Pair Rode the Windows Wave

Opinion: How 'a surfer and a cowboy' made technology history by creating and marketing Windows.

As I was getting ready to write about the 20th anniversary of Windows, there were a few people I knew I wanted to talk to: the person who created Windows, as well as a member of the team who gave Windows a reason for being.

I like to refer to this story as "how a surfer and a cowboy changed the technology world."

Windows creator was Rowland Hanson. Hanson was not the inventor of the GUI, API or Blue Screen of Death; he was the guy who gave Windows its name.

We all know that nothing exists until it has a name. If it werent for the marketing push behind Windows, Microsoft might still be an obscure software company selling DOS and an interface manager.

Hanson, who came to Microsoft via the Neutrogena skin care business, wasnt too hard to track down. He had a lot to say about where Microsoft was back in the early 1980s, as well as about the new world of blog-driven media.

"Bill Gates was a student of how cosmetic brands got established. He was the one who came after me and convinced me to move off the beach in Southern California, where I was living and surfing," Hanson told me during a phone conversation from San Francisco, where he now has an office.

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During his tenure as vice president of corporate communications at Microsoft, Hanson was instrumental in the naming of Windows, as well as in the initiative to reach media influencers to establish and promote the Windows brand.

The idea was that software—like skin care products—would increase in value as supportive influencers championed the brand.

The Windows name was chosen following a series of focus groups and research, from which it became apparent that the concept of windowing interfaces was well-established. "If you understood the [influencer] strategy, you understood why the name had to be Windows," said Hanson.

While the wisdom of reaching the influencer still prevails, the ability to find such a person in a world where new blogs are formed every minute has become much tougher. Hansons current business efforts focus on how to reach those key influencers early enough in a product campaign to have an impact.

The second person I talked with was a primary driver in giving people a reason to buy Windows: Texan George Grayson. An operating system is nothing without applications—and George and brother Paul Grayson, in creating In A Vision, developed an application that gave people a reason to try Windows.

After George split from his brother and helped found 7th Level, he became instrumental in trying to merge Hollywood, music and the nerd-driven world of application development.

It is still a matter of debate which was more, um, rambunctious: the mid-1990s-era Spencer F. Katt parties or the 7th Level parties at Comdex in Las Vegas. As George said, "There was a Wild West feel in the 80s and early 90s."

Today, George is chairman and CEO of, where he is working to combine education, the Internet and Web-based learning to develop teaching and assessment software for the educational market.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRemembering Windows in history. Click here to read more.

Grayson said that for a new company, "the barriers to entry are greater today, but the Internet is also simultaneously changing those barriers."

More than anything else, Windows first 20 years ignited a process that could meld technology and marketing efforts with business operations to create a global industry worth billions of dollars.

None of those efforts by itself could have been as successful. The process lives on but, like all growing things, is changing and influenced by new technologies and new marketing and business activities. (Nowadays, Microsoft is trying to prove in its Live initiative that Windows is as relevant to an Internet-based economy as it was to the world of client and server computing.)

That process is why Windows was important 20 years ago and continues to be important today.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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