Barney's Rubble

Old Salt Remembers 1985

25 years ago, when Windows was born, I was a young journalist who had his first encounter with Bill Gates.

June 4, 1984, was my first day as a computer journalist, just a year out of college. It got me out of selling hot dogs and chili from a big green truck to late-night drunks for a living.

Back then most machines were character mode except for the $10,000 Apple Lisa and the then 4-month-old Macintosh. Microsoft saw the GUI light and started beating the Windows drum two years before its November 1985 release.

That was around the time I started covering and visiting Microsoft. It had only two buildings, one for apps and one for OSes -- with a cafeteria in between (no wonder Redmond developers had such an edge).

During the early days of the Windows enterprise push, I wrote about microcomputers (that's what they used to call PCs and PC servers) for Computerworld. While Microsoft was gung ho, MIS managers were loath to give up DOS and spend money on a slow, creaky, resource-intensive GUI. I represented the interests of the reader -- IT folks -- which didn't always make Microsoft so happy. At the time, ISVs weren't huge fans, either. And they were sources, too.

Bill Gates ended up so frustrated with us he set up a dinner for Computerworld staffers in Boston. The date was April 6, 1987. We met Bill at the Westin Copley where we had two stretch limos and tickets to the Marvin Hagler/Sugar Ray Leonard middleweight fight, which was simulcast at the old Boston Garden (by the way, Hagler was robbed).

Gates came to the lobby with an ill-fitting suit, disheveled hair and too much cologne, far from the polished philanthropist we see today. Turns out we had over a week of rain, and the streets were literally flooded. Gates wanted to walk to the restaurant anyway.

Over dinner we sipped Chateau St. Michelle from Washington State, and with four reporters in attendance we peppered Gates with questions. He never missed an acronym or a date. Truly amazing.

After dinner we invited Gates to the Garden, but he begged off, saying he had to review some code on his 386 laptop.

I had a different experience with Steve Ballmer. Back then you had to either buy a new high-priced machine or upgrade your processor to the latest and greatest to run Windows. Even then folks complained about the speed. My Uncle Jim is a retired Marine Colonel who ran a machine I reckoned was barely able to handle DOS. While all the sub-millisecond junkies complained, Uncle Jim loved Windows. Of course my uncle was retired and living on a beautiful lake in New Hampshire, so time had a slightly different meaning.

For years afterward, Ballmer would ask about my uncle every time he saw me. Steve, Uncle Jim is still doing just fine!

What's your favorite Windows memory? Search your brain and then write to me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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