will start buying gadgets which connect to the internet, you will be able to start controlling them from any Windows enabled device.  Expect to start opening and closing your garage door via your mobile phone, receive your car’s diagnostics, check the contents of your fridge and program your washing machine all using the Windows Operating System in the next decade.

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Notice: Article was originally published on the Sunday Times of Malta, Business & Insurance Supplement, May 6th 2015.  Written by Ian Vella.  Article is being republished here only for information purposes and copyright is shared between the author and editor therefore republication is not allowed unless written consent is obtained by all parties.

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