Part X: Windows Works Its Magic
When David McQuinn recommended Windows to MiTek’s management in 1990, few expected that Microsoft could compete with the two giants of the computer industry: Hewlett Packard and IBM. HP was the dominant provider of engineering computers. For a decade, its HP 9836 and 9845 machines had proven themselves to truss designers across the U.S. IBM, though, clearly dominated the entire computer industry: 60 times the size and 60 years older than Microsoft. At this time, Windows was scarcely 5 years old, and only on its third software release. But what Windows offered us was the chance to fashion brand new software that ran on commoditized hardware.
The big unknown was “how long” it would take to build this whole new software, in a venue in which it had never been done before. We had lots of internal knowledge, but it was split among two disparate camps: the Gang Nail “guaranteed sealable” AutoTruss developers and the smaller PowerCalc Hydro-Air team. Fortunately, MiTek management relied on McQuinn’s objectivity to select the best features of both. But, most importantly, Dave relied heavily on our customers to be the final arbiters of our direction, with whom he consulted during frequent trips with us in the field. In just two years, Dave’s team delivered our first Windows release, dubbed “MiTek 2000.” About the same time, mid-1992, Microsoft released its first widely accepted product, Windows 3.1. These releases began the march forward, of both the operating system and the application software by both Microsoft and MiTek in tandem, which continues to this day. By the mid-Nineties, Microsoft achieved a market valuation equivalent to IBM’s, and by the end of that decade was worth triple IBM’s market value.
Along with a modern truss program, designers received a welcome, unexpected benefit from Windows: a resolution of hardware incompatibility issues. In the early Nineties, truss design offices were rife with PC clones and upstart brands, few of which survived the decade (see chart). Hooking up these clones to the dozens of varied peripheral devices was risky business. Most offices relied heavily on an internal or external hardware guru, who had to devote considerable time to troubleshooting and insuring that cutting lists were coming off the printer. However, as Windows gained popularity, and soon eclipsed IBM, manufacturers of modems, printers, plotters, and monitors realized that their success depended upon the “drivers” that enabled them to communicate with Windows. Since Microsoft didn’t manufacture hardware, it became advantageous to facilitate this hardware compatibility.
When designers were largely freed from hardware troubleshooting, they gained productivity and consistency, and became much more accepting of the latest software and hardware upgrades. And equally important, our company’s technical staff was able to maintain a singular focus on enhancement of MiTek software. Designers also gained the value of Excel for crunching numbers, and all of the other desktop applications that came onto Windows at this time. Going into the year 2000, most PCs were running Windows, and most truss designers were running MiTek 2000.
A Whole House in the New Millennium