Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Windows At 20... Almost

I don't mean to make you feel old, but November will mark the 20th anniversary of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. It was announced on November 10, 1983 but did not reach store shelves until November 20, 1985.

Those of you brave enough to load it on your PCs in 1985 understood the true meaning of "crash," "slowdown" and "unpredictable."

Version 1.0 of Windows simply wasn't very useful. Software written for one version or another of DOS (Disk Operating System), the predecessor of Windows, were faster and far more stable. Version 1.0 wasn't very pretty either. The graphics were flat and the colors were bland. It wasn't until I upgraded to Windows 3.1 in 1992 that I gained enough confidence to use Windows regularly and the arrival of Windows 95 in August 1995 finally sold me on Windows as a solid software platform for the future.

After almost 20 years of Windows, what have we gained as journalists? The PC users of 1984 managed to write and print documents, crunch spreadsheets, manage databases, build contact lists and do all sorts of other things without a mouse, toolbars, embedded Web browsers and all the other Windows accoutrements we've gotten used to.

And what about those intrepid pioneers who managed to churn out great work with (*gasp*) typewriters or with pen and paper? Has fiction writing, news reporting, poetry and other forms of writing evolved greatly since Windows arrived? Of course not.

Good content on the Web or on cereal boxes still requires good writers whether they use a quill and a jar of ink or a musclebound PC. A good reporter knows enough to get out of the office and talk to people in order to find good stories rather than to sit in front of a PC and mindlessly peruse a Web search engine.

Software tools like Windows just allow us to get a better look at our work as it evolves. And I appreciate that.

As I write this piece I don't have to embed two- or three-fingered keyboard commands to make a word bold or to put it in italics. Those of you who remember vintage word processors such as the DOS versions of WordPerfect and WordStar know what I'm talking about. And yes, I do appreciate the fact that I have spell checkers, thesauri and other writing tools at my fingertips. I could have even dictated this piece into a microphone if I wanted to.

I'll tip my hat to Bill Gates and the rest of Microsoft in November, but I won't forget the one thing that can keep a journalist from becoming a useless, toothless dinosaur: Hard work.

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