A balding man in a yellow polo shirt is running over a peaceful green hillside. Straining, he jumps. Then he jumps again. Suddenly he’s flying, and we hear the first few notes of Madonna’s 2001 hit, “Ray of Light.”
No, it’s not an ad for Levitra. It’s an ad for Windows XP. Watching it 10 years later — on the anniversary of the day Microsoft released the OS — it’s more than an ad. It’s an oracle. In fact, it’s amazing how precisely Microsoft predicted the future of computing in its cheesy Windows XP promotional materials.
The good idea: “You share”
People are flying all over the place in this ad. It turned out that Microsoft’s “Learn to Fly” theme hit some wrong notes after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But another theme mentioned in the ad, “Share,” was right on the money. When Marc Zuckerberg was just 17, Microsoft knew that we’d want updates on our friends, and a way to share photographs online.
The reality: Microsoft thought we’d be sharing photos via e-mail, and chatting with everyone on the Microsoft Network. If they’d thought of a website with a nice clean interface where college students could hook up, things might have turned out differently.
The good idea: Talking to friends via the PC
Judging from the video, Microsoft knew that a PC monitor was the perfect place to bolt on a hotdog-sized video camera for cozy online chats.
The reality: It took years before most people had the kind of high-speed bandwidth required for satisfying video conference. In the meantime, a tiny company called Skype figured out a way to deliver pretty good voice calls over the internet and then plugged itself into the telephone system. Skype’s also got serviceable video conferencing. Now, $8.5 billion later, Microsoft has caught up with the trend.
The good idea: Wireless networking
When Microsoft’s Rich Reynolds would meet up with his fellow salesmen in coffee shops in 2001, they’d be amazed if they had wireless networking. Nowadays, free WiFi is a given; they’re amazed if the wireless networking isn’t free. He still works for Microsoft, now as general manager with the Windows Commercial Group, and he’s happy to give XP credit for all kinds of advances: “Digital photography became mainstream, wireless became mainstream, plug and play,” he says. “XP certainly brought those things to the market in a rich way.”
The reality: It turns out that Microsoft has done a pretty good job with wireless networking. It was frustratingly hard at first — so hard that most people just set up wireless networks without any security. That’s a problem that we’re still paying for.
The good idea: Digitize all media.
Digital video and photography has come such a long way in the past 10 years that Eastman Kodak is now looking at bankruptcy.
The reality: The revolution here was in the devices we use to shoot digital pictures and play our music, not the desktop operating system. If Microsoft had developed the iPod, a flip camera or even a mobile phone that took kick-ass pictures, instead of the Kin, it could have cashed in.
In the end, Windows XP was a bit too successful. When Microsoft’s follow-up Windows Vista came six years later, nobody wanted to upgrade. Today, it’s still widely used in the corporate world.
Happy birthday, XP! We’re pretty sure you’ll still be lurking around somewhere come your 20th.