Microsoft shuts Windows, heads toward Chicago

September 12, 1994|By Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- Microsoft makes it look so easy.

Next year, the computer software giant will publicly unveil the new version of its popular Windows program, code-named Chicago. The cash registers will open and money will start pouring in. Big money.

As much as $1.3 billion within two years, says Michael Kwatinetz, a respected New York analyst.

By now, the computer industry has largely accepted the notion that Chicago, which will be sold as Windows 95, will be a marketplace hit.

That's amazing considering: 1) No computer user has bought a single copy because 2) the darn thing isn't ready yet (it's months late).

So how did everyone decide that Chicago will enjoy such dramatic success?

Let's go backstage and look at one piece of Microsoft's overall effort to create that perception -- its courting of application developers.

Chicago is an operating system, a computer's housekeeper, that needs applications such as spreadsheets. Microsoft wants millions of computer users to bag Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 and buy Chicago.

Without attractive applications that take advantage of enhancements found only in Chicago, few will buy, however.

So getting good applications is critical to market acceptance of Chicago.

That's why Microsoft has always put an incredible amount of energy into wooing, informing and assisting application developers, called independent software vendors (ISVs) in the industry.

Microsoft is said to have the biggest and best developer-relations program in the industry.

It is not the sort of thing the public hears about but is critical to how Microsoft became successful and remains so, particularly as it tries to drag millions of people to its Windows successor.

Each movement in the Windows market is perilous because it provides competitors -- Apple, IBM, Novell -- an opportunity to sell alternatives.

But like cheerleaders at a football rally, Microsoft has persuaded many software developers to stand on their feet and chant, "Go, Chicago."

"They've got the ISV community in a frenzy about Chicago," says Chad Kinzelberg, senior director of Delrina Technology, a Toronto-based maker of fax software.

"They do the best job of any company in the world at evangelizing developers, convincing them to get on board the new technology," says Jesse Berst, editorial director of Redmond, Wash.-based Windows Watcher.

By contrast, IBM's OS/2 failed to gain broad market acceptance because it did a poor job of getting developers interested, industry observers say.

"You have to knock on IBM's door a lot," says John Wall, founder and executive vice president of Redmond-based Wall Data, maker of software that connects PCs to mainframes. "Once you get into [Microsoft's] ISV program, they communicate very well."

Stripped to its essence, Microsoft makes these arguments to application developers:

* Our new operating system will allow your products to do new exciting things that will generate sales for you.

Chicago's many enhancements include improved fax capabilities. That, for example, pleased Delrina, which believes its customer base would swell if setting up a fax modem was easier.

* The computing world is moving to Chicago. Develop for Chicago or perish.

Microsoft points to the large number of computer manufacturers who will ship Chicago pre-installed on their PCs.

Customers will immediately look for Chicago software.

"We do want people to move forward, just as we wanted people to move from 3.0 to 3.1," says Brad Struss, Microsoft's manager of Chicago developer relations. "We expect the Windows 3.1 user base will move forward to Chicago."

* Have we ever been wrong?

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is not infallible -- if he were, many of us would be using pen-based computers. But Microsoft has the unrivaled power to nudge the industry in its preferred direction.

Chicago is viewed as the logical successor to Windows 3.1, "and Microsoft has the might to make it happen," Mr. Kinzelberg says.

Softletter, the respected Watertown, Mass., industry newsletter,

says, "By now, most people have learned that betting against Microsoft is not a winning strategy."

Microsoft began beating the drums for Chicago more than two years ago when it invited about 10 of the larger software developers to comment on features planned for Chicago, then in early stages.

Partly because some of the developers competed with Microsoft in certain areas, all had to sign nondisclosure agreements that restricted what could be said outside the meeting.

The following year, Microsoft convened a larger meeting where developers were asked for more suggestions.

After that, Microsoft shipped an early version of Chicago to developers who could begin writing for the program. Last year, Microsoft spoke to groups as large as 5,000 people and sent employees to visit various cities, holding technical seminars on Chicago.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.