One of my birthday presents was the book “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.
In it, he talks about how epidemics and other flash occurances happen – situations that are stable, and a small thing changes and suddenly the world changed overnight.
I’ve been thinking a lot about yesterdays blog post, and I realized that not only is it a story about one of the coolest developers I’ve ever met, it also describes a tipping point for the entire computer industry.
Sometimes, it’s fun to play the “what if” game, so…
What if David Weise hadn’t gotten Windows applications running in protected mode? Now, keep in mind, this is just my rampant speculation, not what would have happened. Think of it kinda like the Marvel Comics “What if…” series (What would have happened if Spiderman had rescued Gwen Stacy, etc [note: the deep link may not work, you may have to navigate directly]).
“What If David Weise hadn’t gotten Windows applications running in protected mode…”
Well, if Windows 3.0 hadn’t had windows apps running in protected mode, then it likely would have not been successful. That means that instead of revitalizing interest in Microsoft in the MS-DOS series of operating systems, Microsoft would have continued working on OS/2. Even though working under the JDA was painful for both Microsoft and IBM, it was the best game in town.
By 1993, Microsoft and IBM would have debuted OS/2 2.0, which would have had supported 32bit applications, and had MVDM support built-in.
Somewhere over the next couple of years, the Windows NT kernel would have come out as the bigger, more secure brother of OS/2, it would have kept the workplace shell that IBM wrote (instead of the Windows 3.1 Task Manager).
Windows 95 would have never existed, since the MS-DOS line would have withered and died off. Instead, OS/2 would be the 32bit application for lower end machines. And instead of Microsoft driving the UI story for the platform, IBM would have owned it.
By 2001, most PC class machines would have OS/2 running on them (probably OS/2 2.5) with multimedia support. NT OS/2 would also be available for business and office class machines. With IBMs guidance, instead of the PCI bus becoming dominant, the MCA was the dominant bus form factor. The nickname for the PC architecture wasn’t “Wintel”, instead it was “Intos” (OS2tel was just too awkwards to say). IBM, Microsoft and Intel all worked to drive the hardware platform, and, since IBM was the biggest vendor of PC class hardware, they had a lot to say in the decisions.
And interestingly enough, when IBM came to the realization that they could make more money selling consulting services than selling hardware, instead of moving to Linux, they stuck with OS/2 – they had a significant ownership stake in the platform, and they’d be pushing it as hard as they can.
From Microsoft’s perspective, the big change would be that instead of Microsoft driving the industry, IBM (as Microsoft’s largest OEM, and development partner in OS/2) would be the driving force (at least as far as consumers were concerned). UI decisions would be made by IBM’s engineers, not Microsoft’s.
In my mind, the biggest effect of such a change would be on Linux. Deprived of the sponsorship of a major enterprise vendor (the other enterprise players followed IBMs lead and went with OS/2), Linux remained as primarily an ‘interesting’ alternative to Solaris, AIX, and the other *nix based operating systems sold by hardware vendors. Instead, AIX and Solaris became the major players in the *nix OS space, and flourished as an alternative.
Anyway, it’s all just silly speculation, about what might have happened if the industry hadn’t tipped, so take it all with a healthy pinch of salt.
 I’m assuming that all other aspects of the industry remain the same: The internet tidal wave hit in the mid 90s, computers remained as fast as they had always, etc. – this may not be a valid set of assumptions, but it’s my fantasy. I’m also not touching on what affects the DoJ would have had on the situation.