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February 2015The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

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Microsoft and Apple

Both of these computer companies started operating during the 1970s. Both were basically started by a partnership of two people. Both had an initial idea that was brand new and both had someone who had ideas on how to market that idea.

With Microsoft the idea was the BASIC programming language which provided a means to actually program the very first microcomputer so that it could actually do something. This programming language was then converted to run on a range of additional microcomputers as they were released. In the late 1970s if you wanted a programming language on your microcomputer so as to get it to do something the obvious choice of language was BASIC.

With Apple the idea was to produce a microcomputer that was pre-assembled and just needed to be plugged in to work. At the time all of the available microcomputers were sold as kits which you had to assemble before you could use them. The very first Apple computers consisted just of the motherboard and you had to make the case yourself but the second version - the Apple ][ - included a case that had a keyboard built in so that you just needed to plug in a monitor and some storage and you had a working computer. I actually worked with some of the original Apple ][ computers which were brought into Australia by one of the Universities a year or so before the first shop selling Apple computers to the public opened in Australia.

In both cases their initial idea was copied by other companies. Other programming languages started to appear that could be run on microcomputers and other companies produced microcomputers that just needed to be plugged in to use them - no assembly apart from attaching a screen being required. All of these different microcomputers were incompatible with one another. While most ran an operating system from Digital Research called CP/M (Apple being one of the few exceptions), just how certain things were done varied from computer to computer and even the BASIC programming language had minor differences depending on which microcomputer it was run on.

The first big change came in 1981 when IBM decided to enter the microcomputer market with a product they called the IBM PC. They were in competition with Apple but they needed software for their new PC and approached Microsoft to get BASIC. When Digital Research refused to talk to them about giving them CP/M, IBM went back to Microsoft and asked them to find them an operating system. This started Microsoft's expansion into operating systems with MS-DOS and Xenix as new products. As newer IBM computers were introduced that were more powerful Microsoft also developed a new operating system to take advantage of the more powerful hardware - which they initially called OS/2. This was developed jointly with IBM and when the two companies finally parted company IBM retained the OS/2 name for their copy while Microsoft renamed their copy to Windows NT. Microsoft also expanded into producing application software such as word processors and eventually entire office suites.

Initially IBM was successful in knocking many of the competing microcomputers out of the market as businesses preferred to buy a known computer brand. Their use of a standard processing chip for the PC proved their undoing though as Compaq and then other computer manufacturers managed to reverse engineer the PC and IBM compatible computers soon took market share from IBM. While Microsoft had given their software to IBM they were able to charge these competing computer manufacturers for the software - which is what led to the eventual split with IBM. Microsoft didn't need IBM any more. While competing DOS operating systems could run the same software as computers running MS-DOS, Microsoft claimed the operating system market as its own with a massive promotion in 1995 when they released a new version of DOS with a graphical interface built in. Meanwhile their OS/2 based operating system went through several more versions and name changes with Microsoft finally getting people to switch to the fifth version of that operating system which they called XP.

Through all of this period Apple occupied a niche market. They were the first to introduce computers where the operating system had a graphical interface built in with their Lisa and Macintosh computers which were also the first to commercially use a pointing device now known as a mouse or hamster (depending on whether it is hard wired or not). They made use of these features of their computers to claim the desktop publishing market as their own.

Up until a few years ago Microsoft owned a large part of the computer software market and Apple was a small time player that was managing to survive but was not such a major player as they had initially been. Then things started to change. More and more computer use moved to the web and while Microsoft is a big time desktop software player, they are trailing when it comes to the web. They failed to see how significant the web would be and are now positioned where other players in the market are well placed to compete with Microsoft and make Microsoft far less important than they used to be. Meanwhile Apple has seen alternative ways in which computer technology can be used without computers and has introduced music players, phones and other devices that can operate like computers and can connect to the web.

As a result of Apple's ability to see opportunities and Microsoft's not seeing where things were going, Apple is now the biggest company in the world and is twice as big as Microsoft. This is something that few would have predicted given the very different paths that these two companies have followed over the years. One of the expectations for the future is what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Apple is currently well placed to participate in this area while Microsoft is now fighting to try to claim at least a small part of this potential market. Just how well Apple will do with this and whether Microsoft will survive or go the way of IBM remains to be seen.

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As it turned out, all of this last month's new pages are about JavaScript. At least some of those for the next month look like also being on JavaScript. If you want pages on other topics please let me know as I am writing about those things that people either ask me about directly or via the forums I visit.

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