Anniversary reflections

Last weekend Microsoft Windows turned 25 and the World Wide Web turns 20 next month. It’s worthwhile reflecting on how both have changed our industries and where the future is taking us.

When Windows came along, the vast majority of computer users where not connected to networks, in fact Windows’ few networking features were horrible until the arrival of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in late 1993.

Even then it didn’t support the internet, requiring an additional TCP/IP “stack”, the collection of software to make a Windows computer work with the net. The most popular TCP/IP stack was Trumpet Winsock, developed by Tasmanian Peter Tattam.

Microsoft’s disdain for the internet lasted five years until shortly after the release of Windows 95 where Bill Gates realised bundling the private Microsoft Network (MSN) along with competitors such as Compuserve and America On Line was a strategic mistake.

That realisation and the rapid change executed by Bill Gates will go down as one of the biggest strategic turnarounds in corporate history. It certainly saved Microsoft’s neck, although the integration of Internet Explorer into Windows created the massive malware problem that exploded in 2002 and persists to this day.

In turn the net has changed the way we connect with our staff, suppliers and customers. Email alone probably increased the speed of business by a factor of five and now smartphones, tablet computers and mobile broadband are each doing the same.

Looking back at that situation, we can ask ourselves where these technologies are going in the future. A recent presentation by Wall Street investment analyst Mary Meeker points to some of the direction we’ll see this heading.

Her presentation is excellent reading with her predictions of when smartphones will overtake desktop computers and some scary postscripts of the fiscal corner the US has painted itself into. The points can be summarised thus:

  • Globality
  • Mobility
  • Social ecosystems
  • Advertising
  • Commerce
  • Media
  • Company leadership
  • Steve Jobs
  • The ferocious pace of tech change

The last point is the most pertinent. At the time of the launch of Windows and the web, innovation was largely a top down, management driven process. Today consumers and employees drive change, leaving corporate managers to catch up.

While Mary Meeker aimed the presentation at internet executives, the lessons in it are clear for all businesses – our industries are going to be connected, mobile, global and far more responsive to the needs and ideas of our customers, staff and suppliers.

The change and disruption we’ve seen in our supply chains, markets and recruitment is going to become even faster than it’s been in the last 20 years.

It’s worthwhile reading Mary Meekers’ report while reflecting on how Windows and the internet have changed our workplaces. It shows we’re only at the beginning of this era of massive change.

Paul Wallbank will be holding They Are Talking About You, a morning workshop for businesses on dealing with what’s being said about them online. The session is being held with Reputation Australia in North Sydney on November 26.

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