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Barry MacQuarrie
A History Lesson on Microsoft Windows

From Windows 95 to Windows 7. A trek down memory lane reviving truths and debunking myths.

April 2, 2009
by Barry MacQuarrie, CPA

In Boston, we have some very strange traditions. One of my favorites occurs every year during the cold and depressing days of February. The local television news reporters and some crazy fans gather at Fenway Park to watch a truck full of baseball equipment start its journey to Florida. That night, as the "big story" airs on the six o'clock news, kids (both young and old) all over New England are heard saying, "Hey, Dad, did you see the news? The equipment truck has left for Ft Myers."

It's not really about the equipment or the truck. The annual event is all about hope. Each year, we hope that this is the year that the Red Sox will win the World Series.

Do you remember where you were in August 1995? Do you remember the buzz that surrounded Microsoft's launch of Windows 95? According to an archive copy of their Web site, this new operating system was supposed to help us "Get Work Done Easier and Faster" and provide us with "The Best Platform for Navigating the Web." For many of us, this new operating system was a great improvement over MS DOS or Windows 3.1. However, during the past 13 years many of us have experienced the various frustrations associated with Microsoft's operating systems.

Reader Note: Don't forget to check out AICPA's upcoming TECH+ Conference, June 15-17, Las Vegas, NV.

So, why the history lesson on Microsoft technology? Just a few short weeks ago, Microsoft announced a public beta for Windows 7. Just like when we watch the equipment truck leave Boston, maybe this will be the year that Microsoft delivers an award winning operating system.

Quick Trip Down Memory Lane

Many of us have lived through Windows 3, Windows 95, Windows XP and for some brave people, Windows Vista. About every two or three years, we upgraded our computers and learned a new operating system. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the automatic upgrade party came to a crashing halt with the release of Windows Vista.

Windows Vista was released in January 2007. There is conflicting information on the Internet about the success of Windows Vista within the corporate marketplace. My experience has led me to believe that the overwhelming majority of CPA professionals have not moved to Windows Vista.

I was an early adopter of Windows Vista. Back in 2007, I was excited about the new features and the promise of a more secure operating system. It has been two years and I am no longer impressed! In fact, with my recent laptop purchase, I have downgraded back to Windows XP.

Now, it starts all over again with the release of the Windows 7 beta.

Introducing Windows 7

Will Windows 7 provide us with a viable alternative to the eight-year-old Windows XP? Microsoft launched a Windows 7 Web site that contains information about the new operating system. The following are some of the new features listed on the Web site:

Jump Lists

Helps you keep things you use most often right in front of you. For example, if you right click on the Word icon, you will see a jump list that contains the recently-accessed Word files.

New Ways to Work with Windows

The new operating system "simplifies how you work with the windows on your desktop." It will be easier to open, close, move and resize windows.

Internet Explorer 8

"With innovations to the address bar, search, tabs and the Favorites bar, Internet Explorer 8 brings you more information, with less effort."

Better Device Management

"With Windows 7, you'll use a single Devices and Printers screen to connect, manage and user whatever printers, phones and other devices you have on hand."

HomeGroup

"HomeGroup makes it easier to connect to other computers and devices on a wireless home network, so you can share files, photos, music and printers throughout your home."

Windows Touch

"If you've got a touch-screen monitor, you can just touch your computer screen for a more direct and natural way to work." This will allow you to scroll, resize windows, play media and pan and zoom. Does this sound familiar?

I have downloaded and installed the beta. At first glance, it looks good. It is as intuitive to use as it looks, on the surface, much like Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, there is much testing to be done and many new features to explore.

I would encourage you to obtain a copy of the beta and begin testing. You will need to determine if it delivers on all the promises and test it with all of the application used by your organization. This testing process will allow you to make an informed decision about using Windows 7 as the replacement for Windows XP.

During your testing, don't forget to allow yourself ample time to learn. Spend time reading the Microsoft Windows 7 Web site, as well as, non-Microsoft sites and blogs. The more you know, the easier it will be to make an informed decision.

Finally, don't discount the alternatives. Believe it or not, there are CPAs who are using operating systems not built by Microsoft. I know several practitioners who are using MacBook Pros. With applications like Parallels Desktop for Mac, it is possible to run Windows applications on Mac OS X. Another alternative is Linux. Although, not widely deployed in the CPA industry, it may provide a lower cost alternative to Microsoft operating systems.

A New Year, a New Reason to Hope

The sense of optimism that I learned growing up as a Red Sox fan has served me well. Each spring, it is easy for me to get filled with hope and wonder, "Is this the year that the Sox will win it all?"

In the same way, it is easy to get excited about a new operating system from Microsoft and wonder if this is finally the one that just simply works! But I just can't help to get the sense that we have been here before.

In researching this article I had a good chuckle courtesy of Microsoft. On an archive copy of Microsoft's Web site, you can find the following listed as a benefit of Windows 95:

"Windows 95 makes many of your everyday tasks easier."
On the current Windows 7 Web site, they have posted the following:
"Windows 7... makes it easier to do what you want."

As a life-long Sox fan, I was quite familiar with disappointment. Year after year, we would get so close and somehow our world championship hopes would just slip through our grasp. Fortunately, that all changed in 2004. Now, as I watch the equipment truck leaving Fenway in early February, I have reason to feel optimistic that this may, once again, be the year!

Figuratively speaking, the equipment truck has left Microsoft. Will Windows 7 lead them to a World Championship or be as disappointing as Microsoft Vista? Let's hope it doesn't take Microsoft 86 years to finally win it all!

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Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, is the Director of Technology at KAF Financial Group. MacQuarrie has extensive experience working with CPA firm technologies and expertise in workflow, process improvement, disaster recovery planning, security and paperless office technologies.