The Power of Printers

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-11-13 Print this article Print

and Mice"> The win in Windows

If Microsoft hadnt done Windows, the most immediate need would have been for someone to solve the printer problem. By the time that Windows emerged, a DOS application might come with more floppy disks of printer drivers than of application code.

Application-specific printer drivers werent entirely bad for users. Even after Windows-based word processors had been on the market for years, DOS-based WordPerfect was still far faster in a mail-merge benchmark during a PC Week Labs Shoot-Out.
WordPerfect was slow to fade from print-intensive environments, no doubt in part because it put out hard-copy documents better than early versions of Windows printing services.

Most application vendors would likely have tired, though, of staying abreast of printer vendors product introductions. They would have sought a universal protocol for document description. Hewlett-Packard Co.s LaserJet dominance could have made it a standard setter, but other printer makers would not have readily crowned it as first among equals. Adobes PostScript might have taken on that role to an even greater extent than it has—recall that Display PostScript, co-developed by Adobe with NeXT Computer Inc., came along a few years later. eWEEK Labs analysts recall their experiences testing earlier versions of Windows. Read more here. Its ironic, then, to find Microsoft compelled by customers to support Adobes PDF in the forthcoming Office "12." Perhaps, in the realm of document description and printing, Windows will turn out to have been a mere (if lengthy) detour.

Another important contribution of Windows has been in device support—specifically, the combination of USB with plug and play. This was no easy accomplishment: Witness the crash heard round the world when Bill Gates Chicago Comdex demo of Windows 98 went blue-screen upon connecting a USB scanner.

Things are better today. Consider the simple choice of a comfortable and task-appropriate pointing device at a time when most laptops already come with built-in touch-pads. Third-party mouse or trackball devices, even cordless ones with radio transceivers that plug into USB ports, are promptly and quietly recognized by Windows XP—without even the minor inconvenience of loading drivers from a CD. This is no small thing.

Its not clear, though, that the industry needed Windows to achieve either technical capability or marketplace ubiquity of broad peripheral device support. Every Macintosh, beginning in 1984 when Windows 1.0 was still a year away, has offered some kind of device bus. Only a Mac devotee could recite the overlapping timelines of AppleTalk, SCSI, ADB, USB and FireWire availability, but each of those technologies enabled a broad array of third-party device choices—and many were not specific to the Mac.

Next Page: Microsofts mastery of innovative development tools.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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