How Microsoft lost its first battle against Steve Jobs

In the early 1990s Windows seemed unrivaled, but internally several threats posed radical changes. One was Borland and his prodigious Turbo C ++ programming environment

The other, NeXT, the company that Steve Jobs created in 1985 and with which he laid the foundations for a graphics application development platform that would eventually reach Macs and iPhones. Microsoft was not worried about Macs, but it was worried about that idea that was revolutionizing the world of development.

Disruptions and the innovator’s dilemma

It was commented by Steven Sinofsky , who for years was head of Office and would end up leading the development of Windows 7 at Microsoft. This engineer is publishing a fantastic autobiographical newsletter entitled ‘ Hardcore Software ‘ in which he talks about all those years at Microsoft and in which he reviews various crucial moments for the company.

Steven sinofsky

One of them occurred in the early 1990s, when Microsoft, already beginning to overwhelm the market for personal computers, realized how BASIC no longer attracted developers, who were beginning to be interested in languages object-oriented programming and much more powerful languages ​​like C ++ that allowed to program applications with a remarkable graphical user interface (GUI).


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Borland and its Turbo C ++ Professional left Microsoft’s tools in evidence: it was much faster in everything, and it integrated editor, compiler and debugger . It soon became the suite that every developer wanted to use.

Microsoft, which realized that the revolution was in the applications with its GUI, tried to create an SDK (Software Development Kit) to facilitate that task, but they still did not reach the level of the Borland suite. ” That was my first experience with disruption, ” stressed Sinofsky, who commented that although this word was not yet part of the traditional vocabulary, it made it clear that “small” players could stand up to corporations such as Microsoft in certain market niches.

Jobs and NeXT show Microsoft the future

At Microsoft they were clearly behind in terms of development tools. In fact, Sinofsky confessed, they still used Xenix (a commercial UNIX) and OS / 2 to develop software for MS-DOS and Windows , and they envied platforms such as Apple, which for years invested in a series of tools for developing applications with GUI for the Macintosh.

At that time, by the way, Apple had a negligible market share when compared to Microsoft’s in terms of operating systems. Steve Jobs had been fired for years, but he had not stood still and in 1985 he had founded NeXT , a company that was not especially known by the general public but was closely followed by Bill Gates (BillG, as Sinofsky calls it constantly by your original Microsoft email address) and throughout the industry.

When Jobs introduced new NeXT computers and tools for this platform in San Francisco in 1990, he gave way to Jim Manzi, CEO of Lotus. The manager presented a revolutionary new spreadsheet called Improv, and when talking about it, he indicated that ” we could not have created this revolutionary new product on any other platform .”

The reference was clear: they couldn’t have done it in Windows. ” Microsoft had to do something, ” Sinofsky stressed. “Something with Borland and NeXT”. The executive thus made it clear that although Microsoft had managed to dominate the market in many areas, its position of privilege was threatened.


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Not in the realm of operating systems, but in the realm of software. Attracting developers to work on your platform might not be all that fashionable at the time – independent development was much less visible and large software companies dominated the market – but having a remarkable platform to develop was key .

In fact, NeXT’s successes were clear: In 1989, a year after the company announced its first computer, Sir Tim Berners-Lee used one of those machines to create the World Wide Web .

Jobs didn’t just copy Mac OS from Xerox PARC

Much has been said about how Steve Jobs was “inspired” by the Xerox PARC projects and understood that the graphical interface was the future of computing, but on that visit he was also able to see how Smalltalk worked , a programming language that proposed a new paradigm: that of object-oriented programming .

In the image, the Smalltalk development environment (GUI) in the early 1980s.

The Smalltalk development environment was graphical, and creating a graphical interface for an application was straightforward in this environment. Jobs understood that this was another revolution , but curiously he did not apply it to the Macintosh, in which programming a graphical application was much more complex than what was achieved with Smalltalk.

Jobs himself recognized it in his launch of the NeXT computers in 1988. There he explained how “Macintosh was a revolution that made computing easier for the end user. But the software developer paid the price … It is very difficult to develop software for the Macintosh. If you look at the time it takes to develop an application with a GUI, the user interface takes 90% of the time . ”


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With NeXT, Jobs wanted to solve the problem, and in his NeXTSTEP operating system he integrated development tools with the Objective-C programming language – licensing it – as the protagonist to reduce the time a developer spent on the graphical interface: it went from 90 to 10 %, according to that presentation by Jobs.

Among the key components developed by Steve Naroff, responsible for the adaptation of the language to NeXT, is the so-called AppKit (funny how the current names of Apple development platforms follow the same scheme) that was combined with the so-called ‘Interface Builder’ to “connect” objects from your applications graphically.

Volume 90%

That proposal was a success: NeXTSTEP would end up being the basis of Mac OS X a decade later, and Objective-C would continue to be the reference language for programmers not only on Mac OS X, but even on iOS when it appeared on the market. Only in 2014 did Apple eventually give up the baton to make Swift its new reference programming language, although Objective-C is still used today.

Microsoft, meanwhile, was still anchored in the past, and both Borland and NeXT were winning a battle that it took the Redmond company a long time to match.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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